“Agar ham Hindustani nahi hain toh Sarkar ye hamein likh kar de de. Aur agar ham Hindustani hain toh hamein yahan business karne se kyu roka ja raha hai (If we are not Indian, then the government must give it to us in writing… if we are Indian, why are we being barred from doing business)?” asked Fayaz Ahmed Malik, who hails from J&K’s Kupwara district and runs a garments shop in Mussoorie.
Fayaz is among several Kashmiri traders in the hill station who might have to shut shop owing to a slew of decisions by the local traders’ body.
It all started on June 18, when India lost to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final and some Muslim youths allegedly raised “Pakistan Zindabad” slogans at Mall Road. Sub-inspector Mukesh Dimri, investigating officer for the incident, said some local BJP leaders created ruckus at Mussoorie police station, demanding the arrest of those who raised slogans.
The next day, general secretary of BJP’s Mussoorie unit Kushal Singh Rana filed a complaint against “unknown persons” for the sloganeering. While Rana was not an eyewitness, he told The Indian Express that he filed the complaint “since an anti-national activity happened in Mussoorie.”
On June 20, Rajat Aggarwal, president of Mussoorie Traders & Welfare Association, called a meeting where it was decided that no Kashmiri will be allowed to rent a shop in the town March 2018 onwards. It was also decided that Kashmiri hawkers would be “removed by force with immediate effect” and those who had rented shops would be removed from the premises by February 2018, said a WhatsApp message circulated by Aggarwal. It said the decisions were taken “against the anti-national activity undertaken by local and Kashmiri youths on June 18.”
On June 22, Mussoorie’s BJP MLA Ganesh Joshi wrote to state Principal Secretary (Home) about how “Kashmiris raised pro-Pakistan slogans” and sought a police verification of Kashmiri traders in view of “national security”.
Dimri, however, said, “No Kashmiri was involved in the sloganeering.” He said three juveniles were booked in connection with the incident. They were put in a juvenile home in Dehradun before being released on bail. Two of them hail from Saharanpur in UP, while one is a local, Dimri said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Aggarwal said that in the past two years, about 18 Kashmiri traders had rented stores in Mussoorie to sell shawls and women’s suits. “Eighteen is a big number for a small town like Mussoorie,” he said, adding that in view of the “current anti-Kashmir sentiments”, the “mushrooming of new Kashmiri traders in the town was alarming”. “We don’t want to take a chance,” he said.
Altaf Hussain Khwaja, from Zurhama village in Kupwara, set shop in March. “My brother Mushtaq Ahmed Khwaja is a Major in the Army. Still, my nationalism is under doubt,” he said.
Zahid Khan, also from Zurhama, said, “We haven’t understood our role in the raising of the slogans. None of the youth involved was Kashmiri. Even then we are being targeted. Have we no right to lead a normal life?”