“What do you want?
“Yes! He needs Azaadi.” the old man sitting on my side berth shouted.
“Give all of them what they want, let them be responsible for all that happens next,” the big fat man mumbled.
“They will understand only when they will be fucked up like POK kashmiris,” the man who was quiet till now shouted and thus announcing his entrance in the discussion.
I looked at the faces of the Kashmiri students for their response. They were completely silent and in a sort of shock. I could see the worry of being beaten up looming large on their faces. The atmosphere in our compartment had suddenly turned into one, where talk could now be replaced by blows on our faces anytime. In the last 15-20 minutes of the heated discussion all the Kashmiri students except one, had completely stopped talking and it was only I who had kept talking to this whole group of 3-4 people. A look at their terrified faces made me feel guilty of having put them in such a situation. I felt as if I had made their life more miserable then it already was. I took my copy of Albert Camus’s The Outsider climbed up to the upper berth and absorbed myself once again in reading. But the thought kept making rounds in my grey matter, and there was no rest until next morning when I talked to one of these Kashmiri guys.
Those who know the complexities of Kashmir, know that many a times’ many young Kashmiri Muslims (now onwards KM) travel in India with Kashmiri Pandit (now onwards KP) names. Their physical features and their English/Hindi accent very easily reveal their identity of being a Kashmiri. What these young people do, is to at least not add the tag of being ‘Muslim’ to their already revealed identity of being a ‘Kashmiri’, and thus they replace it with the identity of being a Hindu i.e. of being a KP. At this the gaze which identifies them is turned upside down with this suppression of their real identity. It completely reverses the treatment which a Kashmiri Muslim gets/would get and rather now they usually get a more sympathetic response from different sections of Indian/Hindu society (“they are our own brothers uprooted from their homeland by the Muslim fanatics”). A Kashmiri speaking person can however easily find whether the speaker is a KP or a KM. For example there are certain words in Kashmiri language like maara, namashkar, etc are exclusively used by KP’s and similarly KM use words like Hut-haz, jenab, etc. The difference in the language of young Kashmiris (Pandits and Muslims) born in the last part of 1980’s after KP’s left Kashmir have grown sharper. The crystallizing of identities was also seen in demarcating the lines between the two Kashmiris (by this I mean language and not the community), what KP’s spoke and what KM’s did.
As soon as I entered my compartment it took me some 10 minutes to identify these Kashmiri students to be KM’s. Again the basis of my observation of them being KM’s was their language. But I was surprised to see all of them wearing red coloured threads on their wrists (called Kankanband in Kashmiri) and used exclusively by KP’s. They had also changed their names to those of KP’s and two of them were Amit Raina, and Sahil Bhatt. I understood their compulsions, so tried to be silent and laying in my upper berth started reading Camus to question/understand my existence, while thinking of the existence of these KM’s and how it’s tough for them to assert their identity. The best option available for them was to never in India assert who they are and rather take refuge in the accepted and dominant narrative i.e. being a Kashmiri was to be a KP.
But soon, (I don’t know why and how) a discussion started between these students and the big fat man sitting in our compartment. This man like many common Indians had a very clear line, KM’s are traitors, they should not be given funds and army should be given full freedom to ‘crush the movement’. Apparently he was a Punjabi, thus gave the example of Khalistan movement and praised Indira Gandhi and K.P.S Gill for crushing the movement. “Kashmir also needs a K.P.S Gill, and they (kashmiris) will come to terms only then” At this point one of the Kashmiri guy in a shrugged voice said, “they had one, what about Jagmohan, the two time Governor of Jammu and Kashmir?” This comment raised many eyebrows in the compartment and the old man sitting in the compartment explained to all sitting how Jagmohan was one of the few brilliant persons who could have solved the Kashmir problem. Abusing the Congress and particularly Rajiv Gandhi the old man explained how Jagmohan had done half of work (I think he mean taking out the KP’s from the valley) when he was removed from his office. At this point I jumped in the discussion and asked the fat man if it was not wrong to kill and rape people whom you consider a part of your nation? They were all unanimous; people are killed and raped in Indian capital Delhi also. When I asked don’t you see the difference in magnitude, the number of rapes and killings in valley that have happened in last 20 years and can we compare it with any other part of India. On this they felt quiet for some time and then answered in a very harsh tone “they get what they need, they are anti-nationals”. At this point I thought it’s better to question their assumptions and then narrated to all of them the story of exploitation which Kashmiris have suffered.
I traced the history of Kashmir in front of them from ‘Treaty of Amritsar’ to 2011 and showed them how Kashmir was different from any other part of India. I tried to explain how Kashmiri aspirations from Sheikh Abdullah to those of present day youth have been suppressed continuously and on a routine bases. I was corroborated in this by one of the KM’s guys who I thought had some knowledge about this history of deceit and repression (history of Kashmir). When I had finished I could see faces of all those sitting in our compartments had nothing more to say. But I could also see that they were not ready to accept my words. More than that, till then they were thinking that these Kashmiri students were KP’s but now after they showed their disagreements with some of their arguments, they had started doubting their identity also. Finally one of them asked me, “So Mr Scholar, What so you want? Azaadi?” I glanced back at the faces of KM students and I felt them asking me “why you want all of us to be beaten up”. So finally to end the discussion from my side, I replied back that I am not a Kashmiri.
Indian nationalists always blame Kashmiris for mixing religion in politics and thus turning the whole movement ‘communal’. They forget to add that this response comes as an answer to the Hindu nationalism which is the dominant form of nationalism in India and which has always looked for an ‘other’ in a Muslim, Dalit, or a tribal. KP’s and KM’s with some minor exceptions have their sides clearly demarcated
Almost whole night the whole compartment (except me and the Kashmiri students) kept talking about Kashmir problem and all possible means of provocation from calling Kashmiris ‘Gadars’ to abusing all leadership from mainstream to separatists were tried. But there was no response from our side and only next morning I got down and talked to one of the Kashmiri students about the whole thing where I asked him a straight question, “What is the point in hiding your identity and why are you so scared in calling yourself a KM”. He replied me with a smile, “When you are Amit it’s easy to ask this question. For Abid/Aamir the game is altogether different. Thanks for supporting us, but you won’t understand”. May be he was right. We sometimes can’t/don’t understand! We were speaking in Kashmiri…