‘Kashmir Handicrafts Exhibition’is put up on Baba Kharak Singh Marg (BKS Marg)at a venue sandwiched between a Masjid and Pracheen Shiv Mandir every year in winter. BKS marg has all the state emporiums and is a street in Delhi with places of worship of all the major religions. It has few Hindu temples (Hanuman mandir, Shiv mandir and Ganesh mandir), Bangla Saheb Gurudwara, and a Church at the end of the marg. Behind the emporiums stands a Jain temple.
BKS marg also houses a Coffee Home, operated by Delhi Tourism – said to be a home away from home – adjoining Shiv Mandir. Across the road next to Ganesh Mandir is a multi-storied building,Mohan Singh Place which houses the Indian Coffee House on its terrace. The Coffee house has been the meeting point of many political, social and cultural activists for over six decades. If you take a walk down the state emporiums chances are that you may still meet some non-party political and socio-cultural activists who frequent the place.
Every year I buy some dry fruits, spices, honey from the ‘Kashmir Handicrafts Exhibition’ which lasts till at least the end of first week of March. A small vendor outside the ‘Kashmir Handicrafts Exhibition’is frequented by people like us to have a cup of steaming hot Kashmiri Kahwa poured from a huge silver kettle pot. Like most Indians I was waiting for the last days to do my shopping from the exhibition at a bargain price.
On 20 February, 2019 I read a news item in the Times of India: “Meghalaya guv backs boycott of everything Kashmiri”. He had tweeted the same message a day earlier. I resolved to prepone my shopping at the ‘Kashmir Handicrafts Exhibition’ to that day itself in support of the Kashmiris. I reached there in the afternoon where I met half a dozen of my co-activists already assembled there and in animated discussion. To my horror I saw the whole wooden and canvas structure housing the various vending outlets at the ‘Kashmir Handicrafts Exhibition’ being pulled down. Since it was raining we took shelter under the remaining part of the yet-to-be pulled down structure. We were sipping tea obtained from a roadside tea vendor. A fellow activist,Babu Munna expressed anguish that the exhibition which was to last two more weeks was suddenly forcibly closed.
As the rain stopped we– Vijay Gautam, Salman Qureshi, Dr. P.S. Sahni, Mohammad Umar, SubhashBharati– stepped out and looked at the sign board. We realized that the first word Kashmir in ‘Kashmir Handicrafts Exhibition’ had been covered overnight by a wall paper with flowery pattern on it. Everywhere the word Kashmir had been so covered. There appeared to be a conscious effort to remove Kashmir out of our existence. The flowers designed on the wall paper covering the word ‘Kashmir’ looked like a floral tribute to a place considered paradise on earth.
I felt wretched. I cursed my Bania instinct to save small amounts of money by deciding to wait till March for my shopping. I had failed to do my little bit for Kashmir. The Government claims that Kashmir is an integral part of India. But at the same time it is trying to obliterate not just Kashmir but everything Kashmiri from the daily existence of every Indian. If this is allowed to happenwithin a radius of two kilometers from the Indian Parliament, Supreme Court of India, on a street with all the State emporiums and a tourist hub for foreigners, the horror Kashmiris must have facedelsewhere in India in the last one week petrifies me. By advocating a boycott of Kashmiri goods – through it minions – is the Indian state imposing sanctions on Kashmir, à la Trump on Venezuela?Why are thousands of Kashmiri students studying in various universities in India; the Kashmiri workers employed in factories; and the individual vendors selling shawls and phirans being criminalized? What, then, should we do?
Telugu Poet Varavara Rao presently incarcerated in jail for alleged anti-national activities has aptly summed up:
“If crime itself assumes authority and power
And hunts down people holding them criminals,
Everyone endowed with a mouth who keeps silent,
Becomes [a] criminal himself.”
Shobha Aggarwal is a lawyer and member of PIL Watch Group. She can be contacted at: [email protected]