Stereotyping anyone is a sick exercise. Stereotypes divide the people of a single community. Mouris Bashir’s viewpoint on stereotypes in Kashmir published in Kashmir Reader on July 04, was a refreshing read. The issue is grave one. It had to be taken up. It is, maybe, acknowledged though no one could manage to transmit the same in media for people to read. The differentiation on the basis of region, the categorisation of “gaamuk” and “shahruk”, has been evident in Kashmiri society for so long. Ignoring the problem is not the solution. Admitting is.
As soon as I went through the first paragraph I was reminded of some experiences that I underwent. I had completed matriculation exams and, like all other wards, I was compelled to join the mad race of ‘mission MBBS’. For the same reason, I was sent to one of the educational hubs of the Valley, Parraypora. Though located in a city, yet the bulk of the enrolment comes from villages. Poor and middle class boys with heavy burden of cherished parental dreams upon their shoulders put up in the vicinity. Most of the students have to cook and study simultaneously. They don’t get to wear branded jeans or ride drumming bikes.
First few classes in the large spacious hall were the stepping-stones to an imminent success. The environment was lively, the teachers dedicated. Everyone seemed to have come to prove a point. Until one day something untoward happened. A student from the countryside put forth a question to the teacher. The whole class burst into laughter. Neither was the question hilarious to draw laughter nor was the student a clown. The only thing that merited a laugh, for the city-dwellers, was that the language of the question asked was in typical Kashmiri—Kashmiri as spoken by the rural people or whom Mouris says, are stereotyped as “Gujjars”. I have to admit that my perception changed there itself. Over the next few years I experienced almost negligible friendships developing between students from villages and cities. There seemed segregation between the two sections. No rural student would dare to ask a question again. The reflex action was (still is) two-fold: they had to adapt to the accent of the city-dwellers, in which they fail miserably, or they had to switch to Urdu. Both methods found their respective followers with exceptions like me who chose to remain silent than speak at all.
Kashmir’s is a diverse society. What has to be understood is that mostly these stereotypes are built around differences in accent and dialect. The linguistic differences have created hypothetical barriers among the society. Almost each district of Kashmir speaks a different accent of the Kashmiri language. Consequently, mocking has never been avoided. Villagers ridicule the city people and vice-versa. The “d” sound in accent of rural people is “r” sound for the urban people. There are many synonyms for a single thing in different areas.
When I first travelled by a local bus in Srinagar, the conductor of the vehicle reached out to me asked for fare by saying “Billaa annsaa kiraay”. I was left wandering for a few days that my name wasn’t Bilal, then why had he called me so! Later I came to know that “Billaa” is a common term spoken in the city.
It may sound exaggerated but the truth is that these things have led to preconceived opinions about the people concerned. When you hear the accent or dialect, what do you think about the person who speaks it? Will you have any stereotype towards him? No one likes to admit that they make judgments, or opine about people based on the way that they speak. However, these judgments or irrational conclusions do exist. Reflecting on these attitudes allows us to become more open-minded and accepting others’ differences. Accepting the differences will help in bridging the gap that has been present in the society just because of the different way people speak the language. And by accepting them, we shall learn to value the innate being more than what physically appears to be.
The incidents mentioned above did alter my mindset. But I never joined the proponents of “H ” and “Hyaa” who just mocked the other clan. I haven’t forgotten the unity on display in 2010 protests. Even last year, when Kashmir was left at the mercy of floods, these superficial barriers took a backseat. Togetherness transcended all prejudices. Rural and urban people were both sufferers in the wake of a calamity. None backed away from helping others irrespective of where he belonged to or how he spoke. I take heart from such momentary periods and think they should exist beyond bad times. I still am a ‘proud Kashmiri’ and, for the sake of one identity crisis we face, even a prouder “gamuk”.