It just happened that a few days Back, I met my childhood friend Aashiq at cannaught place, New Delhi. Ashiq is the son of a “shia pir”(sort of Oracle) and lives in the Dal-Lake area of Kashmir. Even though, he came from a poor family, he has managed to do well for himself and is presently working as a Govt. employee in J&K. He was being accompanied by another friend of his “Harmeet”-a Kashmiri Sikh. We headed towards the coffee shop nearby.
We talked about our childhood and that fun. We talked about our boat rides.swimming. Our hiking expeditions and Zabarwan. Our discussions veered towards the present situation in Kashmir viz-a-viz the socio-economic life of the minorities of Kashmir. Harjeet said, “Sikhs of kashmiri were mostly well-off. We are a peaceful community just as pundits and are generally seen as innocuous and gentle humans.”He added, “With the advent of so-called-jihad, we are tacitly subjugated by the majority sunni community. Many of the sikh girls had been lured by the Sunnis on the pretext of love and marriage. And their religion changed after wedding.” Harjeet paused for a moment and said, ”Many of our youths are side-tracked in govt. jobs in spite of good education and capabilities. We know we are being treated as second-hand citizens. we are ready for the impending doom for being a minority of Kashmir. Most of us have brought houses and lands outside Kashmir. We know, our fate can be that of Kashmiri Pandits- who were forced to flee.”
Shahid was quietly listening. I asked him about his opinion on the plight of Shias in Kashmir. He said, “Whatever is happening in Pakistan is bound to be repeated in Kashmir.” His statement reminded of his cousin Shabbir. It was in late-eighties when a sectarian clash broke between shias and sunnis. Shabbir was one such victim of Sunni hegemony. That fateful day, he was at the wrong place at wrong time. Somebody in the crowd had pointed finger towards him and shouted, “He is a Khudd(a derogatory word used for shia-muslims in Kashmir).” He was stripped of his clothes by the crowd that constituted the majority community of sunnis. He was forced to run stark-naked towards his home in the Dal-Lake area. While he was being humiliated, many people in the crowd were cheering and galvanizing the mob to do more such shameful acts.
“We do not support Pakistan. The support to Azadi is because of our compulsion. Even though shia militant-groups were formed by our community, but they hardly participated. It was a gesture to show that we support them. We did not wanted to be conspicuous by not supporting them. Even though we did not really supported them.”said Shahid as he further added, “You can ask any Kashmiri Pandit, who are living in shia-dominated areas in Kashmir. They are the safest in our areas.” I knew it already, Many Kashmiri pundits stay put in their villages that were shia-dominated even when militancy was at its peak.
Harjeet intercepted Jokingly, “ Sunnis consider them as untouchables and untrustworthy”. Shahid nodded his head in approval and said, “we are ready to fight with them with our fists or with bullets.” With a whiff of anger. He said further, “we will fight back” with a determined tone. “when a sunni is killed by armed forced for whatever reason, they come on streets to protest. And if a shia is killed, not a brow is raised.” said shahid.
I was getting late as I had an appointment. But before that, I asked them about Kashmiri Pandits. Harjeet said , “Had you stayed back in Kashmir, you would have faced more ignominy and collateral damage in terms of life and the honour of KP ladies.” Shahid also approved as he said, “The general feeling is that you will never come back again”. He gesticulated as he said, “ And they will make sure that you don’t come back again.”
I took their permission and left them alone in the cafeteria. The last lines of Shahid were reverberating in my mind, “And they will make sure that you don’t come back again”. But I have pinned hope against hope that I will return someday, sometime. But I will return for sure….