Reporting Between The Lines

Abdul Ahad Jan’s shoe flying over Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's head

Shoe-throwing policeman hailed as ‘hero’ in Kashmir

By: Izhar Wani (AFP) – Aug 16, 2010

SRINAGAR, India — A Muslim policeman who flung a shoe at Indian Kashmir’s chief minister Omar Abdullah was hailed as a hero Monday, with thousands of people descending on his home village to congratulate his family.

Every major Indian newspaper ran front page photos of Abdul Ahad Jan’s shoe sailing over Abdullah’s head, as the minister spoke at an Indian independence day event Sunday in Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar. The improvised missile failed to find its target and Jan, who had chanted “We want freedom” and waved a black flag — a symbol of Kashmiri separatism — was quickly overpowered by bodyguards.

The incident was captured live on television and prompted several thousand people to descend on Jan’s home village of Ajas, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Srinagar.

Witnesses said women showered flowers on Jan’s wife, Bega Jan, and kissed and hugged her, while others beat drums outside her home and the crowd chanted “Long live Ahad Jan.”

“What he has done is unbelievable. He has done us proud. It was the manifestation of the anger that every Kashmiri harbours,” Merhaj-u-Din, a contractor and part of the crowd at Ajas, told AFP by telephone.

The celebrations, which had a distinctly anti-India complexion, began on Sunday and continued through the night and into Monday.

The last two months have witnessed the worst violence in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley in more than two years.

Stone-throwing protesters opposed to Indian rule have clashed with police on a near daily basis in Srinagar and other towns. Nearly 60 protesters and bystanders have been killed, most of them young men or teenagers shot dead by police.

Chief minister Abdullah, who heads the National Conference, the main pro-India party in Kashmir, sought to laugh off the incident. “Hurling a shoe is better than hurling a stone,” he told the crowd at the independence day rally.

Abdullah has come under a lot of pressure for his handling of the recent unrest, with many Muslims blaming him for what they see as the disproportionate police response to the protests. Jan remains in custody, and police officials were quick to issue a statement questioning his mental state.

“He is mentally unsound and is facing charges in a criminal case. He has already been suspended for his criminal activities,” the statement said.

Jan’s family rubbished the police version. “He is mentally fit. But he was disturbed by the recent killings of civilians. He has always resisted injustice,” said Azad Jan, his relative.

Jan’s name was also on the lips of supporters in Srinagar. “I salute his courage for throwing a shoe at a person responsible for killing over 50 people. Ahad Jan is our hero,” said Abdul Majid, a shopkeeper.

“His picture should be on currency notes once we are free,” he said.

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