Zahid Rafiq

From Tehelka: “I am a Pacifist: But here is why I want to be a Stone Pelter

“I have always avoided physical fights. In college, even though I was part of some gang, my friends always criticised me for being weak. They said I couldn’t even beat people they had already cornered. I wasn’t weak. It was just that before the crucial moment when one is drawn into a fight, I’d realise the futility of it. I hate the word pacifist, but I am one. There must be better ways than violence — negotiations or debates, perhaps — to resolve conflicts, I thought.

But today, if I weren’t a journalist and if writing was not an act of defiance, I know I’d be throwing stones in the streets of Srinagar, just like my friends.”

“EVER SINCE I remember, I have been bearing witness to the repression and massacres in Kashmir. Everything has seemed grey forever but in the past two months, Kashmir looks like a black-and-white postcard. The world, it seems, has conspired into silence, almost with a finger on its lips. It is on the altar of that finger and closed lips that pacifism is sacrificed every day. It is from this silence that all violence begins.”

“Kashmir is too long, too tragic and too bloody a story to be called a lawand- order problem. If only the boys orphaned by the armed forces in Kashmir were to pick up stones, you would have 60,000 stone-pelters on the streets. If those widowed by the armed forces joined, there would be 30,000 women stoning every bunker, every camp and every soldier.”

“When a boy in Kashmir walks towards an armed soldier with a stone in his hand, he is aware of the difference in power. His best shot could give the soldier a bump or a few stitches, if he is able to get past the leg guards, the bulletproof vest and the helmet. But the soldier — and the boy knows this well — with his gun or teargas shell, can leave him dead or seriously wounded.

The very act of choosing a stone as his weapon, the boy believes, puts him on higher moral ground. His aim is not to kill the soldier, but to make a point that something is seriously wrong. This is why not even a single soldier or policeman has been killed in the stone-pelting in the past two years, even though we have seen plenty of images of a lone soldier being captured by five stone-pelters.”

“A few weeks ago, my five-year-old cousin, Athar, ventured out of his gate in Batamaloo and the soldiers ran towards him shouting, ‘Hum mar dalenge’ (We will kill you). He rushed inside, struck dumb. My aunt begged him to talk but only after 10 long minutes was he able to tell her what the soldiers had shouted at him. My aunt, a commerce graduate, wiping her tears in anger, perched him on her shoulders and took him out in a profreedom procession near their house. They both shouted proazadi slogans to let out their fear, and it worked. It was the first time for both of them. My aunt now writes, ‘Go India, Go Back’ on all the rupee notes that she handles and my cousin scribbles it on walls — the only English sentence he can spell. It is because of children like these that Srinagar, a city of rolled down shutters, empty roads, dusty walls and barred doors, is painted with pro-freedom graffiti all over.”

“In Kashmir, Islam came by word and Kashmiris accepted it in their own unique way. My mother goes to shrines, so does my girlfriend, and almost all the women I know. The shrines are always full of people, even crowded than the mosques. Sufi Islam has lived for over hundreds of years here and if radical puritans defeat it one day, it will be because of the State repression and the status quo that India wants to maintain because it makes Sufi Kashmiris look docile and tolerance a weakness.”

“For the Kashmir issue to be solved, India needs to keep its money and gun aside and talk to Kashmiris. There are two ways by which New Delhi can approach Kashmir. To look at it as a dispute and talk like equal partners with an aim to solve it”

“As for the Indian soldiers, most of them are poor villagers from the plains who end up living inside the lonely sand bunkers in Kashmir. They face stones and then take the lives of Kashmiri boys. Concertina wires surround their own lives, and it manifests in their high suicide rates and fratricidal killings in Kashmir. If the Indian State treated them not merely as pawns of nationalism but as dignified citizens, it could be freedom for the soldiers too.”

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