Hundreds gather to protest against the killing of a 22-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani. As they agitate they pelt stones to show their anger and injure the police. In return, the police resort to firing pellet guns instead of firing guns with bullets. This has resulted in many of the rioters being injured and some even being blinded. There are people of all ages protesting. Some of the injured standing on the sidelines are as young as five years old. One wonders how existing in this cycle of violence will impact them in the long term.
History of Stone Pelting
Stone pelting is not a new phenomenon. Palestinian youth and children were pelting stones between 1936 and 1939 against the British. In the 1980s stone pelting became more organised. From December 1987 till the signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993 large groups of children and youth were involved in it. The Palestinians have also used sling shots and crude bombs. It garnered global attention and many who have tried to bring similar global attention to Kashmir have adopted stone pelting as a means to do just that.
Kashmir’s stone pelting history dates back to the summer of 2008 when young men took to the streets to launch violent protests against the continued deployment of security forces. In 2010, the situation spiralled out of control when the alleged fake encounters of three youths and the accidental death of a school boy during tear-gas shelling became flash points. A rage quietly building up exploded with rare vengeance as the youth fought pitched battles with the men-in-uniform. It became a do-or-die struggle for a people determined to wrest freedom from the Indian establishment.
However Bashir-ud-Din Ahmed, former Grand Mufti, called stone pelting un-Islamic. “Islam strongly prohibits any form of violence. The stone pelting practice is surely un-Islamic. It causes inconvenience to people and propels more violence,” the Grand Mufti said. However, this is the same Grand Mufti who banned the entry of four Christian pastors in the Kashmir valley, accusing them of forcible conversions.
Impact of living with violence
Living with violence has a massive impact on the population, especially in the lives of children. There is a plethora of research on how turmoil and violence in society impacts children. It impacts the mental health of people in the long term. The effects also translate into increased rates of depression and substance abuse.
A case in point is the increased incidence of drug abuse in Anantnag. Many blamed it on unemployment and easy availability of drugs but the core issue was the failure to recognise the real cause: violence in their society. A recent report from Baramulla district shows that 20 per cent of students in higher secondary schools and 30 per cent in colleges are consuming drugs.
The most obvious fall out of living with violence is a constant state of anxiety in which one loses the sense of purpose and planning. When one wakes up each morning one has no idea how the day is going to be. There is an acute sense of helplessness and the only way for many youths is to get out of the Valley for a semblance of normality in their lives. But those who stay back are condemned to a harrowing existence. It is an experience no child must be put through in any society.
Regarding military presence
The argument pertaining to military presence and the resultant violence is as old as humanity. The reality is that with military presence in an area, there is bound to be a spurt in violence, which in turn affects the economy of the region. Militaries come with deep pockets and things begin to change rather dramatically. Recent reports of sexual exploitation by United Nations troops show exactly what happens when troops land at your doorstep.
The military personnel are usually young, staying far away from their families and having lived with violence and threat to their lives, they may already have been suffering from psychological troubles. So when military arrives in your neighbourhood it is never great news.
A few years ago I was in the Northern Afghanistan city of Kunduz. The Taliban had set up their anti-aircraft guns and other artilleries in civilian neighbourhoods. When the US troops or the Northern alliance troops would respond, it caused massive casualties among children. The world would then see the images and talk about the stupendous death toll. This is also what the NATO described as “Friendly fire”, when friends would get hurt while the enemy was being fired at.
The reality is that armed groups will have to be kept out of your neighbourhood for peace and normality. I was in the middle of a gun battle in Kashmir in 2005. We were caught in the crossfire between the security forces and four terrorists who had taken over a home. The residents had informed the police about them after being forced to play host for a week. When the police went in and surrounded the place, a gun battle ensued and almost the whole house was destroyed.
Living with violence is not easy, it destroys your existence.
Encouraging terrorism as a strategy against a democratic government is not something that has worked in the long term. Terrorism works only against dictatorial societies, so in case one decides to use terrorism as a strategy against a democratic society, large investments have to go in to win the war of propaganda against the State.
Kashmir has been represented by children of its own soil whether it was Omar Abdullah in the recent past or Mehbooba Mufti. They are bright Kashmiris who would like to see the best for their state and their people.
Apart from being politicians and criticising the opposition party when they are out of power, they still mean well for their people. But the terrorists’ only goal is to create an Islamic State which does not fit into the idea of a modern Nation-State that is secular and has space for all, regardless of religion and ethnicity.
Terrorism thrives on fear. It can only increase conservatism in liberal societies. A recent study demonstrated how Spanish attitudes gravitated towards conservative values after the Madrid train bombings. So what terrorism does is create a larger pool of conservative societies and this may change the very fabric of democracies.
Two pictures that went viral recently represent the strategy and the outcome. One picture is of a five-year-old girl who was hit by pellets as police responded to stone pelting. The other is of the 12-year-old daughter of a Colonel of the Indian Army who was killed in Kashmir and she blamed Burhan Wani, the Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist for it.
The problem with extremist stances is that no one wins in a protracted struggle. We as humanity are losing, losing our way on the journey towards becoming a civilization.