1:32 pm - Friday November 6, 2015

Flaunting an AK-47 in Jammu & Kashmir is not ‘shocking': It’s a status symbol

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A protective ring by gun-wielding policemen is the new language of power in Kashmir. Flaunting swanky cars as a status symbol is no longer fashionable among the young, the wannabe and those who want to signal that they have arrived. What you really need is a bunch of policemen around you, whether or not you may actually need the security.
In the years that have passed since the eruption of insurgency in the Kashmir Valley, the gun has come to not only symbolize power but also the political clout enjoyed by those who possess it. Once it was a feared instrument in the hands of security forces and militants. Now it is loved so much that even barely-teenage sons and daughters of those protected by the state enjoy the company of armed men on their outings.
Watch the sheer number of visitors with armed guards at a coffee lounge on Maulana Azad Road, popular among the nouveau riche and the elite of Srinagar, and you get the picture.The practice is so common that it no longer ruffles feathers when a sitting legislator, instead of shaking hands with voters, chooses to hold a semi-automatic gun in public instead.
A picture to this very effect, of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader and MLA Chadoora, Javaid Mustafa Mir, wearing a camouflaged jacket and brandishing an AK-47, went viral on social networking sites few days ago.
Mir served as power minister in the 2002-2008 PDP-Congress coalition government but the picture which was apparently uploaded by the leader on his Facebook page gives him the looks of a renegade straight out of Kashmir in the early nineties.
But Mir is not alone in his love for guns, which he says he carries for security reasons.
National Conference leader and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s confidante, Nasir Aslam Wani’s son, also landed in trouble recently when a picture showing him posing with a gun along with some cops surfaced on social networking sites. Aslam defended his son, saying that the pictures were “blown out of proportion.”
“My son was only posing with a gun and was not threatening anyone. If film stars can take such photos, why can’t my son? Moreover, my son always had a passion to join the police force,” Wani said.
No one can be sure about the boy’s passion for the police force (and what is preventing him from joining them if that really is the case), but his passion for guns is painfully obvious. As gun enthusiasts everywhere will testify, there is nothing wrong with being fascinated by the weapons, but sociologists say that in strife torn areas in particular, it can also signal the birth of a disorder.
“Children who have grown up in a heavily militarized zone share a deep affiliation with arms, but it’s a disorder,” Bashir Ahmad Dabla, a noted sociologist who teaches at the University of Kashmir, said.
When insurgency erupted in the Valley in 1989, the AK-47, the gun with which Wani’s son posed for the photographer, was extensively used by militants against the security forces. Most of them ended in the hands of either security forces or in the river bed of the Jehlum. The AK-47 was popular among insurgents for its light weight coupled with the sheer number of bullets it could fire within a minute. Many people used it for achieving political prominence, while others furthered their business interests with it.
I remember a group of militants appearing in the bedroom of my businessman father in late 1999 and thrusting the nozzle of an AK-47 into his mouth. The militant commander forced him into signing a paper that made him the owner of one of family shops in the main town of north Kashmir’s Baramulla town. The militant became an Army soldier and, later, a police informer. Presently, he is among the most successful businessmen in north Kashmir. He too carried a gun with him for some time.
Over the last 25 years, guns have increasingly become part of Kashmir’s culture. In many villages and towns, kids played the “army-militant game”, a localized version of chor-police, to amuse themselves. The gun has played an essential part in their upbringing. Go to any market in Kashmir and you will find an Army soldier staring at you from top of his armored bunker with a gun in his hand.
Outside the school gate of your child, its not usual for a soldier, apart from doing his normal duty, to also wave an AK-47 in air to regulate the traffic. Or you may be withdrawing money from an ATM when a soldier shows up with an AK-47 and you make way for him, out of fear.
That many explain why, when in December 2013, Mikhail Kalashnikov who invented AK-47 died, newspapers in Kashmir carried numerous obituaries and memoirs. Writers, journalists and common men alike shared with nostalgia their memories of a weapon that had played a significant role in shaping their lives.
” These are traits of a conflict zone. Gun gives a sense of power, so much so that instead of fearing the sight of it, children and grown-ups alike sometimes feel a kind of fascination for it,” Dabla adds.
Khurram Parvez, Programme Coordinator of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, says it is part of a hegemonic character which the Indian state has been at its displaying best in Kashmir.
“It is not because of the threat perception, but because you want to show the pro Indian political patronage which unfortunately has become a status symbol in Kashmir these days. Militants would not have showed the gun in public but these people do it to demonstrate political power.”

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