No Country for Kashmiris

  • Adil Bhat
  • Publish Date: May 12 2017 2:13AM
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  • Updated Date: May 12 2017 2:13AM
No Country for Kashmiris

                                                  Illustration by Suhail Naqshbandi/KI

What it’s like being a Kashmiri in different parts of India

 

Kashmir has not known peace since Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by the government forces last July. Protests, usually accompanied by stone-pelting, are the order of the day, as are beatings and firings by the government forces that invariably follow. This has spurred frenzied coverage by the so-called national media.

For the most part, the media has been occupied with “othering” the Kashmiri, reducing him to the caricature of a stone-pelter or a Jihadi. The objective, it appears, is to align the imagination of Indians who would rather “understand” Kashmir from the comfort of their living rooms with that of the jingoistic ruling class. Not surprisingly, such “understanding” is limited to Pakistan and the politics of territory. There is visible disregard for Kashmiri life, both at home and in different parts of India.

At home, the treatment meted out to the Kashmiri by the Indian state is brutal; outside, it transpires as suspicion by the state and, increasingly, by the society.

Speaking with Kashmiri professionals, students and workers in India reveals a sense of utter alienation. They tell of being sneered at variously as stone-pelters, jihadist sympathisers, Pakistan supporters, traitors; of their identity being brutalised by such vitriol.

Suhail, 23, moved to Delhi from Pulwama to study for a master’s in English literature just before Burhan’s killing threw Kashmir into a prolonged summer of unrest last year. “The streets were burning in Kashmir but the flames engulfed us here in Delhi. Until the end of the uprising, I was constantly told ‘be an Indian or go to Pakistan’,” Suhail said. It is one of the most common phrases that have come to dominate the social space in India. “I thought to myself, ‘I have never thought of going to Pakistan, then why this choice?’ It was the most disturbing experience of my life.”

A journalist from Reuters who is based in Bengaluru said, “I never have had any violent experiences while living outside Kashmir, but a sense of fear is always there. The insecurity on a psychological level is great.” He added, “The fear grows with every killing back home. There is anger, too. Whenever a Kashmiri dies, the anger is hard to control. It is hard to tame this anger but there is no other option. I have been living outside Kashmir for a long time now. With the emergence of the BJP at the Centre, the fear has grown more among all minorities.”

Though they felt shadowed by fear, no Kashmiri living in a metropolitan city like Delhi and Bengaluru that Kashmir Ink spoke with reported being violently targeted. Mostly, violent incidents involving Kashmiris have taken place in smaller cities of North Indian states such as Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. 

Exhibiting their violence and prejudice, on November 25, 2016, around 20 students, from DOABA group of colleges located at Kharar Mohali area of Chandigarh, attacked a Kashmiri student, identified as Hariss Shakeel Khan (B.Tech, fifth semester), while he was on his way to the college to write his exam. Khan sustained serious injuries and was unable to appear for the exam.

In a recent incident, on April 19, 2017, a group of  six Kashmiri students from Mewar University, in Chittorgarh District of Rajasthan were beaten up in three separate incidents and called ‘terrorists’ by locals, who were supposedly ‘upset’ over stone-pelters targeting soldiers in the Valley.

Rouf, (23), who is from Anantnag and studies Engineering in a private university in Gangrar tehsil, Rajasthan, said, “The situation for Kashmiris is bad here. We are easy targets for the goons in the university, who I assume are politically-affiliated. I have seen the violence inflicted on young Kashmiris here, especially since last year. Hurling abuse is one form of violence, but it is not limited to verbal abuses.”

“I would suggest young Kashmiris to not come to such universities where they are attacked and humiliated for their identity,” Rouf added. “I am looking for a better option outside Rajasthan myself.”

In September 2016, Kashmiri students at Ganga Institute of Technology and Management (GITM) in Kablana village of Jhajjar District of Haryana, were called terrorists and beaten up, allegedly by a group of students from Bihar. The violence was the result of a verbal altercation between a student from Bihar and another from Kashmir. During the argument, the student from Bihar allegedly called the Kashmiri student a “terrorist”, leading to a brawl in which more students from both sides joined in. While talking to the media, one Kashmiri student, identified as Kalimullah, a second year B.Tech student, said that he was playing with his friends and splashing water at them, when a third year BBA student, who was sitting close to us, got wet. This made him angry and he started hurling abuses at us, which later resulted in beating.

Recalling that incident, Junaid, 23, who is from Qazigund, Anantnag and is pursuing B.Tech second year from the same institute where the incident occurred, GITM, said, “Study anywhere but in Haryana. There is no culture or healthy environment to pursue your education. There is a pervasive aggressiveness that one can see on the campus and on the streets. Everything here boils down to your identity, and violence is the only recourse for these people.”

Recalling another incident, Junaid said, “During last year’s uprising in Kashmir, I experienced animosity not only from fellow students but my flatmates as well. Though I have not been beaten up by anyone so far, I know the boys who were beaten up and accused of being terrorists last year over a petty issue.”

Seeking to escape violations of their dignity and self-respect, many Kashmiris have been compelled to limit interaction with the Indian society. Feroze, 25, from Srinagar enrolled in Ramjas College, Delhi, in 2015. “I had heard stories of Kashmiris being beaten up in different parts of India but I still gathered courage to come and study here,” he said. “I mostly hang out with my Kashmiri friends. But by limiting my interaction with others, I have perpetuated the suspicion that they have of me and have also imbibed the same suspicion of others.” That, of course, takes a toll on a young person’s social and mental development.

Names of the people quoted in this story have been changed to ensure their safety