“The match ended suddenly at the picturesque Hagley Oval and so did my brief sojourn in Christchurch, New Zealand, which is so beautiful and pristine. Once again, it seemed a major part of me had embarked on a strange internal journey – long and lonely – apparently with no end in sight. The remaining part of me waited patiently to fly my physical self over a distance of 2,500 km across New Zealand and the Tasman Sea and then another 2,700 km across the Great Australian Bight to reach home. Once again, I found myself travelling on an interesting journey where my mind and body were flying on different paths, along different trajectories, independent of each another. I left the oval as a sad, divided person – a mirror of my divided past and disjointed present. It had happened before also, a few months ago when, on that dark stormy night in the desert of time, I had lost the track of my friends and they had lost mine.
Inside first three days, the second test match between Black Caps and Team India had ended suddenly, with a comprehensive win for the host team. The last two innings were played inside just three sessions over the last two days. The highest ranked team had been comprehensively defeated and humbled. The big shots of the visitors had failed to fire.
As I left the oval, I felt very low and, understandably, a little teary. Sunglasses hide one’s emotions but only for a while. My heart went to the Indian bowlers – Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Ravinder Jadeja – who had visibly toiled very hard to bring some respect to their team and the country. If only their batsmen too had shown a little more patience and batted responsibly, similar to what the two Toms of the Black Caps (NZ) – Latham and Blundell – had done in the Black Caps’ second inning and put on another 50 to 100 runs on the board, their valiant bowling efforts may perhaps have been rewarded. Unlike batsmen, in general, bowlers have no such luxury as to do nothing. It is their job to keep running hard, especially the fast bowlers, and try to get the opposition out. Their shoulders and legs bear a heavy brunt; and their feet, ankles and knees suffer significantly due to compression. Irony is that bowlers are not usually rewarded as well or acknowledged as much as batsmen are.
The local Kiwi crowd exhibited a high level of sportsmanship, maturity, civility and bipartisanship. They cheered every single good ball, every single good shot and every single good piece of fielding by players from either team. Although the Black Caps won the match, the crowd left the ground visibly dissatisfied and a little disappointed. No big celebrations were made. The spectators had come to watch the contest over full five scheduled days of the match but instead they had ended up watching the real contest only over the first 1.5 days, as Team India had simply folded up around tea on the 2nd day. The 4th day tickets were simply wasted and the free tickets on the 5th and final day were unfortunate never availed.
For personal reasons, which will need another book for explanation, I had arrived in Christchurch with a different set of expectations and emotions. My transformation, however, had happened on the morning of the very first day of the test match when my son – a surgeon in Christchurch Hospital – strongly insisted that I wear Team India’s jersey. [Yes, he is the same young man who had worked tirelessly for nearly 48 hours, with just a short 4-hour break in-between, as a member of the hospital team and tried to save as many lives as possible immediately after the Christchurch massacre of 15 March 2019. He may not have spent much time in India, but he is a true Kashmiri at heart and an Indian at core. Throughout this test match, he had wrapped the Indian Tricolour around himself; he always does in any match that he watches India playing]
On the first morning, when I stood up for the national anthems, I became emotional. Thereafter, when I saw the Indian bowlers toiling hard and bowling their hearts out, I became emotionally attached to the Indian team. just like before. and I started supporting them. Before my arrival in Christchurch, from a distance, my emotions were a little different but from up close, I had been transformed. The Indian bowling quartet had indeed transformed me. To me, they truly represented India where I had grown up. They toiled hard for their country as fingers of one first. Having said that, I have been a die-hard supporter of the Indian women’s cricket team for a long time. Why? It may need another book for explanation.
While watching Indian bowling efforts during the second day’s play, I suddenly remembered that BSF jawan who, on his return to home for holidays, had found his house burnt down by rioters during the recent communal violence in the heart of India. In my juxtaposed emotions, between cricket and life, I wondered why communities hated one another so much! I am making this statement based on the contents of social media forwards that I receive on a daily basis from my friends and acquaintances. This country, for which my heart goes, is seemingly being fed lots of toxic hate and anger through social media and all other known channels of communication. I feared if the country is heading towards a deep strife and turmoil along religious lines and I desperately hoped against it.
Every time I saw Shami running hard and bowling as fast as he could, I wondered with which mindset will the BSF jawan return to his border post. Appreciations must go to the BSF for being benevolent towards him, and the likes of him, but a question arises if he and his family will ever feel safe and continue to live at the same place if their house is reconstructed? Can anyone assure him and his family, with guarantee, that their home will never be destroyed again? If the answer to these questions is ‘no’, what are his options other than moving away from there and shift into a different locality where he and his family may feel relatively less unsafe? Isn’t that polarisation? Are these riots not polarising people? Won’t he and his family be always mentally prepared, and possibly armed, against a possible repeat of what they may have recently experienced? What about that 60-year old lady who had recently jumped from the first story of her house to save herself? What about those Sikh victims of the 1984 massacre? Can they ever forget (and forgive) the perpetrators of the massacre? Do they feel safe? Can anyone assure them that 1984 will not happen again? What about the displaced Kashmiri Pandits? The list goes on …
You may ask, ‘What about the Hindu victims in the recent Delhi violence?’ No, they too did not deserve to die. No deaths can be, and must be, justified for any reason whatsoever, particularly if they happen as a direct or indirect result of communal disharmony, distrust and violence. Two wrongs never make one right. No one must die in communal violence. Communal violence must never happen. Note that this article is not about who is right and who is wrong. I don’t wish to act as judge, jury and executioner. This article is about the mental scars that people carry through their lives as a consequence of their losses – human lives and property – and how they live thereafter, mentally and physically scarred. This is based on my personal experience.
‘If people from minority communities feel unsafe and / or get uprooted due to their religious and ethnic background, where will they go and hide to save themselves from getting targeted again for the same reasons?’
Till recently, I had wondered why, in a small city like Jammu, Sikhs usually live in the Sikh majority areas (Nanak Nagar, Camp Gole Gujral etc.) and Muslims in the Muslim majority areas. It is rare to see Sikhs and Muslims living in general civil areas. The only reason may be that they may possibly have painful memories of the past violent incidents – both direct and transmitted memories. And then there are areas based on castes and socio-economic standings. Isn’t that polarisation of the community?
Arguably, the riot-affected Hindus may have a few options to move out from their localities and be absorbed elsewhere in the country where about 75 to 80 percent population comprises Hindus. But, will their scars ever go away? For example, when Kashmir Pandits, who were a minority community in Kashmir (religious, but not ethnic), got uprooted in 1989-90, they became homeless and got dispersed across India, where they became a part of the Hindu majority community (religious, but not ethnic). It is extremely heartbreaking and unfortunate what had befallen them. Their mental scars and uncertainties will never heal. Their painful memories will always shadow them.
I have heard and observed many Kashmiri Pandits, based in Jammu post their exodus, having lived the past three decades in an element of uncertainty and with some fear for being an ethnic minority community in Jammu. Their fear may be due to their damaged psychology, but it is quite real. Many of them do keep wondering: ‘We don’t know how long we will be tolerated here in Jammu and when will we be forced to leave? Where will we go now? Our house is here, we don’t have anywhere to go.’ Supposedly, if they were forced to flee and leave Jammu, where would they go? The answer is, like most other members of their community, they may get dispersed in the rest of India.
Will this uprooted and endangered community of Kashmiri Pandits feel at home ever again wherever they live on the planet? The answer to this question cannot be provided by anyone except by only those who have themselves been uprooted in this very lifetime. A wearer knows where the shoe pinches. And how many people are there who can truly empathise them them based on their own sufferings? It is very easy to give speeches and make hollow promises but only a few – who have suffered themselves – can truly empathise with other sufferers.
Anecdotally, many Kashmiri Pandits, with first names like Chand, Sameer and Sahil and surnames like Peer and Bhat, have found it hard in the past to find apartments on rent or for buying in big Indian cities like Mumbai and Delhi. The reason is the lack of the ‘trust factor.’ Mutual distrust shapes the people’s opinions and decisions.
Coming back to my Kashmir, with my currently juxtaposed mindset, I recall, as a school student in Kashmir – at Vidhya Bhawan (Batyaar, Alikadal), Vidhya Niketan (Karan Nagar) and DAV (Jawahar Nagar) – during the morning school assembly, Sanskrit Shlokas, including the Gayatri Mantra, were recited, followed by the Indian National Anthem. These schools had students from all religious communities. The Indian Tricolour always flew atop the government secretariat buildings at both Jammu and Srinagar. On 15th August every year, school children would assemble in Bakshi Stadium, Srinagar, where the Indian Tricolour would be unfurled. I have been there several times. The Independence Day celebrations would take place in every district centre of the erstwhile state. I recall, in my childhood, cinema-goers would stand for the Indian National Anthem played at the end of the movie. I never felt then that I was not living in India or in Kashmir. How was my Kashmir not living as a part of India despite the Article 370? Why was my home recently downgraded? Is it just a territory? Does it not have any illustrious history of the past? I have always thought we proud Kashmiris were, and are, something in our own right and I have very valid reasons to think so.
The abrogation of Article 370 and Section 35A of the Constitution of India was, and is, a matter of law, justice and the constitutions of both the country and the erstwhile state. The now abrogated Article 370 had captured the essence and core conditions of the accession of the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir to the Union of India. The socio-political atmosphere in the days leading up to its sudden abrogation in August 2019 and the manner in which it was abrogated, as also the manner in which the state was downgraded to the status of a Union Territory, will remain permanently etched in the psyche of all Kashmiri people, from both sides of the religious divide. If an important decision is taken about a place, shouldn’t the people of that place be consulted first and engaged proactively to manage their apprehensions, concerns and fears, whatsoever, with sincerity? Are not the people of Kashmir, as the citizens of India, entitled to same benefits, facilities and the freedom of expression as the people from the rest of India?
I have no intention of being drawn into a potential political quagmire. I am aware I may potentially be crucified and fleeced for penning down my these thoughts. There is always a price to be paid for every action and inaction. However, being a firm believer in the Bhagwad Gita, I know my true self is indestructible and, therefore, I must not be afraid to say as I see it; otherwise I risk being deemed impotent for my inaction. On the other end of the spectrum, I ask, ‘Is my bad conscience not my punishment enough?’
On the one hand, a small percentage of Indians are polarised towards one front due to their anti-Muslim views and, on the other hand, Sikhs and Muslims have recently come together in Delhi as another front, perhaps purely due to human considerations or their common apprehensions or past memories. Of course, there is a third front where people hate both Hindus and Muslims for their own reasons. And, finally, there is this fourth front – thankfully, comprising the overwhelming majority of Indians from all religions and castes – that works tirelessly for the entire humanity and the country as a whole. They go about their daily chores with sincerity and work hard to make their both ends meet. This fourth front, where people may have transcended the religious and caste divides, endeavour to serve all regardless of their background. They don’t tend to misuse or abuse social media. They don’t sow or spread venomous seeds of social hatred and discord. It is this fourth front, which truly represents the soul of India, that keeps the country going.
I have heard many people complaining against this community or that community, but I have not heard many people providing practical and humane solutions that can uphold the intrinsic human dignity, whilst ensuring welfare and safety of all people. Alarmingly, some people – mainly from the first and the third fronts – irresponsibly support the use of force to control the lives of people from other communities. Shockingly, however, some people from one minority community also support the use of force against people from another minority community. Why? What has happened? Why have some people lost their marbles? Oh religion, what are you for?
At this point of time, I find it extremely hard to see the future, and when and where this journey finally ends.” … Bill Koul (3 March 2020)