As a young journalist working in Delhi, I find it always irritating to face the frequent question from people – even strangers – about my being a Kashmiri.
The questioners seem to believe that Kashmir is a hotbed of terrorist violence with gunfire resounding all through the day and night and that people of the valley are all pro-Pakistan. I always explain – and it is a pain – that my home state of Jammu and Kashmir is far from what they imagine. It is as safe as other regions of the country, particularly Delhi where I have been residing and working for a year now.
This is the easier part of the conversation. The more difficult territory to traverse is the questioner’s firm notion, indeed a belief, that every Kashmiri is anti-Indian and wishes his state to break away from the Indian Union. It is difficult to tackle this, howsoever sincere efforts one makes to convince them that Kashmir remains the paradise it was known to be, and is as safe and peaceful as it ever was. But such efforts at persuasion appear wasteful.
Kashmiris in Delhi encounter two types of people.
First, there are people who are either unaware of or just oblivious to the Kashmir issue. They are common and found widely in the capital city. They are pleasant and amicable – and ignorant. They converse well, respect you for your views, do not look at you as though you are an alien or a terrorist, and they are not judgemental.
The only thing they know about Kashmir is that it is a beautiful place to visit, and that a Kashmiri just happens to be born there. Nothing special.
The other type one encounters in Delhi is a dangerous one, who is misinformed or ill-informed about Kashmir.
These people view every Kashmiri as an anti-Indian, and call them names. And countered with the other side of the Kashmir story, they call it a propaganda of separatists, a hoax and fraud by Pakistan and its acolytes. There are quite a few of this kind.
A friend once invited me for a dinner and a day before the dinner she asked me not to mention before her family that I am a Kashmiri. I was shocked and taken aback. It was generally believed that Kashmiris in Delhi – or those out of Kashmir – are fugitives, she explained.
My Kashmiri friends who live in other parts of the country tell me they are more prone to be discriminated against in social contact, social discourse and ordinary give-and-take between common people. Usually they are kept at a distance.
May be this and other things make a Kashmiri away from Kashmir a reclusive. Others then see him as not-so-friendly, even unsocial, secretive – which at times is read as anti-social. This sets out a feeling of undesirability among Kashmiris.
For the Kashmiris out of Kashmir, being a Kashmiri and a Muslim is a double whammy. It translates into a single shot opinion: “capable of terrorist activities.”
In New Delhi, if most were ignorant and cling on to the fanciful ideas of Kashmir, there are also some who are selective about history and politics and believe Kashmiris who are crying out for autonomy or independence are thankless for what India has done for the state. They get angry.
The point simply put is this: People in Kashmir feel they are caught in a cleft stick. On one side is Pakistan’s sense of military insecurity and ambition, nurtured over decades since Partition; and on the other is the arrogance that leads New Delhi’s civil leadership to rule over the region with norms different from those for other states.
The most sensible thing for a Kashmiri to do under the circumstances is to be himself or herself and not get into unnecessary sentimentality and arguments that vitiate the atmosphere.