‘’But we common dogs are proud too, sometimes. They plunder us, outrage us, beat us, kill us; but we have a little pride left, sometimes.’’
(A Tale of Two Cities:
It was on 21st of August, 2019, when I, after a long summer break of three months, boarded a plane at Srinagar International Airport for Delhi to join my doctorate studies at Aligarh. The airport, which often wears a festive look, presented a sombre sight. Long queues I could see at the kiosks of major airlines, with people, mostly students, waiting for their turn to book their tickets. I was the luckiest, as I had booked a ticket online for my departure a month back – a foreboding, you may call it. Parents who accompanied their children looked agitated. They moved from one counter to another, elbowing others, arguing with representatives. While some were successful in getting a seat for their children, others were not. Boarding passes were issued and everyone seemed grateful to be leaving Kashmir. It had been just over a fortnight after 5 August, when Kashmir woke to a strange new dawn. Despondence was visible on everyone’s face; their energy was subdued, their defeat was palpable. Crestfallen as everyone else, I, too, left for that place which ostensibly had “integrated” us.
Landing at Delhi in the late afternoon was a harrowing experience. The Delhi heat boiled us from within. Sweat drenched us from top to toe. I could sense not just the geographical incongruity between Delhi and Kashmir, but also the psychological. Delhi was abuzz with life, while Kashmir fed up with life. I along with my friends left for Aligarh by a late-night train.
Aligarh is, and has always been, one of the hotspots for Kashmiri students. As they say, it is the “Second Home” for Kashmiris, and rightly so. I doubt if any place in India has been as ‘Kashmirised’ as Aligarh. The whole campus and its precincts are adorned with Kashmiris. The dhabas are replete with discussions about Kashmir, the participants sipping the famous Aligarh tea cup after cup. But this time around, everything seemed hostile; I hated what I had loved before. My heart longed for my motherland – which seemed too far but so close to my heart. I wanted to talk to my daddy jan, to my mouji, talk with them about my watan, but…. For the first time, Aligarh seemed to be suffocating. It wasn’t the repealing of a mere Article that had riled me deep in my bosom; the modus operandi, the manner in which it was executed, made my blood boil. I wanted to pick up a stone and throw it, but where? No military garrisons, no army pickets, no Rakshak jeeps here – I forgot I was a thousand miles away. Throwing a stone was unheard of here. Moving around the campus, I felt envious of the aazadi that people here enjoyed and I felt furious at the zulm my people suffered there.
It was Sunday, I remember, when my phone buzzed with a call from an unknown number. A call from a landline phone in Kashmir! Cellular networks and even landlines, which people had almost forgotten about, had been blacked out in Kashmir since August 5. Perhaps the mighty Indian State feared a phone in a hand more than a stone now. The caller speaking from that mysterious landline number, as I had rightly presumed, was daddy jan, as I lovingly call him. It was after twenty odd days that I was listening to the voice of my father. ‘Gobra theek tchuka? (Son, are you fine?)’ I heard. He was in a hurry. Only two minutes of calling-time was to be allotted to each person. After twenty days, only two minutes! I was once again enraged at the State which dictated us such terms. ‘Ahansa theek hasa shus (Yes, I am fine),’ I replied, but the voice on the other side was not clear. I said ‘hello, hello’ but no response came and the call disconnected. This hide and seek continued for almost two months, until Big Brother announced the partial restoration of post-paid cellular network.
During these eight months, living here in mainland India, I have witnessed a curious turning of the tables. It is as if the whole of India has been ‘Kashmirised’, rather than Kashmir being ‘Indianised’. I feel Kashmir more in India now than India in Kashmir. The precursor to this transformation was the Babri Masjid verdict which was accepted by Muslims, as various Muslim leaders and Islamic scholars asserted, in order to “show respect to the law of the land”. But the anger was simmering, it only needed a flashpoint. The NRC and the CAA ignited the protests, from Kerala to Kanpur, Shaheenbagh to Siliguri. I began seeing Kashmir day in and day out on the streets, in the lawns of the university campus, on posters, in rallies, in the Azadi slogans that people raised, in the boycotting of classes, in the pelting of stones, in the protest calendars released, in the students lathi-charged, in the tear-gas shelling, in PSA, NSA… As and when I received a call from my loved ones, the first thing they asked me was, ‘Halaat sha atti theek (Is everything alright there?)’. I am told again and again, ‘wal tar garrai’(come home). This was not the case a few years before. Parents from Kashmir would insist, rather compel their children to ‘tariw nebar’ (go out) for studies and for safety. Curfews, hartals, agitations, aazadi were words that only Kashmiris were familiar with. Now they are as normal in India as well.
With the recent announcement of a new domicile law, will the dream of ‘Indianisation’ and ‘integration’ of Kashmir be at last fulfilled now? Solum tempus narrabo (only time will tell)!
The writer is a research scholar at AMU. [email protected]