The Tale of Two Tragedies
“The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend”
– Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC)
The tragic gutting of the revered Dastgeer Sahab shrine is an irreparable loss which has spread a pall of gloom and sorrow throughout Kashmir. However, on that day many other unfortunate things also happened which have largely gone unnoticed. This is primarily since the enormity of the shocking fire incident has become the centre of our focus. Yet, the other seemingly minor happenings associated with this tragedy are also important because they confirm the existence of a distinct and repetitive pattern of violent crowd reaction to incidents and this abnormally aggressive mindset amongst the present generation is not a healthy sign.
Spontaneous outbursts of anger and anguish resulting in violent behavior amongst the youth due to an actual or perceived feeling of being subjected to prolonged periods of grave injustice, discrimination, political apathy or institutional high handedness is expected even from the most rational minds. However, complete loss of emotional balance resulting in indiscriminate acts of violence does not auger well for any community. Therefore, for the overall betterment of our society, this trend requires to be arrested before it assumes gargantuan proportions which make any future attempts of reversal impossible.
The first issue relates to the uncalled venting of anger by the public on the firefighters. The firefighters were merely answering their call of duty and had come to douse the fire with whatever equipment they had and they in any case, were not responsible for the blaze. Yet they were assaulted and as a result no less than twenty fire fighters were injured. The second issue is the irresponsible act of taking over the control of the fire fighting operations by the crowds. Why did these people not stop for a moment to think that the fire fighters too were Kashmiris, thus equally concerned about saving the shrine and being trained to douse fire would do a far better job than novices in the crowd?
The Director General of Fire and Emergency Services G A Bhat has stated that “After people started lobbing water through pipes, they didn’t attach nozzles with them, which resulted in water loss. Without attaching nozzles to the pipe, water loses its pressure and fails to reach to the target heights.” I for one am inclined to believe this as I observed on the TV how the water being hosed onto the fire was coming out as a weak spray and not in the form of high pressure jet essential to douse the massive flames that were emanating from within the shrine.
The third issue relates to the heavy stone pelting to which the fire tenders were subjected when they went to refill from the nearby Brarinambal water body. This was because a section of the crowd considered the use of ‘polluted’ water from this source for dousing the fire which had engulfed the shrine as a sacrilegious act. It is the extremely orthodox and impractical view of these self professed ‘experts’ on Sufism of preferring that the shrine be gutted rather than be ‘defiled’. (I am not sure whether such irrational thoughts are in keeping with the tenets of Sufism).
The next issue is the rough treatment meted out to important leaders by the crowds. Stone pelting on the cavalcade of Minister of Law and Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Sagar may be condoned since the government must accept the fact that they would be the natural target of immediate public outrage. However, manhandling of senior Hurriyat leaders Shabir Ahmed Shah and Nayeem Ahmed Khan was a despicable act that cannot be pardoned. To see a photograph of a disheveled Shabir Shah, with his face blackened being screened on the TV was heartrending. Shabir Shah is no ordinary man. In 1992, the Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of conscience.” But on that fateful day the world saw the ‘Nelson Mandela of Kashmir’ assaulted and humiliated by those very people who cause he so intensely espouses!
Subsequent attempts to portray this misdeed as the handiwork of government ‘agents’ disguised as protesters, lacks conviction. And if even if we for a moment accept this version, then is it not a matter of shame that a handful of government or security ‘agents’ could not only assault and blacken the face of a prominent personality but also make good their escape while the thousands of onlookers watched helplessly? No amount of excuses can wipe this shameful blot on our people!
The time has come when the separatist leadership has to seriously take stock of the situation. History is replete with examples which highlight the hazards of promoting or using mob violence as a tool to achieve political aims or to draw international attention. We must never forget that since mob frenzy has no sanity, it cannot be controlled and the assault on Shabir Shah and Nayeem Ahmed Khan proves the point. And this is not the first such instance. Readers will recall the ugly incident which occurred last December when Chairman of the Hurriyat (M) Mirwaiz Umer Farooq was attacked with stones by some assailants in Sopore town. Then there are other unfortunate incidents where innocents have been done to death for flimsy reasons. One is reminded of the young shopkeeper bludgeoned to death in Nowhatta, just for expressing reservations on shutting his shop in response to a hartal call and the horrific incident in which a bus driver was stoned to death for merely doing his duty of ferrying staff detailed on polling duties during Panchayat elections.
There are some leaders who consistently warn us against New Delhi’s ‘grand conspiracy’ aimed at destroying the religious, cultural and ideological identity of the Kashmiris. They also tell us of how attempts are being made to ‘divert’ the youth from their ‘national duties’ by engaging them in co-curricular activities. But if pelting stones, stopping government employees from discharging their duties in public interest and assaulting our own leaders is what is meant by the ‘national duty’ for our youth, then I’m afraid, that the ‘enemy’ is not in New Delhi but within us!!
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