Being Kashmiri in Bengaluru, in aftermath of Pulwama

The School for the Deaf and Mute Society's staff and students take part in a candle light march to pay tribute to CRPF soldiers who lost their lives in Pulwama terror attack, in Ahmedabad, Sunday, Feb 17, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Within minutes of the ghastly terror attack at Lethpora in Pulwama, I got a call from my dad, who is currently camping in Srinagar. The tone was dejected, and very worried – a concern for my well-being in distant Bengaluru.

“Furquan, be extra cautious, sentiments are going to be high. Don't engage with anyone and make sure the rest of the family is also safe," he said.

In pursuit of my daily story, I brushed away my father's concerns thinking he had fallen prey to the hysteria. And I had a reason for that -- I have called Bengaluru my home for years and it's my home and my identity. And I have never felt unwanted, much less hated, or unsafe here so far.

MUST READ | Full Coverage on Pulwama Terror Attack

The next morning, when the nation was engrossed in the tragedy that had taken the lives of over 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans, everything seemed to be normal. But within hours of the cabinet committee on security (CCS) meeting, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was speaking at the inauguration of Vande Bharat Express, his words at the public gathering in Varanasi sent shivers down my spine. "Iss hamle ki vajah se desh mein jitna aakrosh hai, logon ka khoon khol raha hai; ye main bhalibhaanti samajh pa raha hoon. Iss samay jo desh ki apekshaen hain, kuchh kar guzarne ki bhavanaen hain, vo bhi s‍vabhavik hain. (The rage in the country due to this attack is making the blood of the people boil; I understand this very well. At this time, there is also the feeling that something needs to be done. That’s also natural).”

If my dad could anguish about what could be a ‘natural’ response to such a gruesome terror attack, the Prime Minister of 130 crore people, I thought, would also have an idea of it. Surprisingly, there was no appeal to maintain communal harmony at such a time -- and one still hasn’t come!

Soon after the prime minister’s speech, a glimpse at Twitter feeds showed that my dad’s concerns no longer seemed so misplaced as it had earlier. It was not just Pakistan that was the target of hatred and anger, but also Kashmiri Muslims. Twitter was filled with comments spewing venom on the community. Former Infosys CFO and Modi’s camp follower T V Mohandas Pai tweeted: "Kashmiri Shops in Tourists Spots -- Is there more than what meets the eye? Are such shops becoming money-laundering outfits? Needs investigation, worrisome".

In his tweet, Pai tagged Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, while quoting a link from Sanjeev Nayyar, who in an article on May 1, 2018, had tried to normalise the rape of a young Bakkarwal girl from Kathua. It is surprising that despite the backlash on Pai's tweet, none of the ministers tagged have taken cognizance of it and come out with an appeal for calm.

Social media is helping amplify anger and hate. The effects are evident on the streets. I am personally witnessing it. The security guard outside my home in Bengaluru who till three days ago used to greet me cheerfully every day had nothing but a cold, hateful stare in store for me. The driver of an autorickshaw I was travelling in was fine until he heard me talking over the phone in Kashmiri. His attitude changed immediately. The immediate, although not life-threatening consequence was a demand for Rs 20 more over the meter-fare. The man knew I could not afford to pick up a fight over it with him, now that I had exposed myself as a Kashmiri. I paid up without a murmur.

Among the experiences of my Kashmiri friends, one sent me an SOS when her accommodation in a serviced apartment in a posh locality in Bengaluru got cancelled. The real estate agent sent her the following message: "We will not provide the apartment to you and you know the reason".

In another case, a group of Kashmiri students pursuing graduate studies in the city was threatened, after a fellow Kashmiri college-mate, whose behaviour they had no connection with, put up a highly insensitive Facebook post over the February 14 terror attack.

As I began to see the hate poison spreading, I tweeted: "My heart and home are open to anyone in need of help. Please feel free to message me". There was nothing political or communal in that tweet, but the right-wing Twitterati had to barge in. "U mean any Muslim in need of help," replied one Kailash Chatterjee; another, by the Twitter, handle name of Daniel Semah tweeted: "Say people who raped and butchered thousands of KPs in cold blood."

Pardon my ignorance, but which among us Kashmiri Muslims have "raped and butchered thousands of KPs in cold blood". Not that I need to prove it to anyone, but I have been closer to Kashmiri Pandits than to Kashmiri Muslims for the most part of my life so far.

The hate messages are not dying down with time, they are being ratcheted up in a calibrated manner even as the prime minister went from “I can understand people’s blood is boiling” on day 1 of the tragedy to “My blood is boiling” on day 3. So much so that I’m beginning to sweat at the thought of having to leave home for work. That, thousands of miles away from Kashmir, in Bengaluru.  
 

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