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Kashmir needs love for aman, say students

Kashmiri students at the Mumbai Press Club on Thursday. — PHOTO: ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY

Kashmiri students at the Mumbai Press Club on Thursday. — PHOTO: ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY  

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In the shadow of a mountain snakes a river that divides Kashmir between two nations. Behind this mountain, on the Indian bank, lies India’s last village, where Mushtaq Ahmed once lived. Mushtaq is now an undergraduate student at Sarhad, an organisation in Pune which is home to more than 170 students from the most troubled corners of the country. At least 150 of them, mostly orphans who arrived when they were five-year-olds, are from Jammu & Kashmir.

The 19-year-old was in the city as part of the Jago Bharat Abhiyan, a 13-year-old movement that encourages young voices from the Valley to share their stories and provide a different perspective of the troubled state. “Between the natural beauty and the terrorists lives the common man who is the face of Kashmir,” Javed Ahmed, 23, laments. “The violent few are not.”

A post-graduate student of English, Javed believes the Kashmir situation is largely due to its isolation from the rest of the country. “The poor of Kashmir need to know that there are good people outside the state who wish it well. They need to know what they can become with an education outside their villages,” he says, echoing the others.

Arts student Zahid Bhatt, 21, left his Budgam home after two uncles were killed. Remembering the rage he felt at their loss, he considers himself lucky he didn’t pick up a gun. He says many do so only because of the lack of opportunities in Kashmir and the absence of a formal education that he was lucky to get. “Till we came here [Pune], we thought India was nothing more than its military.”

But education isn’t always easy to find. “When I visited home earlier this year, there was a lot of unrest in the Valley. Afraid we would be stopped on the way to the airport, we used an ambulance. However, we were stopped at several points by men in uniform and civilian attire alike, and had to answer a lot of questions. We made it to the airport and, after a six-hour wait, took a flight back to Pune,” recalls Rubina Afzal Mir, 16, from Kupwara.

Pune doesn’t mean an end to all trouble, says Zahid . “I was on a bus recently, and in the inadvertent pushing and shoving that’s part of any bus ride, a man lost his temper and demanded to know how a ‘foreigner’ could have the audacity to push him. When I apologised and told him I was from Kashmir, he shot back saying he doesn’t need to be reminded that Kashmir is in Afghanistan,” he laughs. He’s quick to add that incidents like these were rare, and he’s always felt welcome in the city. “They say if Mumbai accepts you then India will, and I feel only love here.”

In 1999, Nasrin Bano’s father helped bring Capt. Saurabh Kalia’s body back home. Now, far from the Kargil battlefield that she calls home, Nasrin, 17, believes learning can find no place amidst bullets. “The government needs to think about the youth. Due to the present crisis, schools have remained closed for two months now. Caught in all this, the youth can’t see hope,” she says.

They are, however, reluctant to go deeper into the unrest debate. “We aren’t experts on the matter. Politics is reserved for the bade log. But it’s in the smallest of things that Kashmiris find happiness and anger, and Burhan Wani’s death is an outlet, not a cause, for all the anger in the Valley,” says Zahid.

Many of the students have made time for their passions, like Manzoor Bashir Rather. Despite his imposing height which he never “got around to measuring”, Manzoor smiles with his eyes, and it’s easy to forget that they’ve seen the worst of the Valley. “My father was a state police officer; he died in the violence, years ago. He never went to college,” he says, remembering his childhood in Bandipora.

The 21-year-old, currently pursuing an MA, enjoys acting and recommends the Marathi short film Anaath in which he has acted. “I’m the first in my family to hold a degree,” he says, trying but failing to hide the pride in his voice.

All six share a common belief that the Valley can and will find peace. “When Kashmir gets the love that we’ve received in this city, there will be change. There will be aman,” says Javed. Zahid believes this change can’t be left to the bade log. “J&K has suffered enough. We can change it by changing our, and everyone’s, idea of Kashmir.”

The writer is an intern at The Hindu

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 7:11:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/Kashmir-needs-love-for-aman-say-students/article14628907.ece

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