Shunned and Othered: Kashmiri Students in Delhi
Their identity alone is enough to get them into trouble
“Whenever my classmates and I get into some kind of debate, they make statements like '' why don’t you go to Pakistan? Why do you live here? Yahin ka khati ho.. And I couldn’t understand what I had to do with that nation,” says Humaira, 24, a Muslim Kashmiri student who recently graduated from the Jamia Milia Islamia university in New Delhi.
Being a Muslim student from Kashmir is not easy, especially when the burden of gender is added. Humaira is one among the many Muslim Kashmiri students who are regularly othered by people in Delhi because of their identity.
Before coming to Jamia, she studied in a prestigious private institute, where too she was made to feel like an outsider, in the capital of a country where people claim that “all Indians are my brothers and sisters.”
These students spend the formative years of their lives walking on eggshells after moving to big cities across India. Their identity alone is enough to get them into trouble.
Nasir Khuehami, president of the Jammu Kashmir Students Association, recounts how he was denied housing in Delhi. “The landlord was ready to give us the room, but as soon as I told him I was a Kashmiri he turned hostile, his expressions changed and he immediately refused to give us the room.”
He says that students from Kashmir are also often advised to “be apolitical” or simply stay quiet when it comes to sharing their political opinions. “Every word uttered by them will be viewed through a skewed lens, and their opinions considered an affront to national identity,” says Khuahmi.
Commenting on the recent attacks after an India-Pakistan cricket match he said, “The act of putting sedition charges and UAPA against Kashmiri Muslim students creates a hostile environment. This puts the whole student community in jeopardy.”
Big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore have lots of opportunities, and by discriminating against Kashmiri students people here limit their opportunities.
“The students are forced into finding a homogeneous community of Kashmiri Muslim students or face a hostile situation where their voices and opinions are subdued. They have to make adjustments and always be conscious, which other students from a different community don't have to experience,” says Humaira.
Unsurprisingly, parents are often worried and feel insecure about their children. Due to the frequent blockages and internet shutdowns imposed in Kashmir, communication is often hacked off. Families are left with no correspondence from their kids for days and weeks, leaving them anxious and worried.
As Hammad Habib, a 23-year-old student from Jamia said, “Although my parents sent me to this big city to make my career, they are always anxious about my well being. Especially during episodes like the Pulwama attack.” He explained that the only way to be connected and ensure safety is through constant phone calls – and this is what gets suspended during the blockage, often leaving parents in distress.
Humaira explains, “The rising cases of communal violence is something which makes us anxious. Being Kashmiri Muslim students we are often scared that something might happen sooner or later.”
Although Delhi might provide a better education and an abundance of career opportunities, these students still cannot consider it their home. There is always a persistent sense of belongingness with Kashmir, of course, leading to homesickness. The different food, culture and people pose a challenge as they adapt themselves.
But people’s change in behaviour and attitude towards them when they disclose their Muslim Kashmiri identity is what makes them feel shunned. As one student put it, “I miss the peace which is in Kashmir – Which is actually not there, but when I’m there, the air I breathe, the kind people, food, everything brings peace to me.”