Since the beginning of time, stone has been mankind’s strongest allegory of strength. In Kashmir it is a symbol of weakness, wielded by a lost generation angry with history. These stone men are metaphors of shattered self-belief; shrapnel scattered by the hammer of hate. Kashmir is stoned on the opiate of despair and self-destruction. Last week, Indian Army’s Major Gogoi tied a stone pelter to the bonnet of his jeep as a defence against other stone pelters. The miscreant is a symbol of all that is wrong with Kashmir—a piece of separatist gravel challenging the pillar of the Indian state. The picture went viral, creating further faultlines in a political quarry mined for decades by opportunistic leaders. The Army has ordered an inquiry. Hopefully, justice would be served and the young Major vindicated.
Because Gogoi was leading a convoy through a street filled with stone pelters, ranged on rooftops, walls and along the roadside, ready to launch deadly missiles at soldiers. By using the stone man for protection, the Major was protecting his own life and that of his men. So far, 2,083 CRPF personnel have been injured by stones in the Valley. In the last 26 years, over 6,000 security personnel have died fighting militants in Kashmir; of which 1,000 belonged to J&K police. The irony is that it is also the job magnet for stone throwers.
Of course, the sight of the stone man on the bonnet sent India’s stone pelters of selective conscience into a frenzy. Kashmir experts took to the TV and social media asking the government to understand Kashmir’s rocky relationship with Delhi, and punish Gogoi.
“Politicians have damaged Kashmir,” they cried.
Sure, politicians have damaged much in India. But what can ordinary soldiers do when stone men try to kill them?
“We don’t have to be like them,” comes the sanctimonious reply.
When stone pelters use their own children as human shields to prevent security forces from retaliating, what should be the strategy? Offer a pumice stone to smoothen things out?
The young stone men of Kashmir are stoning the land back to the Stone Age. In their distorted imagination, and that of their NGO brethern, Major Gogoi is India’s Goliath to their David. Unfortunately, it is their own future that the sling of history will bring down. The corrupt paradise of Kashmir needs an ecosystem of progress—development, education, jobs and stability. Its young stone men need to do with their stones what their prehisoric forebears did—invent the wheel of progress. If need be, reinvent it. For, early man invented the wheel with stone. They hunted with spearheads of stone as excavations show us. Druids used stones as sacred objects, visible at Stonehenge in England. Religions found stone as dependable objects of reverence; for idols and temples; the crosses of Saxon and Norman churches. Muslims worship their sacred stone in Mecca, the centrestage of Muslim faith. The stone is man’s most reassuring image of fortitude. India is one such rock—a monolith which has endured through centuries. Kashmir is a chip off the old block. It’s time for its youth to come home, riding the vehicle of destiny, not tied to its bonnet. Peace and progress are just a stone’s throw away.