On a warm Monday afternoon as Eid was being celebrated around the country, Zubair Rashid, 23, broke down as he recited a poem in front of strangers in Delhi. The poem had been written for his family, which lives in Baramulla in Kashmir. For a week now, after the government shut down phone and internet in the Valley, Rashid, who moved to Delhi recently to prepare for the Union Public Service Commission exams, has not been able to speak to them.
“They were not tears of weakness,” he said, recovering his poise. “They were tears of longing and yearning.”
He was speaking at an event organised at Jantar Mantar by Kashmiri students, who were anxious for their families and heartbroken over not being able to wish them on Eid.
“We are not here to celebrate,” said Sharika Amin, one of the organisers, a clinical psychologist who recently graduated from Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. “We are here to observe Eid because we find ourselves at a loss.”
On August 5, the Modi government announced its decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and to bifurcate the state into two Union Territories. Within two days, it secured the approval of Parliament, all the while keeping mainstream political leaders in Kashmir under arrest. A week later, the situation has still not eased: movements in the Valley continued to be restricted and mobile, internet and phone lines are not working.
For Kashmiris outside the state, the communication breakdown felt even more cruel on Eid. To cushion their sense of loss, they gathered at events organised in Delhi, Gurgaon and Mumbai. In Gurgaon, members of the Kashmiri Pandit community hosted Eid celebrations, while in Mumbai, some residents opened their homes to Kashmiris living in the city.
A 30-seconds call
At the Delhi event, which was called “Eid Away from Home: Unhappy, Exiled”, many young Kashmiris spoke about feeling adrift.
Every year, Asmat Pandit’s parents would call her from Baramulla at 5 am to wish her on Eid. But this year, they could not phone. “This is a disaster,” said Pandit, 23, a student at Delhi University. She last spoke to her parents on August 4. “My father called from a police station,” she said. “The call barely lasted 50 seconds and he just called to say they were fine.”
On the eve of Eid, Rashid’s father managed to call him from a colleague’s satellite phone. “The call lasted for 30 seconds,” he said. “My father just called to say that my mother and my siblings were all fine.”
Faiq Faizan, 24, one of the organisers of the Delhi event, said festivals are meant to be spent with loved ones. “Otherwise what is the point?” he asked. “We have not been able to get back to our loved ones. We do not know in what kind of conditions they are in and whether they have food and medicines.”
The search for community
After the Kashmiri students in Delhi shared their experiences, an array of food items, mostly delicacies prepared on Eid such as biryani, kebabs and kheer, were distributed by volunteers. The gathering included Delhi residents who had come to express their solidarity with the Kashmiris.
“We are at least happy that people are here to share our sense of grief with us,” said Nasir Lone, 30. Lone, a social worker, came to Delhi on August 6 from Srinagar to meet his sister and decided to stay back in the city.
“Just imagine, my parents were not even able to speak to relatives living across the town in Srinagar,” he said. “The very essence of Eid is to meet loved ones and eat with them. I have seen bad times in Kashmir but this is totally different.”
Rashid, however, could not shake off the feeling of isolation. “People say that Kashmiris feel alienated. Yes, we do,” he said. “But the reason is that we are made to feel so.”
For Faizan, it was necessary to create a platform where Kashmiris could meet Delhi residents who supported them, to feel a sense of community. “There are people who came here with a big heart who know the loss and pain of what we are going through,” he said.