By Yusra Khan
[A]fter spending three years in jail, he still says “Yes, I’m a stone thrower.” Born on the11th of February 1991, Aarif Baba* has two historical events associated with his birth date. 11th February is the day Mohammad Maqbool Butt, considered one of the founders of Kashmir’s freedom movement, was hanged and 1991 is the peak year of resistance in Kashmir. Like Butt, Baba too wants to see Kashmir prosper as an independent nation.
Ever since his childhood, Baba has been drawn to stone throwing. At first, stone throwing was purely for fun but the 2008 mass protests changed his view. “I took stone throwing seriously when Sheikh Abdul Aziz was killed in 2008,” says Baba. Aziz was killed when protesters from Srinagar and other adjoining areas went on to march towards Muzaffarabad, across Line of Control. “I was part of the march in which Aziz Sahib was killed. Since that day, stone throwing has been a weapon for me to fight the oppression of Indian forces and the Jammu and Kashmir police.”
Baba was arrested in November 2008 from his residence in Srinagar and was put behind bars for 27 days at various police stations in the capital city. “In those twenty seven days, the police shifted me from one police station to another. I was kept at police stations in Sadder, Baghat, Shaheed Gunj, Shergari, Batamalloo and Cargo,” says Baba.
The Police identified Aarif in a video uploaded on Facebook, and arrested him on charges of stone throwing. “The video was shot while I was setting a police vehicle on fire at Bemina,” states Baba. He was released after a month when his family paid some amount of money to the police. Within a week, he was rearrested. Later released on bail, he grew cautious to a degree and was never arrested in 2009, despite his ongoing stone throwing activities.
“’The police did not arrest me in 2009 but I had to visit police stations and court hearings since there were ten FIRs filed against me,” he says. In late 2009, Baba was inclined to quit throwing stones because of his family’s growing concern but he could not give up the “dream of seeing his independent nation” and hence did not quit just for the sake of his family.
Baba was rearrested in 2010 when he and his fellow stone throwers attacked the vehicle of Nasir Aslam Wani, the then Home Minister of State, on the national highway near Bemina in the outskirts of the city. He was slapped with the Public Safety act (PSA) and sent to Central Jail, Srinagar for one year. Later, he was shifted to Kot Balwal jail in Jammu for another year.
[pullquote]I was given electric shocks on my private parts. My back was roasted….The officials once told me that if I would become their source, they would set me free.[/pullquote]“I was scared when the police would put chains around my hands. I entered the jail with my fellows and some leaders of Muslim League and Hurriyat (G) were also accompanying us. The officials treated us like we were criminals. They even removed my pants which disturbed me the most,” recalls Baba.
In jail, he was locked alone in a cell where he was tortured to such an extent that he was hospitalized for four days at Janipur hospital, Jammu. “Rajni Sehgal, the then Superintendent of Jail, tortured me herself. I was given electric shocks on my private parts. My back was roasted. After I was discharged from the hospital, I was again locked up with criminals, against which I did a hunger strike for seven days. The officials once told me that if I would become their source, they would set me free.”
The Jammu and Kashmir police offered him employment which he denied because his “soul did not allow him to sell the blood of martyrs.” Baba has no faith in the government, police, or law. “Our state is run by the police. The National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, and Congress are no longer governing the state,” says Baba, adding, “It is the police that are running the main stream political parties. The police are government, courts, and law here. They can do anything and are not answerable to anyone.”
[pullquote]If we pick up guns then India will call us terrorists but throwing stones is not terrorism. Stone throwing weakens India.[/pullquote]While questioning the different attitude of the police towards the people of Kashmir, Baba asks why water cannons used in other parts of India cannot be used in Kashmir. “If the police and Central Reserve Police Force want to disrupt protests, they can use water cannons but in Kashmir they use bullets, batons, pepper gas, and tear gas shells,” says Baba.
He believes stone throwing is the only way to achieve azadi. Without violent bloodshed, stone throwing allows for voices to be raised and shows oppressors that there is still fighting spirit in the people they seek to subdue. However, Baba strongly discourages the use of guns. “If we pick up guns then India will call us terrorists but throwing stones is not terrorism. Stone throwing weakens India.”
“No one funds us!” he says. “Why do we need money for throwing stones? We do it out of emotion. We play with our lives only to see the dawn of azadi. How can we sell our nation?” Putting his full faith on the leadership of Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Hurriyat Conference, a pro-referendum separatist leader, Baba finds a role model in him. He supports him and all other separatists like Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Yasin Malik, and claims that they are the people who can set us free. “As long as I’m alive, I’m with them,” he says.
Believing that the azadi will one day come, Baba is ready to sacrifice himself on the path of freedom. “I will struggle for azadi until my last breath. One day we will be free and independent. Azadi has to come and it will, Insha Allah. No India. No Pakistan. Only azadi,” vows Baba.
*The name has been changed, on demand, for the safety of the person.
Photograph by Anam Lone