Away from Kashmir

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They grew up in the valley, they work in Delhi. They left Kashmir but Kashmir stayed with them. Majid Maqbool narrates some experiences Kashmiri youth had in Delhi
Yahan hain (They’re here).
On the old wooden door of their rented room in a congested Muslim locality of Nizamuddin area in Delhi, these two words, chalked in white, had a clear message for my friends that evening – leave. Apparently harmless, these words contained a fearful message, which went beyond their implicit meaning: You are not safe here. You are not just Muslims; you are Kashmiri Muslims. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Couple of years ago, after finishing their studies in Kashmir, two of my friends, with dreams of a better future in heart and a couple of bags in hand, left their homes. They started looking for a suitable job in Delhi. After struggling for some months, they finally found some work.
That evening they were returning from their respective offices – to sleep in their small rented room.  And “Yahan hain”, quiet literally for them, came as a writing on the wall. They knew that in a city, not their own, they are more vulnerable to be held for something they didn’t do. Their identity –young Kashmiris, Muslims – was enough to land them in trouble in Delhi.
The multiple blasts that had ripped Delhi in 2008, were still in news. And the news was played repeatedly – with relished hysteria and gory graphics – on the high pitched screens of Indian news channels. It ensured people talked about it, more than the usual. And in Nizzamuddin, the news instantly became a hot topic of discussion among groups of bearded men assembled at small shops fronts. In the busy snaking lanes and by-lanes of Nizzamuddin, the burka clad women whispered among themselves about the attacks. “Who could be behind them?” they asked.
Taking no risks – and taking no pains to enquire from people around about the source of this message – they immediately called one of their friends. He was staying in another neighbourhood in Delhi. Anything can happen here, they told him on phone. And then, that evening, without opening their room, they left for their friend’s place. He lived with his family. They thought his place was relatively ‘safe’ to spend the night.
They talked late into the night about the incident.
This was not the only experience they had in India’s capital. Many such experiences since they had arrived in Delhi had become part of their lives. They didn’t want to speak about all of those experiences. It was a routine for them – something that is permanently attached with their twin identity of being Muslims and Kashmiris.
In a three room rented flat in Lajpat Nagar, meeting other friends working in the IT industry of Delhi brought back questions about Kashmir. They have been living in Delhi for years – some of them for almost 10 years. And every time I visit them, the desire to come back home is greater than my previous visits. Some of them seem happy to live and work in Delhi though. Unlike the conflict ridden Kashmir they come from, they see a bright future in India’s capital. But for that better future the only price they had to pay – a bigger price, as they pointed out – was being away from their parents, their homes.
Taking a long drag from his cigarette, a friend, who was listening to our conversation till now, suddenly came up with a declarative statement. “We can not survive without India,” he said, with a lot of conviction in his voice. His roommate immediately contradicted him: We can, he said, we can.
On this question of survival without India, a heated debate shaped up. No one was willing to agree, or concede. Finally, they agreed to disagree on this question. One of them, taking the discussion away from the question of survival for a while, asked me, “Has anything changed back home after Omar Abdullah became the CM?” He had heard a lot about the young CM bringing some change in Kashmir. He was anticipating a positive response from me. Before I could answer, he again asked, after a brief pause, “Why are innocents still getting killed there?”
Then he paused, thought, looked away, and smiled. He knew that his question contained the answer, too. Afterwards he didn’t ask more questions.
Another friend – a university student in Delhi – had changed considerably since I had last seen him in Kashmir. Few months back, when he had come home on vacations, he was travelling around, meeting people, getting to know more about the conflict, and those affected by it. A bright student, and always troubled by what was happening back home, he often talked passionately about Kashmir with his friends and teachers in Delhi. And whenever there was any seminar on the issue of Kashmir anywhere in Delhi, he would immediately rush to the place. He would actively take part, and freely express his views on the Kashmir. Many in Delhi didn’t like him for that reason alone, he would say.
When I met him one April afternoon in Delhi, he was still in shock. A few weeks back something disturbing had happened to him. It had put him off balance. He was not able to concentrate on his studies. He rarely went out to enjoy with his friends. He met very few people. He had few friends. He trusted no one.
Looking distraught and visibly shaken at the time of our meeting, he was in need of assurance. He had not informed his parents about his experience. He had a future ahead. And his parents had a lot of hopes from him.
I wanted him to tell me his story. He was reluctant. He hadn’t shared it with his roommates, and classmates, either. I asked him about it. At first, he didn’t want to talk about it. Even talking about it openly, he told me, could bring trouble for him in Delhi.
Finally, he agreed to mail me about his experience. But to write his side of the story, I had to make some necessary changes in the method of my reporting. It was very important for him. “Don’t mention my name. Remove the name of the places I was taken to that day. Don’t mention the name of the college I am studying in,” he stressed seeking my reassurance.
Minus names and places, this is what happened to him that summer morning.
After meeting a friend on a bright summer day this year, he was heading back from the xyz place to his university hostel in Delhi. A little before midnight while walking on the xyz road, a white Indica car stopped by his side. Someone from the backseat of the car asked him the way to some place. He was giving him directions, when suddenly two people pushed him in the car from behind. “Even as I was making sense of what was happening, they put a black mask over my face, and asked me to remain silent, otherwise they threatened to kill me,” he wrote to me.
After driving around for some 30 minutes, they stopped the car, and asked him to get down. “We walked some 15 steps and then entered some room. There they searched me, and took my phone, wallet, keys, and handkerchief and made me sit on a stool,” he wrote.
After this, the questions followed, one after another: “what is your name? Where do you study? What are you studying? What is your family background?”
And then, as he feared all along, the question of Kashmir came up. He was asked why he talked about Kashmir in his campus. And why he was attending seminars related to Kashmir. He pleaded ignorance. One of the men started kicking him on the lower back. He fell to the floor. The kicking continued.
The keypad of his mobile phone was locked. They asked him the security code. After a few minutes, he was made to sit on the stool. The same questions followed. And the kicking resumed. Again, he fell down.
“There was no provocation from my side,” he wrote to me.
After this, he was again made to sit on the chair. Then they started lecturing him. “They told me that I have come to Delhi to study and I should just concentrate on that, and not get involved in all these things. They said I should stay away from these seminars, and I should not speak on the Kashmir issue in the campus,” he wrote. “They also told me to think about my family and their expectations from me. They said this time was just a warning. Next time their attitude would be different,” he wrote.
He promised them that he would just attend his classes, and not get involved in such activities. They then returned his wallet, phone, keys, and handkerchief.
After this, they drove him back and dropped him at the same place where he was picked up. His hood was removed, and he was pushed out of the car. He noticed the car had tinted glasses, and was without number plates. As they left, he checked his mobile phone for time. It showed 11:18 a.m. “I checked my wallet, and nothing was missing, even though it had more than 1000 rupees in it”.
He then walked back to his hostel, quietly.
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About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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