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I came this close to turning stone thrower in Srinagar

Sunday, September 26, 2010 11:40:08 AM, Sarwar Kashani, IANS

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I lacked guts, otherwise a policeman had done all he could to turn me into a stone-thrower on the streets of Srinagar.

After days of frustration due to strict restrictions on public movement, I mustered the courage to drive out of my house in the curfewed summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir that has been bristling with anger and pain over more than 100 deaths, mostly in clashes with security forces.

I was confident as I had a press card to flash in case of trouble with the paramilitary troopers. Police, I thought, were Kashmiri friends and it wouldn't take too much to convince them.

As I drove out on the deserted roads blocked with barbed wire, the only sight that greeted me was patrolling by thousands of men in khaki in anti-riot gear.

I crossed a couple of hurdles explaining to security forces that I was a journalist from Delhi and needed to take a tour of the city. I had a young nephew and niece with me who had been feeling equally frustrated after days of being locked in at home.

Things were fine till I reached Lal Bazaar where a group of young people - who were shouting pro-freedom slogans and throwing stones at police and paramilitary troopers - had just been dispersed. Bricks and stones were still lying around.

"Stop", a sub inspector with the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) shouted. Sensing trouble, I came to an abrupt halt.

"Where are you going?" he asked angrily.

"Home," I said politely.

"Don't you know, you are not allowed to move, leave alone drive a car?" he said.

I explained that I was from Delhi and showed him my press card. Soon, his anger turned into a respectful smile.

"You should not leave like this. Anyway, you go ahead but it can be dangerous," he advised.

We spoke a little more. But by the time I switched on the ignition of my car, a masked Kashmiri policeman came charging towards me.

"Come out," he shouted in Urdu with a thick Kashmiri accent. I thought he also had some words of advice for me. He looked at me with anger and asked my credentials. I flashed my I-card, parliament's media pass, and tried explaining that I was from Delhi.

I was unprepared for what followed. Before I could even sense what he was up to, he took out a bamboo cane and started hitting me on my legs and hurled abuses left, right and centre.

The children in my car were shocked and started crying. They came out saying, "Sorry uncle, sorry... hamaare maama ko mat maaro (don't hit our uncle)."

I was shocked myself and didn't know how to stop this policeman who was supposed to protect the law - and human rights. I started crumbling under his cane charge.

It was the gentle CRPF trooper who came to my rescue.

 

"Why are you beating him?" the trooper asked the policeman. The cop looked surprised. "Do I need your permission?" he asked.

"I won't allow you to beat him," the trooper replied, much to my relief.

The policeman became furious and threatened to kill me first and then gun down the CRPF man. I was at a loss - but the CRPF man still bundled me and the children off into the car and ordered me to rush away.

I grabbed the chance and zoomed away. I hated myself later for not reacting - perhaps for not picking up a stone and throwing it at the policeman unlike thousands of ordinary Kashmiris who have now taken to stone pelting.

When you are pushed to the wall, do you expect sanity to prevail?



(Sarwar Kashani can be reached at s.kashani@ians.in.

The views expressed are his own.)

 

 

 

 

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