“I am not Indian; I am Kashmiri”

A graffiti on a wall in JNU by Democratic Students Union.

In the summer of 2008, I got a phone call from my cousin who lives in Delhi. He told me about my selection in Jawaharlal Nehru University.  After two weeks of dilemma, I finally decided to join the university in a language course. It took me a while to come to terms with my decision as my first choice was not Language but Engineering. I believe half of Kashmiri youth opt for Engineering after senior secondary school. Every relative who got to know about my selection suggested me to grab this golden opportunity. Finally I landed up in JNU in the July of 2008. It was a mixed feeling. On one side it seemed that I have escaped from the prison of chained thoughts and limited opportunities, from a place where a student has less career options, where Medicine or Engineering is student’s first career choice, where a student with an arts subject is looked down upon, where a youth without government job is considered to be unemployed. So I was happy to join the university in Delhi.

Despite being happy, I was sad too, for I missed my family. I missed my homeland. I missed the smell of fresh air that the cool breezes of my homeland always brought along. I missed the early morning dew drops on the lush green grass that sparkle with the early sun rays. I missed the changing of colors with the changing seasons in Kashmir. The spring was on its way to Kashmir. Leaves and flower buds were sprouting all around. Green carpets of grass were expanding in every direction. Whole Kashmir was turning green, leaving behind the dark and harsh winter season.

In Delhi, nature seems to lose variety. One can hardly differentiate among seasons. Every season seems to be the same; leaves don’t change color, even the sky seems colorless, and stars seem to refuse to twinkle and shine bright. Chirping of birds is replaced by horns of motors and landing of planes. Pollution is all around. Delhi had many other things to offer though. It gave me freedom to study any subject with same respect as medicine or engineering could have and a choice to choose a subject from a variety of options.

Delhi offers specializations and honors courses; these are the things that a common Kashmiri doesn’t get in Kashmir. International Book fairs and education fairs take place all round the year. One comes to know about a lot of new and interesting courses and scholarships available around the world. Every day one finds workshops and conferences of all kinds happening in different parts of the city. Delhi is a pool of opportunities and inspiring stories. But all this comes at a cost of cool summer and pleasant weather.

Delhi’s weather remains hot and humid for most of the year. Scorching heat and hot blowing air (loo) is what I hate most about the city. Delhi’s culture and society is also quite different. Fast moving lives, lesser family ties and late night working shifts are part of being a Delhite.  People don’t take Noon Chai and Lavaass in the morning. They eat bread and butter with sugar-tea, the breakfast. They don’t know what Noon Chai is. How much I miss it! I even miss. Nadir monji and Halwi parath, Harrsi and Kashmiri Wazwaan.

Delhi claims Kashmir as integral part of India. But I feel like a foreigner in India. I am not Indian; I am Kashmiri. Even they treat us as foreigners. And I as a Kashmiri accept being treated as a foreigner. I remember the semi-finals of the last Cricket World cup when India beat Pakistan. The students in my hostel came with drums outside my room so as to cherish their victory, they shouted, hooted and threw beer glasses as if we were from Pakistan. I remember when they pasted Indian flag on my door on Indian Independence day. This shows they themselves believe that Kashmiris are not Indians but try forcefully to convert us to. I remember auto-rickshaw men calling us Iraqi and Afghani.

May be our complexion matches more with Central Asian than Indians. But being Kashmiri in Delhi has also certain disadvantages. People always look with suspicions towards you. I remember when I was looking for a hotel just before the Republic Day eve. I was not provided any accommodation even though the rooms were vacant. There are many landlords who don’t rent their apartments once they identify anyone as being a Kashmiri. But I don’t blame common Delhites. Delhi police now and then arrest Kashmiris in many false cases. Whenever anything wrong happens in this metro city only Kashmiris are the first suspects. I remember when media channels flashed the news that Lashkar-e-Toiba could be behind the Mumbai blasts of 2008, I had to confine myself to my room. My parents were worried and I believe every Kashmiri’s parents start worrying once something awful happens in India. And why not! It’s a genuine concern of parents.

There are so many Kashmiris languishing in many Indian jails because of mere suspicion in many cases. It seems laws like POTA, PSA, AFSPA has been specially framed for Kashmiris. Protests happen in every corner of India. I nowhere see protesters being fired upon. I don’t see death toll crossing hundreds. I don’t see culprits roaming free. It only happens in Kashmir. I too protested for human rights violations. But luckily I was not hit by a bullet, maybe because I don’t live in Kashmir. Maybe, because living in Delhi assures that I accept Indian hegemony or because media covers stories in Delhi. Still my parents call me every day because they fear that I might be booked by police in some false case or maybe I may have been
forcibly disappeared.

Overall, I have been lucky. Being in JNU gives you a little security. Even though I protested, I was not booked. Moreover, we conducted movie screening, public talks and conferences over Kashmir Issue in JNU. And surely people supported us. Student political parties supported us. They raised slogans against Human rights violations in Kashmir with us. And maybe this attitude of Student unions in Delhi has made
government of India to ban student bodies in Kashmir. They fear educated class of society. I pray for the day when a youth from Kashmir doesn’t have to come to Delhi and adjust to its fast moving life in order to gain education. Hope education system within Kashmir grows strong enough that students like me need not to leave their homeland.

S M Zaffar studies at Jawahar Lal Nehru university, Delhi.

Photo: Muhabit-ul-Haq

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