This past week I along with a few of my friends decided to give water transport facility a try and simultaneously do a video-story on it. At the Peerzu Island near the Post Office, we boarded the water-boat to find it packed with mostly children and women. The mood in the boat was filled with excitement and everyone was looking forward to enjoying the ride.
We settled at the rear end of the boat and as one employee released the mooring rope, we began capturing videos and the customary selfies. Slowly the boat wound its way towards the downtown Srinagar over the murky waters of Jhelum, occasionally slowing down a bit near the houseboats lest they overturned by the ripples created by the boat.
From their homes, kids perched near windows waved their hands and we returned the gesture with equal warmth. After sailing past bridges, dilapidated houses, temples and mosques we reached the revered Shah-I- Hamdan mosque at Khankah where the operator unexpectedly took a U-turn as opposed to taking us till the Chattabal Wier.
Our curiosity got the better of us and on enquiring about the sudden change in the route plan, the operator said it was too dangerous to venture any further because boys fling stones at the boat. We thought he was bluffing but no sooner did we reach the Habba Kadal Bridge than his words rang true.
We came under attack from above. A middle-aged man threw rocks at us while apparently uttering obscenities which thankfully were drowned out in the din of the boat. Had it not been for the hood of the boat, we could have been injured or possibly killed in such a vicious attack.
By the time our boat reached a relatively safe place the children in the boat were scared and all the excitement had fizzled out of them. A few of them started crying, their mothers holding them against their bosoms trying hard to console them.
We couldn’t fathom why an innocuous act like riding a boat be met with such a response. I failed to understand the cynicism and suspicion of the people towards the well-intentioned move of the government to promote tourism in Srinagar especially in Downtown area where a lot of artisans and craftsmen can benefit from it.
It was hard to comprehend what sort of a political statement these stone throwers are making by directing their weapons towards their own people.
Earlier the youth threw stones at police and paramilitary but now the rules have apparently changed.
Only last year when the streets were ruled by the unruly packs of young boys, many people were thrashed and their cars damaged for supposedly violating the self-imposed hartals. While driving towards Srinagar from our Budgam residence, I along with my father and brother received verbal abuses countless times from boys who wouldn’t let go of even patients or people wanting to attend funerals of their relatives.
One evening last year I went out with a neighbourhood boy to buy some bread. The traffic was off the roads except a few heavy vehicles ferrying goods under the safe cover of darkness. As we were walking, we heard a loud thud and moments later a tipper had come to a screeching halt near us.
We rushed towards the truck as fast as we could, fearing the worst. A young boy, barely 20 years of age, wearing torn clothes got down from the vehicle hiding his face in a shabby cloth. A stone had ripped through his windshield and hit his head. He was bleeding from a hundred cuts and weeping, cursing his poverty. He told us he was returning to his home after five days.
This year I had my own similar moment when a militant was killed a few kilometers away from our village. The neighbourhood shops were spontaneously shut to mourn the killing in spite of the fact that there was no “call” for hartal from any Hurriyat leader. The private transport was thin but my elder brother and I began to drive hesitantly towards Srinagar. We hadn’t travelled far from our house when we spotted a pick-up truck approaching in the opposite direction.
The truck was carrying masked men who were shouting pro-freedom slogans. It was futile to drive back home now so my brother decided to pull over and waited for the truck to pass. But as they reached us, one of the men without asking us anything flung a stone towards our windshield.
And then it was over. Tiny shards of glass flew towards us and I instinctively covered my face. The stone had miraculously missed its intended target and hit the side mirror. Two men were watching the whole incident from the sidelines and my brother in a helpless rage shouted towards them, “Yehay Azadi cha asi zorath?” (Is this the kind of freedom we need?)
The two men stared blankly at us perhaps too shocked to utter any word. For the rest of the journey, I felt the same disgust I felt when our water-boat was stoned.
Over the years we have glamorized stone-pelting without considering its ramifications in the long run. We cheer and derive sadistic pleasure when a stone hits a policeman on the street but nobody bats an eyelid when the same stone hits a common man. In the past few years we have witnessed numerous occasions where a common man was killed in the stone throwing incidents.
These episodes rather than doing us any good only brings a bad name to our Movement. Our leaders across the board should vehemently denounce such acts which alienate the people from our justified cause.
We describe stone-throwing as a powerful expression of our political thought. But can we allow it to become our Frankenstein’s Monster?