By Iymon Ganaie
In the battlefield; guns, bullets, teargas shells, lathis, bricks and stones are the common weapons. Stone is Manzoor’s only weapon in this battle, played on the streets and highways of Kashmir. “Either you hit or you miss. There is no in between,” Manzoor says of the stones he throws.
Winters often put rest the high volatility of summers in Kashmir. No stone throwing. No freedom protests. No freedom marches. No frequent killings. No Chalos. It looks as if winter chills everything. But the same is not true for Manzoor. If in summer’s he was busy in throwing stones. In winters he was busy in packing apples. There is only one similarity in his summers and winters; it is his busyness.
It is afternoon. Manzoor is coming back to his home for launch. He had been working at his neighbor’s shed, packing apples. A wide alley which also leads to the Mosque in the village center guides to his yard. A sudden right turn leads to his one storey house.
A few books are piled on the windowsill in the room. The books are predominantly Islamic; the holy Quran, the ‘Etiquette’s of Islam’ in Urdu with other books piled on each other. The room is mud plastered with a thin carpet laid on the floor. The paneled windows are wrapped by polythene from outside.
A little girl comes with some food for him. Soon his mother too joins him in the room. “This house was gutted in fire. We had to rebuild it,” she says.
Eleven years ago, security forces were engaged in an encounter with militants in Manzoor’s house. Till sunset, four houses were gutted down, two militants and four civilians were also killed. Manzoor lost his father and brother. His remaining family was rendered homeless.
Manzoor does not have vivid memories of that day. He was 8-years-old, but he remembers people coming to his house for condolences. Later he realized that the family of seven was short by two. And he was an orphan.
Manzoor remembers the trimmed beard of his father. The other memories of his father have faded away with time. Of his brother, “I don’t know of him very well, but I have seen his photographs.”
His mother, Aisha says, “He would ask for his father, but later he understood.”
Even as life progressed, Manzoor grew hatred against what he terms, “occupational Indian rule”. “I am a regular protestor of Indian rule,” he says.
In the village, whenever there are protests, villagers say Manzoor is the front runner. Be it the indigenous village protests or the protest calls from the separatists, Manzoor always leads.
“I do not lead,” Manzoor denies his leadership qualities. But he says, “people who chant slogans, there name comes in the limelight.”
Manzoor has to go to Sopore or any other place on the national highway, to participate in the stone throwing. However, sloganeering starts from the village itself.
Manzoor has often found himself in the danger zone in the pitched battles of stone throwing. He vividly remembers two incidents, where he thought he would be captured by the security forces or a teargas shell or a bullet will hit him.
“We were only a few meters away from police and Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) men. Stones were being hurled from both sides. Suddenly an armored vehicle came and it began to fire teargas shells. Two boys who were near me were hit by the teargas shells directly. They col
lapsed on the ground. I almost thought, I would get hit,” he narrates his experience.
“We were chased by the CRPF for almost a kilometer. I entered a yard. If the gate had not been open, I would have got arrested that day,” he says.
This incident had happened near Sangrama. Manzoor has good memories of another incident in Sopore, where he inhaled teargas smoke for the first time. “It irritated my throat. My eyes were burning,” he says of the teargas smoke.
Manzoor has never suffered any injury in the stone through incidents. “Allah has been merciful to me,” he says, looking towards the sky.
Doesn’t he fear death? He remains silent. He doesn’t give any answer.
Does he throw stones because of revenge? Manzoor declines it. He says, “It is passion.”
After few second, he garners another answer, “whatever happened to us is a fact before me but what is happening in the whole valley is the real concern. People live under oppression and tyranny.” He quickly cites the example of Shopian double rape and murder case to justify his statement.
“If it had been revenge, then a few would join the protests,” he says. He further says that that his religion favors to fight oppression. He quotes a verse from the Holy Quran, where Allah admonishes those who don’t fight oppression. Manzoor offers prayers five times a day. He has also sported beard. He says he has never smoked. He ridicules the police for saying, “stone throwers are drug addicts”.
Manzoor also castigates the police for spreading up the “rumors” that stone throwers are paid. “Who would bring Izraeal (Angel of Death) to his home for a meager three hundred or four hundred rupees,” he says.
Will Kashmir erupt again? “I don’t know,” he smiles. “You never know what will happen in Kashmir. People are also scared now.”
In the last six months, police has heavily come down on the stone throwers. Many have been arrested. On December 15, 2010 security forces raided Sopore Degree College and arrested students in the examination centre. Every student who was in the college for examination was scrutinized by the army one by one.
Manzoor says the police raids have an effect on him also. He has deleted all the Islamic and political audio recordings of some persons from his mobile phone. “Mobiles were checked by the police, so it was better to delete them,” he says.
It is already two in the afternoon. Manzoor stands to get back to his work in the fruit laden shed. Outside the shed, his peer group is playing cricket. The winter sun is glowing brightly with little heat to warm up the earth.
These youngsters with motley haircuts are all Manzoor’s friends. They all have a story to tell about Manzoor. “His other brother was a militant who was also killed by security forces,” says Aaqib, Manzoor’s closest friend.
Another friend, Naveed tells about the sermons which Manzoor occasionally gives in the Village Mosque. “On the eve of Shab-I-qadr (27th night of Islamic month, Ramadhaan) last year, Manzoor gave a fiery speech in the Mosque. He was in Itikaf (religious obligation in Islam to seclude from the society in the last ten days of Ramadhan to worship in the mosque), but somebody told him about the Palhalan killings (6th September, 2010, four persons were killed in security forces firing). Instead of giving sermon on the holy night, he spoke of Martyrs,” reveals Naveed.
Though he delivers fiery speeches in the Mosque but his unusual silence often unnerves other people especially his friends. “I will never talk the way I unusually talk when Manzoor is near me. I will always remain hesitant,” says Jamsheed Ahmad. His other friends confirm it. “He talks very less,” says Aaqib.
Does he play? “Yes,” a collectively answer comes from the group. Manzoor himself says football is his favorite game.
Although Manzoor is a stone thrower, an apple packer; he balances these two well with his studies. His teachers say that he was a normal boy in school. Last year, Manzoor passed the tenth class board exams with good score. He got 316 out of 500. “Good score” by the standards of the village society. He has already enrolled himself in the local higher secondary opting Arts subjects.
Sustaining his existence, Manzoor plays different roles. A stone thrower. An apple packer. A protestor. A student. An earning hand. A loving son.
And what is the ultimate role he wants to play in the society? “I want to become a teacher, there is no other job,” he laughs.
[Manzoor’s residence is withheld for his safety and on request by him. The above photo of Manzoor was taken by cellphone camera so resolution is weak.]