Originally Published 2019-02-01 07:52:06 Published on Feb 01, 2019
India's melting pot struggling to assimilate Kashmiri youth because politics keeps getting in the way

It will not be an exaggeration to say a Kashmiri finds peace and life with dignity after he crosses the Jawahar Tunnel and enters the rest of India. Thousands of students and working professionals leave the Valley to bear the gruelling heat and everyday cultural shocks of other states for better education and employment opportunities. Stray incidents have created a perception of persecution among a lot of Kashmiris and their non-Kashmiri peers and sympathisers. But anyone who has lived outside the Valley for a significant amount of time will acknowledge that there is no widespread discrimination against Kashmiris.

If there is any bias, it is against a certain political view which doesn’t go down well with a class of people who are thin-skinned, overzealous and often conservative. For instance, an engineering student from the Hindi heartland would always take great offence to any individual supporting the Pakistan cricket team over India. Similarly, an emotional Kashmiri will not tolerate any abuse against his favourite failed batsman Shahid Afridi. And certainly the emotions become issues of great confrontation.

On the flip side, in liberal circles, there is a great deal of tolerance towards the contentious political views of Kashmiris.

What else explains the phenomenon of young Indians who agitate from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to Jantar Mantar and beyond: almost parroting the line of “resistance, rebellion and azaadi”. It would be misleading to consider this phenomenon merely tolerating a differing point of view.

In many cases, these young, non-Kashmiri Indians have spent nights in jail and faced sedition cases. Many are aware of the 2016 incident at JNU, which sparked a national debate and polarisation that continues today. But not many observers noted that the real troublemakers came from a campus situated somewhere in southeast Delhi. Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and others were only scapegoats. They went to jail, faced charges and national outrage, but never pointed a finger towards the Kashmiris who were a part of that crowd. That says a lot about these individuals, their principles and most importantly their love for Kashmiris. Bearing the pain for others may be the highest form of worship.

Similarly, what is the significance of the election of a young Kashmiri to the students’ union of the Delhi University, a bastion of RSS-affiliate Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad? A student is accused of being anti-national, has complaints filed in police station by rival candidates, but despite that wins an election with a thumping majority. Who votes for this Kashmiri? Why didn’t his or her vote discriminate against his identity, politics, ethnicity, language, or culture?

When a Kashmiri leaves for other states of India, his concerned parents and relatives ask him to always keep an identity card in his pocket. But how often is he asked to show his identity proof on an average day? Ask a Manipuri, and the situation might be very different. “Are you an Indian, Are you from China?” is the insult that a Manipuri girl or an Assamese boy hears several times every day. Look at those from Africa who visit India for education and better healthcare. Mobs have chased many of them into hiding and elected representatives have led midnight crackdowns to push them out. That is discrimination. But the fair-skinned Afghans have co-existed with Indians for decades.

Having lived in New Delhi for four years, I have faced only one kind of discrimination: the “fair” kind. In my early days in this city, I noticed the obsession with fair skin. Also, every other person I met wanted to visit Kashmir, or had visited Kashmir long time ago, or wanted to go there soon. Truth be told, I have made promises to a lot people that I will take them along to the most beautiful place on earth on my next visit. None of the promises were fulfilled because the paycheque doesn’t permit such adventures.

And when they are not talking about “good looks” and the beautiful valleys of Kashmir, they obsess over Kashmiri food and culture. Again, every second person is looking for a restaurant offering the tastiest Wazwan, or expecting a box of apples, or a packet of saffron on your return from home. There are women who want to know about the authentic Pashmina shawls and their genuine market rates. There is no discrimination, only love. Love for every single bit of Kashmir, Kashmiris and our raison d'être.

If there was widespread discrimination, why would hundreds of Kashmiris buy properties in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and almost every part of the country? Why would thousands of students seek and find admissions in the best of colleges and universities? Why would thousands of job seekers continue living out of Kashmir? Why would every eligible Kashmiri find a corner for himself in the vast diversity of India? Why would a Kashmiri co-exist and live among Biharis, Bengalis, Punjabis, Marathis and Malayalis?

Now, there is a new obsession: the Kashmiri brain. The best of talent is found in newsrooms, universities, think tanks, corporates and crème de la crème of civil society.

The only discrimination is against a political view. Those who wear politics on their sleeve sometimes meet equally zealous counterparts and let the sparks scorch the sense of harmony, tolerance and love.

This commentary originally appeared in First Post.

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Khalid Shah

Khalid Shah

Khalid Shah was an Associate Fellow at ORF. His research focuses on Kashmir conflict Pakistan and terrorism.

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