The ancient and historic stones of Kashmir have played a significant role in framing and at times changing the political discourse
Stone pelting in Kashmir has roots in history. Besides using the stone as weapon of war against the Mughals, the Kashmiris have been earning their livelihood by working with and on the stones. It is believed that Kashmiri sculptors had mastered the art of carving stone images. They would make beautiful idols of Hindu gods and goddesses. But when Shah-e-Hamdan enlightened the masses and took them from darkness to light, making idols could not be sustained as a profession in the changed scenario. Shah-e-Hamdan, who had come with a complete economic package as well allowed the sculptors to make stone epitaphs to earn their livelihood.
The ancient and historic stones of Kashmir have played a significant role in framing and at times changing the political discourse. The history of stone pelting has been well documented since July 13, 1931. The practice was abandoned for two decades when bullets oozed out from automatic guns. Last year the trend was revived and since then the stone pelting youth have been giving sleepless nights to the police and the authorities. The stones still remain the trusted weapon of Kashmiris.
The on-going stone pelting in Srinagar has added new dimensions to the phenomenon. The Chief Minister consulted British experts early this year for advice. British trainers were also expected in Srinagar to pass on `valuable tips’ to the local police. The primitive Kashmiri stones were never that important.
And in a recent development, the police have started booking the stone pelting youth under section 307 Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) which defines and provides punishment for a serious offence `attempt to murder’. According to Sub-divisional police officer Khanyar, 12 persons have been booked under section 307 RPC.
While justifying the action, he said: “There was a huge crowd and they were hell bent to mount fatal attacks on the policemen. “The stone pelters lobbed 2 to 3 kg bricks and stones on the cops with the intention to kill them. 10 policemen including an officer sustained injuries on vital body parts like head and chest.”
The political struggle in Kashmir gained momentum after the July 13 incident in 1931. The creation of National Conference in 1939 created a wedge between Muslims and this is where the stones became important for Kashmiris. In the coming years stones were used not only to express dissent by the political activists but to enforce their writ as well.
On October 12, 1942 Sheikh Abdullah led a crowd of National Conference workers with the intention of refraining Mirwaiz Yusuf Shah from delivering the Eid sermon at Eidgah. Both the sides pelted stones on each other. Hundreds of persons got injured.
Same year on October 30, a National Conference worker was manhandled by Muslim Conference men near Jamia Masjid. Some body informed the National Conference workers that Ali Darial had instigated the assault. They pelted stones on his house and ripped apart the signboard of Muslim Students Union which made the house important.
In May 1944 the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Kashmir on a joint invitation of National Conference and Muslim Conference. The National Conference had decorated the highway from Qazigund to Khannabal with red buntings and flags. This did not fit well in the scheme of Muslim Conference. They rushed to Qazigund to hoist green flags. A severe clash broke out. The warring factions used knives and stones freely.
The National Conference goons led by a condemned cycle thief, Maqbool Sherwani (Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Kashmir by Rashid Taseer) pelted stones on Jinnah in Baramulla in the last week of June. The Muslim Conference workers avenged this next year when Nehru, Gaffar Gandhi and Maulana Azad visited Kashmir. They were taken in a boat procession from Chattabal to Lal Chowk. The people pelted stones and worn out shoes on the Congress leaders near Zaina Kadal. The National Conference goons responded with sharp edged weapons. Qureshi Muhammad Yusuf, the general secretary of Muslim Conference sustained injuries in the assault.
On October 11, 1945 the Viceroy’s wife and Maharani Tara Devi visited the exhibition grounds which had been tastefully decorated for them. The Technical College had also set up a stall. Some pictures on the stall had been attributed to the Prophet and his family members. This enraged the Muslims. They started pelting stones. However, Sheikh Abdullah rushed to the spot and managed to pacify the angry protestors.
Kashmiris lost their cool on August 9, 1953 when Sheikh Abdullah was dethroned and arrested. Violent demonstrations were reported from all parts of Kashmir. The people used the `primitive weapon’ freely.
In 1963 the holy relic was stolen from Hazratbal shrine. This created a stir in Kashmir. During those tense days, the general secretary of Bakshi’s National Conference surfaced in Lal Chowk. He had plans to address the people. But the people threw kangris and stones at him and his supporters. He had a narrow escape but the angry mob set ablaze his jeep.
Soon after a pundit girl converted to Islam and married a Muslim. The pundits perceived it as an attack on Hinduism. The government of India also helped them much to the annoyance of the then Prime Minister, Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq and the Muslims in general. The pundits also attacked some Muslim shopkeepers near Karan Nagar. Shocked by the attitude of New Delhi and the pundit community, the students launched a movement for self determination. As usual the movement was brutally crushed. The angry students once again made use of the `weapon’ that was available to them. Violent clashes took place between the students and the police on October 2, 1967. The students gave vent to their anger by pelting stones on the police and paramilitary forces at Budshah Chowk. The police opened fire killing Muhammad Anwar Laherwal and Bashir Ahmad Mir on the spot.
On May 21, 1973 students of Islamabad Degree College found a book titled `Book of knowledge’ in the library. It was blasphemous. The book triggered violent demonstrations in the entire Valley. The people in general and the students in particular pelted stones on the police, government offices and government vehicles. The clashes left scores of police men including DIG Muhammad Sultan injured. Four students also died in these clashes.
On May 23, the people pelted stones on Mirza Muhammad Afzal Beg and Moulana Farooq’s vehicles. The vehicle of Moulana Farooq was damaged in the clashes. Both the leaders had urged the people to resume normal life.
On November 14, 1973 the government tried to change the name of Government College for Women, Maulana Azad Road. The authorities had suggested the name of Nehru memorial College for it. The students of the college resisted the move. They protested. Some of them pelted stones on the police. The police cane charged them. Meanwhile, the students of SP College and Amar Singh College rushed to the spot and engaged the police in ding dong battles in the area. Some stones were also pelted on the vehicle of Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah who was supposed to preside over the function.
On November 12 when the colleges reopened, the students of engineering college proved their mettle in Lal Chowk and Budshah Chowk. They too pelted stones on the police and government offices. They also raised Pro-Pakistan slogans. On February 11, 1975, Ghulam Muhammad Bulla, a worker of newly formed Peoples’ League was tortured to death by the police. The killing evoked severe reaction from the people. Once again Kashmir made use of the stones. Scores of persons including some police men sustained injuries in the clashes.
A few years later, around 28 soldiers suddenly appeared in Lal Chowk on a hot July evening and assaulted people with hockey sticks. Several persons sustained injuries. It triggered violent clashes in Srinagar. For a couple of days, the people pelted stones freely on the police and government installations.
On February 11, 1984 a group of youth led by Shakeel Bakshi and Mushtaq-ul-Islam pelted stones on the police at Hari Singh High Street and Lal Chowk to protest the hanging of Maqbool Bhat. They repeated the exercise in 1985.
Same year on June 6 violent clashes paralyzed life in Srinagar. Stone pelting youth engaged the police for several days. This was their outburst against Operation Blue Star.
Kashmiris have been pelting stones to express their solidarity with the people of Palestine who are engaged in a bloody fight with Israel.
The stone pelting also triggered a religious debate. Some scholars believe stone pelting had no religious sanction. According to others it was not forbidden. The debate goes on and so does the stone pelting.
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