Take Me to That Heaven of Freedom

“Why do you come here; what do you want; and what is the purpose of your meeting us?” He hurled at me, though in a polite manner, I could not miss the defiance and the message.

The questioner was a lean and thin young post graduate student of economics at Kashmir University. He looked haggard, eyes probing and an ‘I-don’t-care’ attitude writ on the face.  To a person unfamiliar with Kashmir and particularly its youth, such looks and interaction may give an uneasy feeling.  If one goes just by his look, one may tend to cast him away as a restless, disarranged, rebellious young man.  If you are familiar with Kashmir, you would see in him a suppressed, traumatized, suffocated politically aware young man who is angry, dejected with India and Indians.

He questioned me bluntly, even as he had not fully adjusted himself in his chair among 15 other seniors and some of his age, and even though he was late by an hour for a daylong meeting in Srinagar on a very cold, misty late November morning. The meeting had already proceeded. Most of them were  independent journalists from Kashmir-based non-commercial print and on-line media, which has a larger and dedicated readership and followership; writers, university scholars and social workers, including four women. He knew he was abrupt and disrupting; but he didn’t care.

I explained to him why I was here, since when and how we from Swarajpeeth – Niruji, Sethu Das and me, started visiting Kashmir, meeting people; what was our general assessment and what sort of engagement both in Jammu region and in the Kashmir Valley we have with the youth and others; and, above all, how the 2010 summer violence compelled us who talk of nonviolence to have a firsthand knowledge of Kashmir, share and feel their pain, extend our goodwill and be of any small assistance that we could render. To us Kashmir means its people, not just the landmass.

In the course of deliberations Shri Rameez Makhdoomi, founder Editor of World Media Report, Editor of Kashmir Scenario and  organizer of the meeting along with scholar-activist-writer-journalist Shri Mushtaq-ul-haq-Sikandar, talked about how the youths, both in Jammu and Kashmir have found a credible platform in Swarajpeeth, over past three years; about dialogues between the youth of the estranged areas of the same state, Jammu and Kashmir; about their dialogue in Jammu with Pandits; and, how their perceptions have changed. He further said “After observing Rajivji and Niruji closely, testing them on various occasions, me and many of my friends have joined them. Rajivji does not impose his own frame work and world-view on us to understand us. His dialogue is based on understanding and respecting our world-view and our frame of mind; his is an unconditional dialogue. He encourages us to dialogue among us within our own framework of culture, our understanding of ourselves, our stories, myths, history and dreams…”

Mustq-ul-haq- Sinkandar, an exceptionally bright scholar doing his M.Phil, whom I have witnessed guiding Ph. D. Scholars, introduced three topics the group needed to discuss and decide on some action plan; namely, Radicalization among the youth; growing domestic violence on women; and environment. Syed Tajmul, that is the name of this young man, participated intelligently and meaningfully. In fact he made some very good points.  

Why does Syed Tajmul rejects ‘India’ so bitterly? I thought he had some very traumatic experience of violence or brutalization like many I have met. I was right, but not exactly.  Later in the course of deliberations he narrated his bitter experience as a heart patient at a high profile, one of the top most private Hospitals in Delhi.  He was treated not as a human being, he said; he was discriminated against being a young Kashmiri Muslim. The doctors, nurses and the staff would behave with him as if he was a militant, an anti-Indian traitor; He was ignored, not shown the care and concern expected of the staff of a reputed hospital. Even his tests were not carried out properly and in time. He   left the hospital in disgust.  He managed to get admitted to Imran Khan’s hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan.  There he got all the care, concern and cure.  He was all praise for his Pakistan experience and bitter about his Hindustan experience.  The staff of …. Hospital sowed the seeds of bitter rejection into his anger against India due to political reasons.  His disaffection with Indian State now turned against India and Indians.

He rejected non-violence as ineffectual and irrelevant.  In the meeting I told the group to completely feel free to ask whatever uncomfortable question they might have. That would help me.  There was free flow of observations, narrations of experiences, analysis, opinions, ideas, suggestions and information.  Due to the active involvement of all, the proceedings took the shape of collectively addressing an issue dear and common to all- need of a platform where they can express their mind without suspicion and fear; and, constructively.

Syed Tajmul continued to be around even after the meeting was over in the evening and most of them had gone.  I asked him if he would like to join for a cup of tea with some of us. He readily joined. I could sense he was keenly observing his seniors and me talking freely, with confidence and trust. I asked him if he was comfortable during the day and if there was anything that offended him from my side. I told him too that this group has developed such trust and confidence that we can even discuss our disagreements without fear of misunderstanding and mis-reporting. He could see that. He said he would like to meet again. He told us it was a special day for him: “I could speak up freely in a group, without fear. I got a forum.” Tajmul is a post 1990 generation, the one which has not know the playfulness of childhood as child and as teen-ager, nothing but violence, terror torment, human suffering and trauma.

Next morning he came along with Rameez.  I was to leave for Delhi in an hour.  We sat for tea in a restaurant.  He made tea for all.  His face looked bright and relaxed.  I asked him his frank opinion about the meeting.  “I want to meet you again, when are you coming next? I could speak up without fear yesterday, which was a new experience for me.  I want to be with you.”  He continued, “Sir, hame apni duaon mein rakhe.  Main ab apke saath hoom.” “ Please keep me in your prayers, I want to be with you.”

As we parted, he hugged me so tightly as if I was going away forever and he wanted to stop me. It was a rare moments when in a very intimate language a youth on the cross roads was conveying me that I/we must work more in this area with added vigour. I realized that what changed this young man was not any material benefit, which we don’t offer, it was the feel of freedom  to speak out his mind. I came to know later that Tajmul’s family has a fairly prosperous business of apple and he is a bright student.

An open hearted attitude to understand him, appreciate his complaints, pain and suffering, and providing an environment of trust, confidence and fearlessness transformed and disarmed him. He could see the high quality of  participants and the group. These simple humane acts; character of the collective; and, the environment caused transformation. My highly political, but profoundly humanist journalist friends, Rameez and Mushtaq told me that only by providing such a platform and by truly understanding them can we wean away the youth from the new wave of legitimizing the option of gun.  …..

I was waiting for the Delhi flight at the Srinagar airport, my mobile phone  rang. “ It is me Tajmul, Sir. Are you fine, Sir?”   “Sir, hame bhool mut jana, main aapke saath hun.  Mujhe apni duaon me rakhaa. Aap fir vapas kab aa rahe hai. Antie ko mera salaam kahena? ”  “ Sir, please do not forget us, I am with you. Please keep me in your prayers…. convey my salutation to Auntie.”  

He phoned me again that night to find out if I had reached fine. The next day in the evening he phoned me:  “I could do very well in my exam due to your blessings, Sir” Not a week goes without his phone since.


End Note:  Branding is alienating:

Kashmir is still a small society of intimate communities.  Personal experiences easily become part of a collective narrative; collective narrations get shaped into collectively shared experience.

When an individual Kashmiri youth experiences discrimination/ isolation/ torment outside of J&K,, his political antipathy towards India, as a result of an act of some individual Indian, takes a generalized form of his antipathy towards India.  In turn, his individual private experience, when shared with and by others, it becomes a shared feeling of antagonism towards India.  An act by an individual Indian can transform a Kashmiri’s anti-Indian political sentiments. They often say though that they are not against India, “ we have complaints against India”