It was a hot summer day of 2010 when I was returning home from school. I was travelling in a public bus and when I reached Gojwara Chowk in downtown Srinagar, I remember I heard a few tear gas shots. I could sense the anxiety growing around me when I heard that a young boy has been killed after a tear gas shell shot by the forces hit his head. Deep within I didn’t care and was not even moved by this painful incident.
I attribute this nonchalance to the strong pro-India feelings that bore within my heart. Yes, I considered myself a proud Indian who revered the forces that prowled my city. What followed that day were more killings and bloodshed. The entire region was brought to a standstill by the prolonged shutdowns and curfews. Every day there was news of people dying and violence.
There was news of vehement protests against my ‘beloved’ country India. Tranquility was a forgotten trait here. I felt that strong anti freedom and anti separatist rage growing in me. There was no day when I didn’t curse the leaders and the protesters. I feel profoundly sad to say that my joy escalated with each killing. I was of the opinion that these protesters need to be neutralized by eliminating them. I remember having expressed my views to two of my elder cousins. One of them was very close to me since childhood and he used to try and make me understand the complexity of Kashmir issue but I was naive and ignorant, too young to understand the plight of my people and too young to look beyond the strong Indian feeling that I fancied.
I had several debates and bickers with my friends, relatives and people around but everyone failed in making me change my stance. I refuted everything they brought to the table and continued with my strong radical pro-India stance. At the end when they gave up, I acquiesced with a wicked grin of contentment. Years passed and my patriotism for India changed only to grow more radical. News of killings kept on stoking the freedom movement and in my case, it stoked more rage and hatred.
I was at my aunt’s house those days preparing for the entrance examinations. It was a cold February morning of 2013 and I woke up early in the morning. I saw everybody glued to the Television set and I still remember that vivid grimace on everyone’s face. I was still feeling dizzy so I rested my temple on the window and that is when I got to know that the entire valley has been rendered under a curfew. The reason for me was peculiar. It was the day when Afzal Guroo was hanged much before people had woken up from their slumber. I foresaw another spell of curfews, protests and shutdowns but Government played well with its suppressive tactics to thwart the movement.
So, what was Afzal Guroo for me? I don’t know. Maybe just another potential streak of violence or just another terrorist like most of my fellow Indians believed he is. He was dead and after four days of continuous curfew, we finally saw life limping back to normalcy.
I failed to crack entrance examinations and I was not dejected at all. Like most of the aspirants, I did not plan to drop a year and study for it all over again. I had no such ambition to crack this exam and get into the most coveted college in the valley. Instead, I desired to get into any college, good or bad, but outside the frenzy lap of these mountains. Why?
Simply because over the years I had started to despise this place, its people for the sentiments they expressed. I felt as if someone is trying to entangle me and I felt suffocated here. I just wanted to move out of this place and feel the real freedom of living with my people of India. I aspired to feel that bonhomie with the like-minded people of India. It took me a while to persuade my parents and bring them to terms with my decision. Initially, my mother was reluctant to send me but she gave up later to my perseverance (read stubbornness). So, I took admission in a college located at Greater Noida, India.
It was 25th July 2013. A warm and humid day here in Srinagar. I was scheduled to depart for Delhi the next day. I was all gaga with excitement but at the same time, I had sensed the tears in my mother’s eyes. I knew she was not ready to let go of her beloved son for four long years or who knows, maybe forever. I saw her a couple of times wiping her tears and packing my stuff. I chose to ignore her apathy and continued to relish the thought of flying to my dreams. That night I couldn’t sleep peacefully like I usually did. It was all excitement and merry thoughts going in my mind.
Finally, it was morning and I had to leave for the airport. I reached the airport and the farewell was painful. This time my mother couldn’t hold her tears back and neither could I. I bid them goodbye and entered the airport. Here, something struck me, my heart was drenched in a strange feeling. This was something that I had not felt ever before in my life. I received my boarding pass. While boarding, a flashback of 19 years of life started playing in front of my eyes. Deep within, I heard a voice telling me “Daanyaal! Something is not right”.
“Bhai vaha Kashmir mai pathar maarne ka kitna paisa milta hai?” (How much do you get paid to pelt stones?), “tujhse kya panga lena, tere toh ghar pe dho AK 47 rakhe honge” (I can’t argue with you. You must be having a couple of AK 47’s back home). These were some of the statements that were directed towards me during my first three days in the hostel. I was subjected to the ridiculous taunts of my drunk ‘Indian’ roommates. I chose to ignore their trivial malevolence towards me thinking that these are just a few people with a deplorable state of mind. But this did not stop and I felt more perturbed every time I was at the receiving end. A couple of days later, I called my parents and asked them if I can withdraw my admission from this college. I did not explain the whole reason behind such a big step but I was fortunate to have their cooperation. I withdrew from that college and then got myself in a serious dilemma of what to do next. I eventually got myself admitted in one of the colleges of Chandigarh. This place treated me better. I did not feel as despised here as I did before.
People began asking how a patriotic young Indian switched sides. Yes, this was the phase when I began expressing my rage on various social media platforms. The people who had known me from childhood were surprised after witnessing the sudden change in me. The only thing that changed was that now my rage was directed towards India. The same nation with which I had sworn an allegiance to once.
I was in the second semester of engineering when I suppose began the change of thought process for me. I began doing extensive research on the Kashmir issue.
I started reading about the massacres, killings, rapes, fake encounters, disappearances and everything that subjugated Kashmir to victim-hood. At the same time, I was in India for almost a year. In that one year, I didn’t feel connected to India culturally. I couldn’t approach an Indian as my own. It was all mutual as I knew the tide is same from their side also. I was studying in one of the most cordial places in north India. People never showed any animosity. Despite the benevolence that this place showered upon me, I still couldn’t find an answer to my questions that were pestering me for a long time. Why can’t I connect with this nation the way I always wanted to?
Why can’t I get over the atrocities that this nation has committed on my people as I once did? Why can’t I rejoice the killings the same way I did before? A myriad of questions that soon became a reason for my sleeplessness. I had an access to the world through internet. I read, researched, watched and cried after knowing what my people have been subjected to over the decades. The rage that was buried in my heart against my own people chose to switch its target to the draconian policies of India in Kashmir. What followed later was the chiselling of my persona and my thought process. I never bore the brunt of the forces’ aggression directly but I had gained this new sense of reason which I was deprived of before. I surprised many people with the new person that they met in me. The change was too spontaneous but surreal. The person who could not fathom the mourning over a frivolous loss of a rebel began mourning for the mayhem that my place had been rendered under. I felt a sense of empathy and compassion towards my brethren that I once cursed.
What triggered this change? Probably the triggers of Indian armed forces who have been accused of committing various war crimes in Kashmir. People here have been put under an excruciating holocaust. The paradise has been turned into a macabre laboratory experiment. Lately, there has been a growing empathy towards the militants. Militants are revered no less than heroes here and that is certainly a spot of bother for the Indian Government. What stoked this fire of empathy and reverence of the militants?
People of this land know that and for the Government of India, I leave it for them to ponder upon. People are oblivious of the death anniversaries of Kashmiri leaders who stood by India but at the same time, the state wide mourning is observed on Kashmiri Freedom Fighters’ anniversaries.
I will conclude by explaining what ‘Kashmiriyat’ is to those who have questioned its credibility in the present times. I could fearlessly express my Pro-India stance in Kashmir without being lynched but I can’t express my Pro-Kashmir stance in India without getting heckled by the hostile crowd which takes pride in its jingoism.
(The author is a Computer Science Engineer)
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