‘’ 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 by Charles Dickens)

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, with boarders waiting at lounges and keen to get to their destinations 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, nudged others in the meantime to occupy top slots in the never-ending queues, arguing with representatives; while some were successful in getting a berth for their children, others were not. Boarding-passes were issued and everyone seemed solicitous in leaving Kashmir. After all, it had been just over a fortnight after that historical 05 August, when Kashmir woke up to a new dawn preceded by a lot of dilly-dallying. The despondence was visible on everyone’s face; the will was subdued; the defeat was palpable and something was amiss. With head fallen, I along with my fellow passengers, left for the same Place, which ostensibly had “integrated” us in the middle of night ‘when the world was sleeping.’

Landing at Delhi in the late afternoon, was a harrowing experience; the Delhi-heat boiled us within, both literally as well as metaphorically. The sweat drenched us from top to toe. I could sense also the geographical incongruity between Delhi and Kashmir, not just sociological and psychological. Delhi was abuzz with life, while Kashmir fed up with life itself! I along with my friends left for Aligarh by a late-night train.

Aligarh is, as has always been one of the hotspots for Kashmiri students. As they say, it is the “Second Home” for Kashmiris and rightly so. We breathe Kashmir, see Kashmir and feel Kashmir in Aligarh and I doubt, whether any other 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, with participants sipping the famous Aligarh tea, cup after cup. But this time around, everything seemed hostile; I hated what I loved before. My heart longed for my motherland -the land which seemed too far but so close to my heart. I wanted to talk to my Dady Jan, to my mouj,; talk with them about my watan, but ……….? For the first time, Aligarh environs seemed so suffocated; in fact, I hated Aligarh because, I loved Kashmir, more. It wasn’t the repealing of a mere Article (read Article370) that kept pestering me deep in my bosom; the modus operandi, the manner it was executed boiled my blood within. I wanted to pick up a stone and throw it, but where? No military garrisons, no army-pickets, no rakshaks- 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, people here enjoyed and furious over the zulum my people suffered there.

It was Sunday, I remember when my phone buzzed with a ring from an unknown number. Phone calls, those days were a luxury and that too from Kashmir, where cellular networks had been blacked out. Landlines of yesteryears, which people had almost forgotten were spared from the ban. Perhaps, the mighty State fears a phone in a hand more than a stone now. The caller speaking from a landline number, as I had rightly presumed was Dady 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’, (Hey son, are you fine?) was what I could hear! He was, it seemed to me in a hurry. Perhaps, a precondition was set, that only two minutes of calling-time was to be allotted to each person, seeing the huge rush of people waiting in the long queues, who were as eager to talk to their loved ones as my father. After twenty days, only two minutes! I was once again enraged at the State which dictated us such and such terms. Ahansa theek hasa shus (yes, I am fine), I responded but the voice on the other side was inaudible. I tried to say ‘hello’ ‘hello’ but no response came and the call hung up immediately. This game of hide and seek continued for almost two months where we had to wait for weeks, sometimes around half a month to speak to, and hear our loved ones until Big Brother announced the partial restoration of post-paid cellular network.

It had almost been two and a half months now and my friend- circle included some non-kashmiri as well, who in the middle of a gossip halted others from speaking, only to pick up calls from their parents and loved ones. They talked for hours with their parents, their siblings and I often envied them for their aazadi, and who had no such preconditions attached with them, as with us. These brutal and ruthless measures were employed, as was fed in the nationalistic media to ‘indianise’ and ‘integrate’ Kashmir fully with the rest of India.

During these eight months, living here in mainland India, I experienced a turn of tales, as it is the whole of India that has been ‘Kashmirised’ as against Kashmir that has been ‘Indianised’. The political events circumvented through highest seat of governance and highest court of justice in the garb of legality has ignited the spark in every length and breadth of the country and I feel Kashmir more in India now than India in Kashmir. The precursor to this transformation indeed, was the Babri- Masjid verdict which ruled in favour of majority but on a communal level, was accepted by Muslims in order to “show respect to the law of the land”, as was asserted by various Muslim leaders and Islamic Scholars. The anger was simmering, only it needed a flashpoint. The NRC provided the last nail in the coffin. From Kerala to Kanpur, Shaheenbagh to Siliguri, people transcending religious barriers resisted the writ of the State to communalise the Citizenship Law.

I see Kashmir day in and day out- in the streets, in the lawns of campus, on the posters, people joining rallies, raising Azadi slogans, boycotting classes, pelting stones, protest- calendars released and followed, leaders making speeches, students lathi-charged, tear-gas shelling on peaceful protesters, PSA, NSA. Sometimes, I forget whether I am in Kashmir or, as We call it, in India. As and when, I get a call from my loved ones, the first thing they enquire from me is, ‘Halaat sha atti theek (Is everything alright there?). Though I reason with them that everything is alright, I am reminded again and again, ‘wal tar garrai’ (come home, as it is not safe here). This was not the case a few years before. Parents from Kashmir would insist rather compel their children ‘tariw nebar’ (move out of the valley) for studies and for safety. Curfews, hartals, agitations, aazadi were the words, only Kashmiiris were familiar with. Such words were unheard of in the rest of the country. Now, they are as normal here, as in Kashmir. India, as I see, has changed with the change they made to Kashmir.

With recent announcement of New Domicile Law, wherein anyone who has merely resided in J&K for ten years and those children who have studied for almost seven years there, shall now be considered as ‘domiciles’; will the dream of ‘indianisation’ and ‘integration’ of Kashmir be at last fulfilled now, solum tempus narrabo (only time will tell)!

Nadeem Khurshidi, Research Scholar. A.M.U, Aligarh Email: nkwani99@gmail.com


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