We All Deserve a Stone to be Pelted at…

Matthew Arnold, an English poet of great fame, wrote an elegy to mourn the plight of the Victorian England that had lost the ‘calm’ and ‘quietness’ in the wake of new scientific research. Arnold found similarities between the “grating roar/Of pebbles” on the Dover Beach which brought him “The eternal note of sadness” and the confusing situation that the world was finding itself in. He, thus, laments:

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Arnold was obviously worried about the long-standing theological and moral precepts that had got shaken and the pillar of faith supporting the society was crumbling under the weight of the evolutionary theory of Erasmus Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Consequently, the existence of God and the whole Christian scheme of things were cast in doubt.

Arnold was a religious man and got naturally worried because of the loss of faith that is symbolized in the poem by depicting the light at the Dover Beach which gleams one moment and is gone the next. Lamenting the situation, he wrote, “At the present moment two things about the Christian religion must surely be clear to anybody with eyes in his head. One is, that men cannot do without it; the other, that they cannot do with it as it is”.  Significant fallout of this loss was chaos and confusion that engulfed the entire region and no one understood how to overcome the Darwinian onslaught; everybody, in his/her own way, tried to “struggle and fight” but without any good results. Feeling the pulse of the nation and brooding over the predicament of the people who found no way out, Arnold cried:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The last three lines in the above quote draw a vivid picture of the people who “struggle and fight” like the “ignorant armies” on a darkling plain. The metaphor is very apt for those people who struggle for a thing which they can’t figure out in the gloominess of the night, a symbol for ignorance. Who is the “ignorant armies” a reference to? It is believed that Arnold was referring to the Greek historian Thucydides’ account of the Battle of Epipolae (413 B.C.), a walled fortress near the city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. In that battle, Athenians fought an army of Syracusans at night. In the darkness, the combatants lashed out blindly at one another”. As a matter of fact, the lines, And we are here as on a darkling plain/Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/Where ignorant armies clash by night suggest the confusion of Victorian values of all kinds. The present was confusing for people and future seemed to have no happiness in store which is why they “swept with confused alarms of struggle and fight”.

Philip Larkin, another famous English poet, reprimands people for cherishing future desires at the cost of their present. He says:
Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching; every day
Till then we say,

Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.
How slow they are! And how much time they waste,
Refusing to make haste!    [“Next, Please”]

“Always too eager for the future”, we develop “bad habits of expectancy”, something which is unclear and vague: “How slow they are” And how much time they waste”.

We Kashmiris are no better than the faithless Victorians who Arnold found struggling and fighting like the “ignorant armies [that] clash by night”, and that Philip Larkin castigates for ignoring their present and working for some unknown future. The Victorian England suffered from disillusionment and Kashmir, too, faces the same predicament! 2010 summer was really unusual in the sense that it changed the discourse in the streets. Stone-pelting and stone-pelters became buzz words and people believed, or were made to believe, that through stone-pelting we could change course of history. Without looking to the outcome, we plunged into fire for a future which nobody is able to comprehend, though all of us are waiting for Godot as in Waiting for Godot.

Summer unrest has cost us 111 lives. Four months of chaos and mayhem in the streets echoed with the same age-old slogan, Azadi, which made most of the stone-pelters, virtually the Arnoldian “ignorant armies” clashing, of course not only during night, “on a darkling plain”,  but more during the day. And, when stone-pelting was responded to by bullets by the security forces, causing heavy loss of life, Kashmiris, by and large, started brooding over the purpose for which stone-pelters got swayed by emotional outbursts (call them seasonal outbursts). The lull that followed the unrest, especially after Obama’s India visit, has surprised many. They ask: Was stone-pelting engineered for Obama only so that he could talk about Kashmir with India, and when he did not, stone-pelting lost its relevance? If it is so, our seasonal-outbursts are leading us only to disasters which we need to mourn in the same way as Arnold is mourning the loss of faith in his poem. I don’t know why the Government became so nervous about a question calling for an assessment of stone-pelters. I have been told that those students who answered the question had no good words for stone-pelters; they did not find any heroism in stone-pelting.

Our seasonal-outburst has deprived us of many youngsters who many believe were not stone-pelters. Whether or not they were stone-pelters, a legitimate question that needs to be answered is, why do these outbursts take place in summer months only when Kashmiris could earn their living by hosting tourists? Who is responsible for devastating the tourist trade here when visitors throng Himachal Pradesh and other hill-stations in India at the same time? Instead of blaming one group or the other in Kashmir, we should blame ourselves for resorting to mindless means to achieve a very difficult goal. We should know, and understand, how unfortunate this nation has been in not having a good leadership that could guide people to some achievable goal. What have we achieved out of stone-pelting? Has Azadi come to us or have UNO Resolutions on Kashmir gained any new momentum? bijli, sadak, pani and employment have once again become more important than the slogans that Kashmir streets reverberated with during the last summer. Today, downtown youth are not coming forward for stone-pelting but are thronging the employment drive initiated by the same police who they accused of killing stone-pelters! Who are we following and what are they leading us to? Does anybody have time to think and respond? Much as I would love to tell them that their methods are disastrous and their speeches are misleading, can I do so? No, because in the words of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, “Jism par qaid hai, jazbat pe janjiren hain,/ Fikr mahbus hai, guftar pe taziren hain…” (On our body is the fetter, on our feelings are chains,/Our thoughts are captive, on our speech censoring.). We have pawned our thoughts and feelings to those who, more often than not, grind their own axes rather than think of what this nation has lost over the years!

In the words of Fiaz, “Lekin ab zulm ki mi’ad ke din thode hain,/Ek zara sabr, ki faryad ke din thode hain.” (But now the days of the span of tyranny are few;/Patience one moment, for the days of complaining are few). Voices of concern have started raising and that is very encouraging. I could be a coward but why should our leaders be? If stone-pelting was the panacea for us, we wouldn’t have been in a messy situation today. Therefore, all of us deserve a stone to be pelted at for we are equally responsible for bringing Kashmir to a never-ending chaotic situation! Summer comes, I become an Azadi-lover and autumn and winter months make me think of my age-old problems—power, roads, water and unemployment. History should have taught us a lesson but, unfortunately, we refuse to learn. The Amarnath land row that had brought entire J&K to a disastrous situation ended with loss of life and the piece of land that had caused the row. And, later on, when the assembly elections were announced, people thronged polling booths as if nothing had happened before the elections. Shouldn’t that have been a good signal for our leadership not to resort to an exercise that would yield no results? Instead, a not-so-unusual incident in Machel was allowed to result in an unprecedented stone-pelting situation that killed many youth but yielded no results! What did we gain from Amarnath land agitation and what did we achieve from stone-pelting? Our economy, our education and, above all, our peace of mind got shattered.

 I have no knowledge of the forces from without that might have been behind the last summer-unrest but I am sure no stone was imported from across the border; they were indigenous and in the hands of innocent and ignorant Kashmiris who easily get swayed by emotive slogans. We wasted more than two decades in dreaming about plebiscite which ultimately turned into fighting elections. After a lull of more than a decade, we started our struggle with a bang that has now changed into a whimper. The periodic, spontaneous or otherwise, outbursts are no better than providing purgation to some hidden psychological disorders which only psychiatrists can diagnose. As a common Kashmiri, I know that neither the very volatile situation in the 1990s nor the turbulent days of Amarnath land row or the last summer-unrest have provided the much needed solace to disturbed minds that Kashmir is facing today. Had Faiz seen this, he would have said, “apni himmat hai ki phir bhi jiye-jate hain” (It is our courage that even then we still survive).

(Prof. Muhammad Aslam teaches at the department of English, University of Kashmir)