Stone Pelting and Kashmiri Youth

Adfar Shah

The Kanni Jung (Stone pelting) is again in news since Geelani after release from house arrest straightaway went to his native place, Sopore and addressed his followers, resulting in stone pleting after his speech. Ironically though, some facebook pages or videos titled as stone pelting: the national game of Kashmir, I am a stone pelter, Stone pelting: a weapon to get rid of Zalim (oppressor), The brave stone pelters of Kashmir, Kashmiri Sangbaaz, Stone pelters of Kashmir, etc, convey a lot about the psycho-social thought processes and the emerged vulnerabilities of youth in Kashmir, even of children for that matter. These names they choose for themselves with pride/heroism in social media reveal a lot about the new conflict generation of Kashmir.

Well, I am not at all in favour of stone pelting for I do not think any human face or head is worth a stone but, simultaneously I also believe that any human body is not worth a bullet simply for a cry or a slogan or a protest or an angry outburst or a procession. Also every Kashmiri is not a stone pelter (but fed up with the system actually) and stone pelting (Kanneh Jung in local parlance) is not so peculiar to Kashmir alone. From Rajdhani Express to Kannur in Kerala (the Kerala CM was recently hurt in stone pelting in Kannur over solar panel scam issue), people irrespective of regions/religions, pelt stones either directly or virtually, reflecting the fact that whenever a common man is much oppressed, he starts uprising.

Kashmiris’ or for that matter any suppressed community may not necessarily feel inspired by the much discussed biblical story of David and Goliath (David killed the terrible giant named Goliath, with a stone slingshot). A majority of today’s stone pelters may not have heard about the story and they don’t pelt stones to win, rather to register their protest and express their anger. Nevertheless the David-Gaolith story proves that stones have been the weapon of the weak since time immemorial. People who are oppressed beyond tolerance, resist the forces of oppression by hurling stones; a cheap accessible weapon. It is the stone that virtually acts as the weapon of the weak and reflects the stone pelter’s outburst and perhaps a last try to exist. The act of stone pelting is violent but, the whole action scene still can be described as ‘non-violent protest’ when compared to an AK-47 rifle (or even a rubber bullet).

The sociology of the stone pelting in Kashmir can be described as a culture that has been actually manufactured by a number of actors (both state and non-state actors). In their efforts to crush the dissenting voices and ‘unlawful’ congregations of people, security personnel create fear by shooting in air, waving their bamboo sticks, use tear and pepper gas, etc, (so far unprofessionally). People in sensitive and sentimental situations retaliate, finding nothing with them but stones to fight with. So the cycle of crisis creation and crisis mishandling and resultant increase in violence and stone pelting actually shapes the new violent culture. This culture has spread even to Valley’s children, who practice stone pelting for fun. By encouraging small children to engage in stone pelting, we are unconsciously giving full discretionary powers to a child unaware of its manifestations. Actually we are preparing him to be delinquent and to go against any controlling agency leading to a culture of non-conformity.

Stone pelting is too complex a process, rather a psycho-social phenomenon, to understand. From expressing the sentiment, to vulgarity, deviance and fun, it is a multifaceted mob action that needs to be put in a proper framework to ponder over a changed but perilous mass psyche. A phenomenological understanding of this very trend reveals that stone pelting as a violent protest in Kashmir, now prevalent since years, means many things to people at one time but in different situations. It is used as a fear tactics against masses to make the strikes (hartal calls) successful. It is used to provoke agencies, mainly CRPF and local police, to take revenge of the civilian killings by them in previous unrests. It is legitimised as a vent for the angry young men to reflect their sprit for freedom and against the state oppression. It is used by youth as a message to convey that though they are not militants with weapons, still they can fight against the forces and defend their honour. It is also used by the victims to avenge and satisfy their bruised soul. But it is also used by a vulgar chunk to create panic more often and most of the times for fun and adventurism. It is important to mention here that sometimes breaking glass panes of shops or residences or of the vehicles is to settle the personal scores with the people around. Also people say that sometimes auto rickshaw drivers/sumo drivers deliberately hurl stones at public transport to make their day. People also say that even forces after losing their battle with the angry youths, give vent to their frustration by hurling stones at window panes of houses they come across. It is also used by young teens as a street sport. We have though gradually moved towards a stone pelting culture now, which has so far yielded nothing but some brutal accidents and a sense of insecurity in the common man’s psyche.

Stone pelting has costly psychological fallouts as well. It has had a detrimental impact on the psyche of women in particular. On asking a female colleague, what comes to her mind when she learns about any incident of stone pelting in their locality, she said that her instant action is giving an immediate phone call to her brothers to find out if they are safe and of advising them to return home fast. Amir Habib, a student says, “My mother always feels worried about me and my brother, whenever we go out of home due to the fear of stone pelting culture. She remains tense throughout the day till we return home safely. The menace of stone pelting has surely caused everyone to panic, especially the women folk here”. Mir Aijaz, a research scholar at Kashmir University says, “It has shaped up a new trend what local youth mostly term as Ragda culture actually a deviant sub-culture. Some youth even take it as a heroic act and feel that people praise them for their bravery and fighting spirit”.

An important and surprising finding that I stumbled across during my fieldwork (on Waqf Education) in Kashmir about a year ago, was when I met a teenager in south Kashmir, who unconsciously narrated me a differing perspective on stone pelting in his area. He said that stone pelting started as a violent protest against repression and poor socio-political conditions in the Valley but, it has gradually turned to a social practice. He added that the act of stone pelting has slowly turned to a habit/ leisure act among many youths. Sometimes people pelt stones for fun too. He further said that the youth now consider stone pelting not less than a leisure exercise in lieu of gossip and loitering around the markets. They think they can have fun with the armed forces by provoking them via stone pelting. To him its taste is no less than a cricket match because, when a cop hurls a fire bottle at them, they hit it back either with a bat or a stick, giving them a lot of pleasure and fun.

Stone pelting is also linked to the Intifada-1 and Intifada-2 by some Kashmir analysts and experts who mostly brand past uprisings (2008, 2010) as Kashmir intifada. Being a local I am sure that regarding stone pelting people hardly imitate other contexts/cultures like the tactics of Palestinian youth against Israel’s oppression. Even most of the angry youth do not know about the Palestine issue and stone pelting there. Also some of the analysts’ link Kashmir intifada blindly to Palestine issue, which is quite a wrong assumption for we resemble Palestinians only in one way that is our religion-Islam (and now second is stone pelting culture). Rest their food, culture, language, climate, geography, etc, all are poles apart from us. But the fact remains that many a times, nothing but protests by stones binds people common across the regions (certainly a vulgar binding thread).

Stone pelting, as per masses, is actually an indication of the social rupture and excessive and faulty regulation of masses by the state. The social system when put under too much in strain, develops cleavages and use of force when too routinised or legitimised indefinitely, leads to the production of the counter forces (politics of the poor).

Today certain narratives prevail on stone pelting and stone pelters. Some say they are illiterate youths, some deem them idle and jobless, some argue they are hired by vested interests to create chaos, etc. However hardly an analysis is made from the people’s perspective (grass roots).The theory that stones pelters are paid (from Rs 100-2,500) is although much discussed and accepted in many circles, can only be an assumption (paid theory-highly refuted by locals). People also cite unemployed youth bulge as the main reason of the violence in Kashmir. This too is not the whole truth when seen at the ground level for we have three lakh youths unemployed (only registered ones) but, we do not have three lakh stone pelters. Apart from a sentimental chunk, there can be the link of the rising drug menace as well and further it is education and faulty socialization of children along with the lack of parental control that is responsible for such a horrible social reality. Also sometimes it can be the local political mechanisations that encourage such a deviant trend. Today, when Kashmiri youth see too many labels thrust upon them, they feel aghast being framed in everything wrong. The additional label of a paid stone pelter further demonises them all.

Time is ripe for the State and agencies to stop framing youth and instead, to try and to see them as opportunity for nation building rather than a threat. The administration should open the doors of development and engagement for the vulnerable Kashmiri youth and must listen to their aspirations and address their grievances, if we really want to see a progressing and peaceful Kashmir.

The State also has to realise that, silence of the masses, also carries a message. When masses are silent even on being oppressed, their silence is also a form of protest (a lot of masses/intellectuals remained quite silent throughout the conflict but that does not mean they never felt oppressed-a dumbfounded and helpless but conscious stock). And when people shout, raise slogans or even pelt stones in anger, it also is a political communication and must be understood in a proper perspective rather than abruptly labelling or criminalising them. When they form groups, virtual or real and write or speak against repressive statecraft, it is the people’s political communication and must be listened to, debated and solved for the betterment of all. It is a fact that such a trend if not addressed with empathy (and not by the PSA alone-nipping the flower in the bud), will lead to further deviant tendencies which may be anti-social/ anti-national behaviour. This will adversely impact Kashmir’s culture forever because, firstly, it will keep the lamp of uncertainty and insecurity burning. Secondly, it will destroy a whole generation of Kashmiris’ and lure them to love everything that is outside the ambit of law. Thirdly, a fertile chunk of populace will fall prey to evil mongers of all types and thus ruin their careers. Lastly, it will give boost to other trends of criminality gradually for today those who pelt stones even for fun; tomorrow they will do it with intention and then they can turn to pick pockets, then burglars and then killers. We need not to slap PSA’s upon them every time but understand the situations that actually prompt them to do such bad and violent acts. Just slamming a harsh act on a vulnerable young man/boy is not a joke but a conscious destruction of a generation.

Reading about the mess stone pelting creates and knowing about the plight of both the stone pelters and the victims, I too want to pelt a stone, but I do not know at whom. A separatist leader condemns stone pelting to the joy of all and in a short while his associates and he himself deem the very practice right, really a confusing situation for the masses.

Before pelting a stone at anyone, better we think of our own fragile self. The horror of stones frightens me and it seems it scared Mirza Galib too, when he said …..

Maine Majnoon pe Ladakpan Main Asad

Sang Uthaya Tha Ki Sar Yaad Aaya

(Adfar Shah is a New Delhi Based Kashmiri Sociologist at SNCWS, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. The views expressed are author’s personal. Mail at adfer.syed@gmail.com).

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