A group of tribals in Madhya Pradesh have written to the Prime Minister, offering to take on “stone pelting” protesters in Kashmir with their traditional weapon, gofan (slingshot).
Bhil youth in the state’s tribal-dominated Jhabua district say they are infuriated by videos and photos showing security forces “helpless” against masses of stone-pelting men and women in Kashmir that has seen widespread clashes in recent months.
“We will give a befitting reply to them – stone for stone – and send them packing” said Bhanu Bhuria, one of the youths using the Gofan, confidently. They also want the army to raise a “gofan battalion”.
The Gofan comprises a piece of rope where the loose ends are held in one hand and at the centre a square or rectangular piece of cloth, rubber or skin is attached on which a stone is put.
The user rotates the rope and when it has gained sufficient velocity, one end of the rope is released and the missile hurtles through the air at great velocity. The weapon is usually used for hunting and defence.
“The stone missile travels at two to three times the velocity compared to a person throwing a stone and it also travels a greater distance. Some skilful tribals can hit a target at 50 metres with accuracy,” said police inspector RC Bhaskare, who has worked in the tribal belt for over two decades.
This comes amid mounting anger in Kashmir over a string of alleged human rights violations by security personnel. Thousands of people have come out on the streets and clashed with the army, which is battling charges of tying a Kashmiri man to a jeep as a human shield.
“We are patriotic. Our blood boils when we see our enemies hurting our soldiers,” said Naval Singh from Dotad village.
Other videos show Kashmiris roughing up paramilitary personnel, visuals that have upset the tribal youth.
“We have watched on social media and also on television how our security forces are often helpless against the stone-pelters since they cannot fire at them. We discussed it amongst ourselves and believe that we can come in handy in such situations,” Bhanu said.
More than 100 Bhil youth are now honing their skills with the gofan at Hatipao hills, situated on the outskirts of Jhabua town and want the government to start a gofan battalion and send them to Kashmir.
On Wednesday, a group met the Jhabua district collector RC Saxena and handed over a memorandum in the name of the prime minister. “We should be given an opportunity to serve the country and we will show how good we are” says Bahadur Hatila of Bhoyra village.
Tribal-dominated Jhabua is one of the poorest districts of Madhya Pradesh and according to the 2011 census, its literacy rate is the second-lowest in the country. Most Bhils eke out a meager living as marginal farmers and labourers.
“We have fought valiantly against the British under the legendary tribal leader Tantiya Bhil, and we can serve the country once again,” added Naval. Jhabua superintendent of police Mahesh Jain said a large number of tribals used the gofan was both deadly and accurate.