“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Ashraf analyses the power of kangri over shoe

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 67, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

Of Kangris and Shoes!

Recently a senior columnist while commenting on the Independence Day shoe-gate in Kashmir related the story of the throwing of a Kangri (wicker covered earthen pot filled with burning charcoal traditionally used in winter under the locally worn robe for warming) in 1963 on a political leader which resulted in a major change in the political set up of the state in mid sixties.

The incident had virtually wiped out a dynasty from the political scene. The prominent members of the clan went into hiding for quite sometime. The upheaval had resulted from the removal of the holy relic from its place in the Hazratbal shrine. The eleven year long suppression under Bakshi’s rule found a readymade outlet through the holy relic agitation. The upsurge was spontaneous and throughout the valley. The kangri incident on the old Amira Kadal Bridge resulted in the burning down of the vehicle of Rashid Bakshi, a cousin of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. The vehicle was thrown into the river Jhelum. Same day Radio Station, Regal Cinema, and a number of other vehicles were burnt down by the mobs. However, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ordered that the peoples’ fury should not be restricted and they should be allowed to vent their emotions through processions and public meetings. People sat down in almost all major road crossings and lit huge log fires to escape the winter chill. They were round the clock reciting holy Quran. Community kitchens were set up and everybody was getting meals on the roadside. The agitation continued almost for a month till the holy relic was mysteriously placed back in its original location. The loss and recovery of the holy relic is probably the biggest mystery of the twentieth century? The movement kick started by the loss of holy relic was very intelligently channelled by Lal Bahadur Shastri, who had been deputed by Panditji to handle it, in collaboration with Maulana Masoodi towards the demand for the release of Sheikh Abdullah and the restoration of the right of self-determination. The movement also threw up Moulvi Farooq as a new leader heading the Action Committee. A new youth leadership was also thrown up due to the participation of a large number of students. This leadership was subsequently decimated by Sheikh Abdullah by labelling them as Intelligence Bureau agents! He was scared of losing his hold on the masses. The State got a new political set up headed by G M Sadiq, an honest, upright politician with strong communist leanings. It was probably the only clean government Kashmir has seen in the recent history? He was totally liberal and progressive and very much respected the educated and the intellectuals. Pandit Nehru had also realised his mistake of betraying his friend Sheikh Abdullah and sent him as an emissary to meet General Ayub Khan the then President of Pakistan to work out a settlement of the Kashmir problem. Unfortunately, Panditji’s demise disrupted the initiative. Pakistan tried to take advantage of the mass upsurge in Kashmir and sent its commandos to start an armed uprising. This venture failed as Kashmiris were not mentally prepared for an armed struggle. The infiltration resulted in an all out war. However, Kashmir tangle after a destructive war still remained unresolved! Kangri which had been used in this agitation has remained a weapon of choice for Kashmiri agitators in winter. It is an equivalent of a Molotov cocktail easily hidden under pheran (Kashmir robe)!

In contrast to Kangri, which according to the senior columnist is a Kashmiri WMD, Shoe is symbolic of all types of disgrace in Kashmiri parlance. Shoe called Pozar in Kashmiri is associated with the worst form of insult and rebuke. Pozar wassin or pozar wallin in Kashmiri means to be disgraced or to disgrace. If a person wants to disgrace someone, he picks up a shoe and thrashes him with it. This method is used often to express anger against someone by disgracing him with a lowly shoe and is not meant so much to give physical harm. It is more symbolic than substantive. In the present case of the shoe hurling on the chief minister during the Indian Independence Day parade it was not so much to insult and disgrace the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah but has been an attempt to highlight the mass unrest against India. There could not have been a better opportunity than this to project the event worldwide through the electronic media. In fact, that is exactly what happened. The most important annual address of the prime minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort went into background and the shoe hurling on Omar Abdullah by a policeman shouting slogans for freedom grabbed all the headlines. The event was more significant as it represented a peaceful attempt to highlight the plight of Kashmiris than some earlier attempts during the peak of militancy when rockets were regularly fired against the parade from the neighbouring houses and lanes into the stadium. Those incidents represented the militant phase of the Kashmir’s uprising and the shoe hurling, which was in a lighter vein praised by the chief minister himself, symbolises the new form of peaceful protest. However, keeping in view some personal qualities of Omar Abdullah one feels that he did not deserve to be disgraced. Anger is right and one could direct it against him but not disgrace! He had started with a clean slate as a young, upright, and honest leader. People had great expectations from him. He had made many promises during the election campaign. But he failed to fulfil most of those promises especially the ones regarding the harrowing behaviour of the security forces. He seemed to be caught in the cobwebs of a coterie of mafia dons and his advisors did not give him the correct advice! Delhi very cleverly used him to face all the brunt which was actually directed against it.

There is a difference in the kangri hurling of early sixties and the shoe hurling of August 15 this year. In the earlier case, the person concerned was a bully and totally uncouth. The kangri was hurled at the start of the revolution and swept away the whole lot. In the present shoe hurling, the person is not so bad but what he has come to represent is reprehensible to the common Kashmiri! Again the shoe was hurled in the present case when the revolution is already at its peak and the government has already been in a literal sense swept away and exists in name only! There is an astonishing aspect. One is at a loss to differentiate between the person who had an emotional outburst in the assembly merely on a moral allegation and the present one coming on TV off and on during the ongoing massacre of the Kashmiri youth. Are these two faces of the same person? Difficult to imagine!