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We the People: ‘The most beautiful thing about Constitution was that Kashmir had a special identity… That is now gone’

What does the Constitution mean in their lives, in letter and spirit? Which rights matter to them the most, at home and beyond, as they enter 2020, the 70th year of the Republic.

Written by Adil Akhzer | Srinagar | December 29, 2019 3:50:34 am
we the people indian express, kashmir, article 370, kashmir news, jammu and kashmir internet shutdown, indian express news Shoib Khalil, 27, Hotel owner, Srinagar, Kashmir.

Resident, usual resident; citizen, non-citizen; immigrant, illegal immigrant; Muslim, non-Muslim; Kashmiri, non-Kashmiri. In 2019, ascendant nationalism made way for narrowing definitions of who is a national — neat enough to fit a box to tick on a paper. From Kashmir to Assam, the complex matrix of identities woven over hundred of years of history and geography disintegrated into a jumble of numbers (370, 1971, 19 lakh), while from Sabarimala to Ayodhya, old identities proved strong despite the passage of centuries.

Towards the end of the year, the contesting figures took the shape of protests against the government. This shape seemed to have a common identity: young, articulate, seeking its rights under the Constitution, and rallying around the Preamble, beginning with the words ‘We, the people of India’.

The Sunday Express reaches out to men and women across the Republic, from the uneasy calm of the Valley to the angry disquiet of a campus, the desolation of Bastar to the solitude of a rape victim, and the hope for a job next to Millennium City Gurgaon to the longing for a temple in Ayodhya — to find out, in their own words and their own photographs or sketches, what they talk about when they talk about ‘being India’ and ‘being Indian’.

What does the Constitution mean in their lives, in letter and spirit? Which rights matter to them the most, at home and beyond, as they enter 2020, the 70th year of the Republic.

Rights That Matter Most: ‘Outside Kashmir, liberty to move around, freedom of speech, uninterrupted Internet. We want same’

Shoib Khalil, who lives with his mother and elder brother, owns a hotel in Srinagar. Most of the bookings and queries for his hotel would come through email, WhatsApp or Facebook. Since August 5, when the Centre revoked Kashmir’s special status and enforced an Internet shutdown, business has been down, he says.

What does India mean to you?

I am not sure whether the rest of India looks at Kashmir the way I look at them. On paper, I am Indian, but the reality is different… I (Kashmir) had a special identity, a protection enshrined in the Constitution. It was the most beautiful thing about the Indian Constitution. But all that is now gone.

Have you ever been to Delhi?

Yes, I have travelled to Delhi several times. It is a second home for Kashmiris, especially during the winter. It is a buzzing place.

What is the farthest place you have travelled to from your hometown?

Bengaluru. People were really nice there… I would like to visit the city more often.

Shoib sent a sketch of his home, Kashmir, that’s fenced in, and raises a question: ‘What next?’

Do you have a friend from another part of the country?

Yes, I have many friends. They call me often. I have a friend in Mumbai who is like family to me. He has visited Kashmir as well.

What are the three important rights you enjoy as a citizen of this country?

In Kashmir, there are no such privileges. But once I go out of Kashmir, there is liberty to move around freely, freedom of speech and expression and uninterrupted Internet. Again, Kashmir is a different story. However, I would like the rights every Indian enjoys.

For you, the government is…

One that listens to your concerns and ensures everyone has a job. In Kashmir, we have hardly seen that.

For you, a good citizen is…

One who believes in justice and equality.

For you, the most important historical event has been…

The unilateral decision to revoke the special status of J&K. It has hurt every Kashmiri.

In the New Year, what is the one change you hope for in the country?

I want Article 370 to be restored.

On the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act

I had my own state, my own special identity… I don’t think CAA will impact Kashmir. Kashmir is a different story.

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