For a Kashmiri student like me who migrated out of J&K for higher studies, the witch-hunt of my ilk in the JNU row or the recent arrest of four Kashmiri students in Rajasthan allegedly for cooking beef is far from shocking. Nor is the fact that all Kashmiri students in Kolkata are on police's radar or that the tenements inhabited by us will soon be checked in a door-to-door campaign in Goa.
It's a reality we have lived for years, and our campus or professional life outside Kashmir is literally a path of thorns.
And targetting us is also nothing new. Have you forgotten the sedition case against 60 Kashmiri students in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, for cheering for the Pakistani team during a televised cricket match against India? This was in March 2014, months before Narendra Modi came to power.
Cricket matches with Pakistan, in fact, are always a tense situation. Most Kashmiris cheer for Pakistan. If you're a Kashmiri student, most probably you'll get a call from you parents to go to your relatives' place to stay safe, or just avoid being near people that day. The rest of India lives in denial, and abuses us every time they hear it from us.
So just how different is a Kashmiri student's life from a "normal" counterpart, say in campuses in Delhi?
I'll tell you how:
We had a different childhood and thus different personalities
We are considered serious folks, who jump to political conversations at the drop of the hat. But if you look at how we grew up, it shouldn't surprise you. We are a children of conflict who grew up in war. All my childhood, I saw Army men standing guard outside school, even inside the building. Once, a cricket ball smashed into the window of our neighbors' house. Next, we heard firing. The lady who lived there had screamed she was being attacked, and the Army around the park that we were playing in, took up the guns. Or the time when me and my siblings lay down on the floor for hours because there was an encounter in the neighborhood. Or that time I ran holding my mother's hand running away from bullets. All this takes away a part of your innocence.
We grow up questioning, and that becomes a way of life. I have found other students in Delhi to have very different concerns, with different realities than ours. I personally would find them to be far less mature than us emotionally. We are precocious kids.
We migrate, because sometimes it's the last desperate option
Who wants to sizzle in the Delhi heat when our hometown has such great weather? We migrate because we have to. In school, we hardly attended classes for more than four days a week. Our state university doesn't offer too many courses, and the existing ones are obsolete in many cases. There are so many schools which are occupied by the army. There are little career options because of the near absence of a private sector, so we move out.
Our idea of fun is different, so we are called social pariah
Kashmiris are very traditional people. To begin with, we don't drink (except those who do), so the partying crowds don't attract us. Actually, we don't party as, back in Kashmir, there are no pubs or discs like we have in Delhi. In many areas, people don't step out of home after 6 pm, so there is no question of a nightlife. Eating out again isn't our idea of fun, we are more used to enjoying the meals with the entire family together, or friends when family is away. We also don't eat on-the-go. Here in Delhi, we listen to a lot of radio/ television and talk and discuss about things back home. That's what we do. We prefer to sit in our own groups in our free time.
Non-Kashmiris live in denial, so we have learnt to keep mum
Kashmiri students are some of the most quiet people on the campuses. It's because we have learnt to shut up. If you see, any national discussion is political in nature, but if we express our opinion, we face an instant backlash. Some just keep doing it and invite trouble and scorn but we just don't relate to the prevalent idea of nationalism. So they tell us to go to Pakistan, yes we were being told this much before it had become a fashion. This puts an end to all discussion.
They also think that all we have to talk about is politics. But that's not the case. We love arts, poetry, and literature, but there is little discussion in the campus about all that.
"He is a terrorist, a traitor," is a label given to us routinely
A few years ago, I was in Lajpat Nagar when my car broke down. I sought somebody's help who responded. But as soon as he noticed my number plate of J & K and asked my name, he went away mumbling "See, bloody terrorists are roaming here". Such incidents are routine. We don't take them to heart, obviously.
We know better than to participate in campus politics
Because we think it's easy for the police to pick us up for questioning, we usually stay away from limelight or any kind of activism. I recall a recent incident near Hauz Khas Village, when we were walking in the street around 11 30 pm. The cops stopped us. They checked our IDs. I knew what was coming: I was questioned for minutes while the other two friends from Delhi were not asked a single thing. So we prefer staying away from attention.
The author is Qazi Zaid, a student in Delhi for 10 years. He completed his Masters from Jamia Millia Islamia university in 2015
Feature image for representation / Reuters