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Battered, but still the Rani

Rani is easily among the most battered victims of the stone-pelting agitations that have rocked Jammu and Kashmir in recent months. With many broken parts, it is a surprise that the eight-year-old has survived the violence.
Hindustan Times | By Peerzada Ashiq, Srinagar:
UPDATED ON MAY 04, 2010 11:42 PM IST

Rani is easily among the most battered victims of the stone-pelting agitations that have rocked Jammu and Kashmir in recent months. With many broken parts, it is a surprise that the eight-year-old has survived the violence.

Superhuman? Not quite. Rani is one of the official vehicles at a police station in Nowhatta, 5 km from Srinagar.

The white Gypsy, 2000 model, rose to fame almost overnight, when newspapers worldwide splashed pictures of the vehicle shattered by stone pelters.

Today, Rani has no window handles. Huge iron rods are used to lock the doors and windows. The front window is iron-netted and it has dents are all over the body.

But Nasir Ahmad, 38, who drives the vehicle, is still as much in love with Rani as he was in 2006, when he first sat on its wheel.

Like Rani, Ahmad has sustained injuries on his forehead, a major fracture in his left arm and injuries on his back since his posting at Nowhatta in 2006.

The town is prone to stone-pelting incidents, which locals describe as “Twenty20”, referring to the aggressively played shorter format of cricket.

“I think children in Nowhatta are born with stones in their hands,” said a head constable. “They carry stones even in their schoolbags.”

But it’s not just stones that Rani has had to worry about. “Protesters fling huge rocks and bricks, splash pepper-dipped water and many a times ram the vehicle with long wooden sticks,” said Ahmad.

In January, some even tried to set the vehicle on fire, but failed. The driver says he owes his life to Rani.

“The Gypsy has never failed or ditched me,” he says. “If it develops a snag during protests, all of us in the vehicle will be killed.”

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