On a cold Friday evening in 1990, three masked men knocked on the door of Abdul Sattar alias Ranjoor Kashmiri’s house. It was March 23, Pakistan Day. A young man from a neighbouring village named Shafi, who had joined militancy a few months ago, entered the house and greeted Ranjoor.
The very next moment he took out a pistol and shot Ranjoor dead. The poet, author and communist leader from Keegam in Shopian used Ranjoor, which means one in distress, as his nom de plume.
Ranjoor left home at the age of 17 and reached Lahore in 1934. He operated sewing machines in Lahore. While working in Lahore, he heard about Allama Iqbal and started attending his mushairas on Sundays. One evening, he heard Iqbal recite ‘Ai himala! ai fasil-e-kishvar-e-hindustan (O Himalaya! O you bulwark of Indian fortress)’ from Bang-e-Dara.
Poetry became a permanent feature of Ranjoor’s life that evening onwards. Meanwhile, Ranjoor met communist leader Sohan Singh Josh in Lahore, who had recently been released from jail, and got hugely influenced by leftist ideology. He returned to Kashmir after Iqbal’s death in April 1938. Thus began Ranjoor’s journey of poetry and politics. Inspired by Bang-e-Dara of Iqbal, he penned Baangh-e-Inqilaab.
Ranjoor became the organising secretary of Communist Party of India in Jammu & Kashmir in 1966. Ranjoor contested elections and during the 1972 polls, this communist leader got over 25 per cent of the votes cast. What was significant was that a communist leader did this in a Jamaat-e-Islami bastion like Shopian. The founding fathers of Jamaat hailed from this southern Kashmir district.
In the February of 1990, Ranjoor, who had withdrawn from active politics and started concentrating on poetry, received an anonymous letter threatening to kill him. One month later, Ranjoor was silenced forever. Many books on communist ideology in his possession had to be destroyed by Ranjoor’s family in the coming days fearing a backlash. But his copy of Capital is still intact.
Cut to September 2019, hardly two kilometres from Ranjoor’s house, a child aged 13 has been checking identity cards of government employees and teachers commuting to work. With a stick longer than himself in hand, the child has been doing a job that he can’t even fully understand.
We gave him the task because we could not afford to let him become a pawn in the hands of those who wanted to impose what they cunningly call — a civil curfew. The child started pelting stones in 2016. He was only 10 then. To get him on the right path, we had to send him to a juvenile home for reformation.
Those who try to justify stone-pelting by a child in the name of expression of Kashmiri anger, need to put their own children in this kid’s place.
The 13-year-old has lovingly earned the moniker ‘Chhota Don’ courtesy the stick he wields.
The current discourse around Shopian has been vitiated to the point that some people have come to justify street violence but are embarrassed to condemn militants killing shopkeepers trying to open their shops. The situation which got Ranjoor Kashmiri killed and created Chhota Don needs to be addressed.
It is important to step back in the past to know how Shopian, now a dreaded militant den, was once a peaceful region.
In the spring of 1962, Sharmila Tagore, Shammi Kapoor and Pran came to Shopian for two weeks. The film they shot together was Kashmir Ki Kali. An important song sequence was shot on a beautiful hillock named Lahanthoor in Shopian’s Memender. Little did the residents of Memender know then that this picturesque region would witness a scary spectre of unforeseen bloodbath some years down the line.
Memender used to have stone-pelting incidents every Friday till one year ago. Two militants belonged to the locality. But we did not give up, and started reaching out to the people last year regarding the solution to the unrest plaguing the region. We met elders and youth separately and tried to convince them about the futility of stone-pelting. Through mechanisms of community bonds and community policing, we could bring Memender to a point where the youth gave up on stone-pelting.
Memender has no militants now.
The discourse, which tries to look at this place through a lens that sees Kashmir as a bleeding landscape, needs to answer a critical question. Where does it take the people whose children are pushed towards stone-pelting and militancy?
The killers of Ranjoor Kashmiri, the people who create Chhota Dons, and those who destroyed the peace of Memender bit by bit have one connection. And that connection shall not be named.
All views expressed in the article are personal.