The avenues of education in Kashmir have always been limited but aspirants many. Prior to the conflict in Kashmir, very small number of students would venture out for higher education owing to lack of exposure about such opportunities or financial constraints. The world beyond the Banihal tunnel had not opened up for many Kashmiri’s yet. As the conflict set in Kashmir and opportunities further squeezed, many youngsters moved to mainland India to seek education and avenues. In many cases parents sent their children off to India not only to be educated but also to keep them away from the ‘morgue’ of ‘Kashmir conflict’ that was starting to devour lives at an alarming pace. A new wave of ‘young migrants’ in search for educational opportunities started to flow out of Kashmir, sometimes demeaned and heckled in mainland India because of their Kashmiri origins. The negative portrayal of ‘Kashmir conflict’ by media in India and the growing right winged leanings in India meant that Kashmiris were soon relegated to ‘extremist’, labelled as ‘punching bags’.
It was now difficult for Kashmiris to rent places, seek avenues, be treated as fellow humans and strive for equal opportunities in India. The rhetoric of ‘Atoot Ang’ was understood by Kashmiris to be aimed at the land of Kashmir only, not inclusive of people of Kashmir. There was a failure by the Indian society to assimilate the Kashmiri Muslims within their country’s diversity; a chance for them to be integrated into a thought process had been wasted. This failure of the Indian society to offer space and understanding to Kashmiris was seen to further add to their alienation from India.
Soon Kashmiris venturing out learned to move with the flow of India, in spite of open prejudices and apathy towards them. Often an odd incident of hate and violence against a Kashmiri in India would remind them of their fragile relationship with Indian mainland, of the contemptuousness and the hostility that was lurking around. Even after more than two decades of conflict in Kashmir, this hostility and malignity continues, mostly brought to the fore by continued incidents against common Kashmiris, both by arms of state and by right winged mindsets.
On January 21, 2012, a Kashmiri student Shabir Ahmed from North Kashmir town of Sopore, was shot at by two unidentified assailants in Ujjain. Shabir Ahmed studying at Vikram Vishwavidyalaya, Ujjain was critically injured in this attack. As per reports Shabir was waiting for a bus when two motorbike borne youths attacked him; luckily he survived in the hospital where the bullet was found in his neck.
Just a day after this shooting incident in Ujjain, two students from Rajouri reported narrowly escaping another attempted attack on them by unidentified motorcycle borne youths. The two Kashmiri students, Waqar Ahmad Malik and Tasavar Hussain were also pursuing MPhil (Political Science) in the same Vikram University Vishwavidyalaya, Ujjain.
Many Kashmiri students studying in other states of India and especially in BJP ruled Madhya Pradesh confirm that there have been several other incidents of harassment in the past as well, which were ignored by them. However there have been many other major incidents which have added to the fear psychosis and uncertainty of these students.
Sporting a beard became problematic for a Kashmiri student in Bhopal’s Barkatullah University, where Khursheed Ahmed Wani, pursuing MSc was allegedly harassed in the university hostel for his beard. The tragedy did not end there; Khursheed was later reported as a ‘terrorist robber’ after he had gone to the bank for cancelling his ‘hostel fees’ demand draft. As a follow-up to the bank guard’s ‘terrorist’ alert, he was subsequently interrogated for hours at the Bag Sevania Police Station.
In many places especially in Madhya Pradesh, it has become a routine for Kashmiri students to face harassment prior to January 26 or August 15 events. Most of these students allege that local cops harass them without any reason.
In December last year, a Kashmiri student Qaiser Ahmed Dar who had gone to Madhya Pradesh for an entrance test at Sagar University was picked up by the Madhya Pradesh Anti-Terror Squad (MP ATS) in Sagar. Initially the MP ATS had denied that they had him, but was released by them after nine days of torment and only when the Inspector General of Police, Kashmir had intervened.
Nasir Ahmad Bhat, MA (Psychology) student at Baraktullah University was dragged out of his rented accommodation by plain clothed cops on the evening of July 18, 2009. He was allegedly kept naked in lockup for the whole night and only fed after three days of his arrest. His detention lasted for 12 torturous days, until his family managed to free him from the police station. While leaving the police lockup after being freed, Nasir Ahmed asked the Station House Officer (SHO) about the crime for his detention; “You are a Kashmiri” the SHO replied.
In other Indian states also Kashmiri students have been known to face similar violations and harassment. On February 6, 2012, a Kashmiri student was allegedly beaten by Haryana police and kept in illegal detention after he had gone to the police station to lodge a complaint about the theft of his mobile phone in hostel. “You all Kashmiri’s are Pakistanis, having terrorist mind set. You only come here to create mess. If you have to live in India then you should do only what the Indians do,” the students quoted Haryana police officials as saying. (Kashmir Times, Feb 7, 2012).
Lives of the innocent have been destroyed by prejudice and criminal approach towards Kashmiris by state armies. Imran Kirmani who had completed aeronautical engineering from Jaipur and a course at Amritsar Flying Club was working with Star Aviation Academy when he was picked up by Delhi Police from his flat in November 2006. He was labeled as “Lashkar-e-Toiba module” that was “planning a 9/11-type strike in Delhi” and paraded before TV cameras on 21st November 2006. Delhi Police claimed to have recovered “around 1.5 kilogram of RDX, two automatic timers and 4.5 lakh rupees hawala money” from Imran Kirmani. After spending four years, five months and 21 days behind bars the case of Delhi Police fell flat and Imran Kirmani was acquitted by the Additional Sessions Judge. 5 years in custody and a ‘terror’ label on him had destroyed his life. Drained emotionally, financially, he has been left with no carrier, no future. Delhi Police wanted a scapegoat and Kashmiris proved easy prey for them.
It is not only the lesser known commoners who have been at the receiving end in mainland India. One of the most famous singers from Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Sheikh (also known as Mehdi Hassan of Kashmir) was killed mysteriously during the night of 13–14 July, 2003. It is widely believed that the singer was killed by Punjab police and then hurriedly cremated in order to destroy all evidence. On the fateful night Sheikh was traveling in the ‘Delhi – Jammu’ Shalimar Express along with his daughter and friend. He was found missing in the middle of the night and after a hectic search it was known that Mukerian Police had found a body with a badly severed face, which had already been cremated hurriedly. The body was identified by a photograph of the late singer. Although in 2007, the Punjab and Chandigarh High Court handed over Sheikh’s case to the CBI, the case has not been solved nor the killers punished.
The reason for such hostility and hatred are multiform, one of them being the negative image portrayed by the media. Media has often resorted to ‘jingoism’, overlapping and projecting the ‘Kashmir conflict’ in dark, the common Kashmiri often beamed at the demon in dark shades. More often the ‘common Kashmiri’ is portrayed as ‘terrorist in a skullcap’, his political grievances misrepresented as ‘extremism’. In fact some journalists in India have been known to specialize in the ‘paanch thaana’ Kashmir slander, often weaving contemptuous theories. The rise of right winged extremism has always been at the cost of minorities in India and Kashmiris here become the perfect targets. The Indian state has its share of blame for helping create such an ‘easy punching bag’ image of Kashmiris by denying justice in cases of hate crimes against them in India. There would be hardly a single case where the state may have been successful in punishing those accused of attacks on common Kashmiris. A deterrent was never established, and often a limited few of such cases become news for local newspapers, to be conveniently forgotten the next day.
Tormented at home and harassed outside it, the common Kashmiri seems to have no escape. As long as Pathribal, Machil, Brakpora, SK Colony keep happening in Kashmir and Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, Imran Kirmani keep happening in India, Kashmiri’s will continue to be pushed towards the extreme end. The rhetoric of ‘atoot ang’ will remain crippled to a ‘real estate claim’, till Kashmiri’s are not considered human enough, one among equals.
Such prejudice towards Kashmiri’s, often by the tactic support of state, has only created unbridgeable distances, a remoteness beyond reach.