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Lucknow Kashmiri traders return buoyed by support of residents

Back to normalcy: Kashmiri trader Mohammad Afzal Naik, centre, who returned to the Daliganj bridge.

Back to normalcy: Kashmiri trader Mohammad Afzal Naik, centre, who returned to the Daliganj bridge.   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

The March 6 assault was unprecedented, says one of the victims.

It was a more than business as usual on Saturday morning at Lucknow’s bustling Daliganj bridge where vendors, with vegetables, fruits and fish laid out on the street, greeted customers.

At the centre of the group were Abdus Salam and Mohammad Afzal Naik — their produce of dry fruits from Kashmir spread out on plastic sheets — as people jostled to speak to them and click selfies. Visuals of the two Kashmiri merchants being thrashed by saffron-clad men on Wednesday had caused widespread outrage.

‘We feel safe’

“There is no problem any more. We feel safe. The police assured us they are with us and the people of Lucknow supported us a lot,” said Mr. Naik. He said he was overwhelmed by the support of people of Lucknow.

Mr. Naik and Mr. Salam, both residents of a Kashmiri village near Kulgam, were assaulted by members of a right-wing group allegedly for just being from Kashmir.

The miscreants recorded the unprovoked assault and publicised it, an act that backfired as the visuals both led to widespread anger and prompted swift action from the police. Five persons were arrested and booked under several sections, including attempt to murder. The city administration also took steps to reinstate the victims at their usual place on the Daliganj bridge.

Like several other Kashmiris who sell carpets, saffron and dry fruits, the two merchants have been coming to Lucknow for the past two decades. However, Wednesday’s incident was unprecedented, says Mr Naik. “Such a thing has never happened before in 20 years,” he said, still puzzled over why he was victimised.

Mr. Salam, who faced the brunt of the brutal assault, said he was sitting as usual amid his wares, when the saffron-clad men got out of a car and asked him if he was Kashmiri. “One of them immediately started abusing and threatening me, and then struck me on the head with a stick. I was then pushed to the ground... some onlookers asked me to run and that’s when I fled,” he said, recalling the traumatic experience. He also lost cash in the melee.

The two men said they were also hurt by the abuse showered on them — they were called ‘terrorists’ and ‘stone-pelters’. “They said that we sell walnuts in Lucknow but go back to throwing stones in Kashmir. Tell us, who did we throw stones at?” asked Mr. Naik. “We are poor people. We come here to make a living every year leaving behind our children. What stones will I throw?” asked Mr. Salam.

‘Good Samaritan’ act

One person whose act of compassion stands out in the whole unfortunate episode is Zafar Rizvi, a local banker, who stopped his vehicle on the bridge and intervened to stop the assault. Mr. Rizvi ensured that the two were not harmed till police reached the spot and took them into safe custody.

”If even they were from Nepal, Assam or Bhutan, I would have done the same...” he said.

The civil society of Lucknow mobilized support for the two Kashmiris and the administration compensated Salam for his medical expenses and losses. The All India Democratic Women's Association, women's wing of the Communist Party of India, invited the two men to their district conference on Women's Day with the attendees requested to purchase the dry-fruits in expression of solidarity.

Mr Naik and Mr. Salam said they would be in Lucknow for another week to settle accounts and sell their remaining goods, before returning to Kashmir.

”A lot of 'Hindu brothers and Muslim shopleepers have to pay us money, and we also owe some money to others. People come and buy happily from us without any problem. They know the quality of the items and know us personally for 20 years," said Afzal.

While the assault shocked the two, the support thereafter has encouraged them. “Agli baar phir ayenge, inshallah (God willing, we will be back next year.) We don't have any fear. After this entire incident, such injustice won't happen against any Kashmiri in Lucknow,” said Mr. Naik.

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 6:58:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/lucknow-kashmiri-traders-return-buoyed-by-support-of-residents/article26483368.ece

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