Living in a new city is always problematic, especially when you are a Kashmiri. Being a Kashmiri, I, along with my two colleagues, spent at least two months searching for a flat on rent basis.
Searching gali to gali (street to street) was our routine activity. Contacting dealers and mediators for help, we succeeded in managing a flat for residing. After a long time, we got a room for living under certain conditions.
The conditions were like: pay rent in advance for two months; you cannot use the kitchen; you cannot speak loudly, you will not use the bulb during daylight, nor will you sing or smoke here. Other conditions included: no one is permitted to visit you, not even your parents.
One day my uncle came to visit me. I was charged three hundred for three nights. The owner gave me his logic, “If your uncle will stay in a hotel, he has to pay six hundred per day, but if he stays here, I will charge him one hundred per night.” That is how the life of a Kashmiri runs in a strange city.
Exploitation, rude language, misbehavior, mistrust, and unnecessary checks by the owner became the order of the day. I still remember one episode when one of our roommates was cleaning the room with her old jhadoo (broom), of which the handle broke unintentionally. She was charged a fine of ₹160.
Even after taking money from us, the landlady would say, “You people broke my jhadoo. You have no manners or sense of living and talking.”
Sometimes, she would ask us to call her didi (elder sister), sometimes auntie ji and sometimes, madam ji. We were in confusion about how to address her. Then, we decided that the younger two of us (16 years) would call her auntie ji, and the elder one would call her didi.
We would have left this accomodation, but it was becoming difficult for us to find a new room or flat. When the oppression crossed the limit, we disclosed the issue to a friend of ours, senior to us. He spoke with her about the issue, but it quickly turned into a big drama when she said, “You are terrorists, and you Kashmiris are always known for it.”
Her words were repeated by her lone son, who was living with his mother in the adjacent room and called us criminals, for a crime that we never committed. These words hurt our sentiments. We became frustrated, destitute, and scared. We locked our room and discussed the perception of general masses towards Kashmiris.
The perception became clearer when her child, too, called us ‘terrorists.’ This depicts how preconceived notions condition the mindset of people (Muslims and non-Muslims). Notions either textured by the media or by the rumours about Kashmiris.
It is sickening to see even in the age of rationality, people are behaving irrationally and are supporting meta-narratives which are baseless. Actions speak for themselves. We don’t need to give the people of India any explanation, nor can our explanations change people’s mind.
They have taken the liberty to label Kashmiris as terrorists, which is a permanent entity, and acts as an agency to govern the mindset of the people. This leads us close to the writings of Howard Becker, who published his groundbreaking work Outsiders in 1963. In the wider Indian society, we are also, always treated as outsiders.
It is often said verbal words are harsher than physical punishment, and that night, we could not sleep for even a minute. Finally, we moved outside, and again our journey of searching rooms restarted. Rambling through all the available flats, we tried to get as much information as possible.
In the first instance, our interaction always began with the guards or gatekeepers who never disclose the reality of the flats without chai pani (bribery), and sometimes, hardcore nationalist guards shooed us away because of our identity.
After pleading, some gatekeepers would give us the phone numbers of their owners, one of whom we contacted. We said, “Hello sir, aap ke apartment mein koi flat khali hai to humein rent pe chahiye. Hum family nahi hai.” (Is there any flat vacant in your apartment, we’re looking for a room to rent. We are not a family, but a few students who wish to house together.)
In reply, the owner responded, “It is okay, I am coming to show you the flat.” After keeping us waiting for two hours, we got a call from him with a question, “Aap kaha ke ho?” (Where are you from?).
Our friend, who took the call for us, told him we were Kashmiris, and in reply he said, “I am sorry, I can’t take the risk of letting my flat out to you.” Finally, he dropped the call.
It is sufficient to claim that Kashmiris are denied necessities because of their identity, and in today’s world, their identity has become their crime. This leads us closer to racial theories of deviance.
It is unfortunate to see that despite our valid proofs that the rest of Indians possess, we face discrimination, stigma, exploitation, or extortion in one or other forms. We have to face and experience a situation where the whole society seems to us a fear box ready to catch and label us.