Migrant Kashmiri's in India

Betrayed and lonely in Bengaluru

Print edition : August 30, 2019

Azra*, a Kashmiri entrepreneur in her mid twenties, had a flight to Bengaluru from Srinagar at 9 a.m. on August 5. It was just a coincidence that Azra, who has been in Bengaluru for the past one year, was flying out of Kashmir on that day. When her flight took off from the Srinagar airport, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which tenuously tied the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India, was still in place. By the time the flight landed a few hours later, it had been abrogated and the State of Jammu and Kashmir had been bifurcated and made into two Union Territories. Azra was shocked on seeing the news and immediately tried to call her parents, but all telephone and Internet connectivity had been blocked from the previous night. She could only grieve alone.

“Everyone knew that something big was going to happen. My house in Srinagar is a mere 20 minutes away from the airport, but it took us more than an hour to get to the airport as we had to clear 12 checkpoints. There was no Jammu and Kashmir Police anywhere, and everything was being manned by military and paramilitary personnel. I don’t even know whether my father reached home safely after dropping me off at the airport. My aunt is pregnant and she is a diabetic. Both my grandmothers are bedridden. How do they even reach the hospital in case of an emergency? I don’t have any news from home, and I’m all alone,” she said, breaking down.

Reaction of people

What was most disappointing for Azra was the reaction of people who were around her at the airport and, later, when she reached her shared accommodation. People were exulting around her, and she was aghast at the absolute callousness that ordinary people were displaying regarding Kashmiris and the complete lockdown of the Valley. “Even my roommate was saying stupid things like how she can buy property near Dal Lake, and on my office WhatsApp group some silly men were forwarding messages saying that they could now marry Kashmiri women. They don’t understand what’s happening, and the worst part is that they don’t want to as they don’t care about the people of Kashmir. They just want our land!” Azra said, her voice choked with emotion. Kashmiri traders have been migrating to Bengaluru for several decades now and have become part and parcel of the city. More recently, students from Kashmir have continued to live in Bengaluru after finding employment. There have been stray cases of Kashmiris being targeted in the city in the past. In 2016, a Kashmiri rapper who uses the stage name MC Kash was not allowed to go ahead with his performance. A few young men from Kashmir were arrested after the Pulwama attacks for their social media posts.

Instances such as these are few and far between. Most Kashmiris—it is estimated that there are around 10,000 in the city—find Bengaluru to be an inclusive city, and while some have had difficulties finding rental accommodation because of their identity, others have been lucky to find landlords who do not discriminate against them. Things may not remain this way now.

Since he came to Bengaluru three years ago, Adnan*, a Kashmiri from Srinagar, had never felt like an outsider until the terrorist attack happened in Pulwama in February. Something changed for him after that as all his friends and colleagues at the business process outsourcing company where he works began to look at him with suspicion.Some of his colleagues began to distance themselves from him, which left him feeling vulnerable but even this was tolerable. Things changed on August 5. Adnan woke up that day knowing fully well that something momentous was going to take place.

He had spoken to his parents in Srinagar the previous day and knew that the Kashmir Valley was in a complete lockdown. “I considered whether I should go to office or skip work that day, but I decided that I couldn’t hide from people for events that I was not responsible for,” he said. Later that day, after Home Minister Amit Shah’s announcement in the Rajya Sabha, there was chaos in the office as everyone had left their seats and was rejoicing. “That was the time when I felt really alone as I knew that this country was not mine. Nobody even bothered to ask me how I felt, and I remained stuck to my computer the whole day. I did not even have lunch as I could not face all my cheering colleagues,” Adnan said, his voice quavering with emotion. He made it through the day with great difficulty and applied for a week’s leave from August 6 onwards. His problems are just beginning as his landlord is subtly asking him to vacate his premises. “I think I will go back to Kashmir now as I want to be with my family,” he said.

After the abrogation of Article 370, Kashmiris like Azra and Adnan who had begun to trust the Indian state have lost their faith in it completely. This was reiterated by another Kashmiri, Hamza*, a 35-year-old who works in a private bank in the city and lives in Bengaluru with his wife and son. “Kashmiris everywhere have always stood for self-determination, but many of us did not support the armed struggle. But when we are pushed to a corner like we have been now, I think a lot of Kashmiris will change their perspective on the necessity of an armed struggle against India,” Hamza said.

With the abrogation of Article 370 and concomitantly Article 35A, which restricted outsiders from purchasing land in Jammu and Kashmir, there is also a fear that Kashmiris will become a minority in their own land. “Well, this is a serious matter of concern for us because even Kashmiris are humans and will succumb to offers from higher bidders even if they are not from Kashmir. This is human nature, but it may take some time for a demographic change to actually happen. First, there must be peace for outsiders to come and settle there, and the border to Pakistan is so close. It may not happen immediately, but we will fight this move if it actually happens,” Hamza said.


*The names have been changed as the Kashmiris who spoke to Frontline wanted to remain anonymous. They are anxious about their own situation and the plight of their family members back home.

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