In India today, people from communities oppressed both historically and recently — including Dalits, Kashmiris and Muslims — strive to stand up to the violent machismo that appears all around us. I still remember vividly when fear hit home. My mother woke up one morning and called me, in tears and scared. I could sense she must have been trembling, her heart pounding. She had just had a nightmare.
She dreamt that I, her elder son, was with her and part of a group being chased down by armed forces on their way to a local Sufi shrine (a place meant to symbolise peace). Teargas was being fired at us from behind. With tears and itchiness in her eyes, she along with all the others who were part of the crowd was on the run for her life. In a dark alley, she lost sight of me. She shouted out my name, but could not find me.
I was still half asleep when she had called that morning. However, the sounds of her sobs still give me goosebumps. I had never seen her cry like that before. Not even when I lost my maternal grandfather. My father had always maintained more poise. Hiding behind the veil of patriarchy, he never advertises his fears. But he calls me at least five times a day, often to discuss the most trivial matters. It is an obvious and earnest attempt to make sure that he keeps up with his eldest son’s whereabouts and makes sure he is safe. His primary responsibility remains to call me and inform me about potential places of harassment. He advises me to avoid posting on social media and networking websites and platforms. He fears that I may be a victim of lynching, like Muslims elsewhere. His son, living in Delhi, is vulnerable on two fronts — for being a Kashmiri and for having a Muslim name.
My family has had nothing to do with “conflict” as such — most of them have tried to maintain a reasonable distance from the different political powers and actors. Compared to other Kashmiris and oppressed groups living elsewhere, we have always felt privileged. We have been surrounded by a relatively safe and amiable milieu. Despite all this, the torment I felt after my mother woke me up that morning makes me realise how fear has begun accumulating in the smallest corners of my mind. Each day, we see such nightmares become a living reality. A horrendous reverie mothers actually witness with each passing day. That is the kind of fear each of us carries constantly.
My own political position is driven by the idea of peace, dialogue and reconciliation. For many back in Kashmir, this makes me something of a “RSS chamcha”: I am somebody who doesn’t understand the Kashmir problem and has never suffered. For some, I am a “collaborator” in the making.
On the other hand, does it really matter what I stand for? Do any of the many security forces, and other outfits, care? Do those loudly pretending to be nationalists care? Do the bullets know what my socio-political inclinations are?
For them, I am a Kashmiri. I am a Muslim. That’s all that matters. I am the reason behind any suffering that accrues to me. I am the scapegoat behind which they have tried to hide their collective failures. The reason to breed the culture of collective silence.
This is the same collective silence that I witnessed when I was denied a space to live in north campus. When someone wrote “Pakistani” on my back in the classroom during a group exercise. When an acquaintance, in the course of a normal, casual conversation said: Muslims are meant to be shown their place. This has happened to me, a person who believes in idea of Kashmir within the ambit of Indian Constitution. If it happens to me, I presume it can happen to anyone.
It doesn’t matter on which side of the line I stand.