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Kashmir Diary

A Kashmiri Muslim Boy’s Journey

Joydip Ghosal

The diary of Gul Mohammad, A Kashmiri Muslim boy’s journey from Kashmir to Kerala (Oxford University Press) by Humra Quraishi deftly chronicles the trials and tribulations of a Kashmiri boy who has been transported from his abode in downtown Srinagar to a Madrasa in New Delhi. His parents decided in the hope that he would be able to study unhindered in a hazard-free atmosphere. This book is written in a diary format and it brings to the fore the predicament a 14-year-old Muslim boy faces in a violence-ridden society that is sharply polarised along religious lines. To protect the identity of the characters their names, and surnames have been changed.

Humra Quraishi is a Delhi-based columnist and journalist. She has co-authored many books with Khushwant Singh including The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous: Profiles and Absolute Khushwant. Kashmir: The Untold Story and Kashmir: the unending tragedy are my personal favorites. Throughout her writings her intense love and compassion for suffering humanities residing in Kashmir are evident. All her books are testimony to her in-depth research and extensive leg works. For the last over three decades she had been visiting orphanages and madrasas in towns and cities she traveled to. She interacted with the madrasa children, maulvis. But hardly she came across their parents and grandparents. Many of these children were orphans. Some of them were semi-orphan which meant one of their parents was dead. Some of the children’s parents were alive but the connection got severed. Those parents were unable to visit their wards because of financial constraints. The author told unequivocally that a large number of children had been sent to madrasas so that they could get two square meals every day. Their cravings for a 'safe roof’ over their head also met. These visits to the madrasas got her closer to the realities in which the children were surviving in. She observed that the majority of madrasas did not have radio sets or television. They did not have access to modern-day gadgets. Their forlorn look and innocence left an imprint upon the author’s mind. Most of the children she came across were subdued. Their body language betrayed anxiety and restlessness. In most of the madrasas that she visited in and around Mewat, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh it was just the sheer basics of daily survival that stood out. In the introduction part of the book the author Humra Quraishi pointed out that madrasa children are the most vulnerable in the communally surcharged climate of the country. Even in Delhi, they were not spared. She cited some incidents to demonstrate the horrific issue. In 2018, an eight-year-old boy Md Azeem was lynched by religious fanatics. That incident happened in South Delhi’s Begampur locality. In that same locality in 2017 a small group of Madrasa students were roughed up and forced to chant 'Bharat Mata Ki Jay’. In 2019, the whole country was shaken when three madrasa boys were seriously wounded in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao. A group of men brutally thrashed the boys.

The author categorically points out that madrasa children are most vulnerable in today’s India where communalism was systematically unleashed on ‘Muslim looking children’ attired in Kurta–pajama with their skull caps on. When the author visited Lucknow-situated Nadwa, she felt she had been transported to a Gandhian ashram. When she asked the maulanas whether they did get any aid from Muslim countries they rubbished the claims. Milli Gazette’s editor, Zafarul Islam Khan told her that when LK Advani used to say that madrasas were places of terrorist activities, they not only strongly countered that but even sent a team of reporters to the Indo–Nepal border situated madrasas to ascertain the situation for themselves. But they found nothing. He studied in madrasa where 60 percent is the teaching of religious subjects. Late political and social commentator Asghar Ali Engineer told her categorically that these were nothing but propaganda. Even non-Muslims study in madrasas.

In a highly militarised zone like Kashmir people are living under extreme agony despite the boastful claims and tom-tomming by ruling dispensation. Caught between two warring sides the protagonist in this booklet is a miserable life. His brother had been severely wounded. His one eye had been damaged and as a result, he had lost his vision. They faced all sorts of abuses and torture. Many were picked up for interrogation but they never returned. The author put the characters against the backdrop of trigger-happy personnel and gun-toting insurgents. Though he had been shifted from the valley his Kashmiri identity did not leave him in solace. It is the prevailing ground reality in Kashmir Valley. Gul’s love for his Kashmir is intense and the traumatic events and unspeakable atrocities rendered him numb and helpless. He was agitated and because of that, he was mentally in shambles. While he was shifted to a Madrasa in New Delhi he had to strut through many twists and turns. He captured that painful moments in his diary. But in the madrasa in Delhi he felt himself like an outsider who was unable to assimilate into the atmosphere.

Later when he was transported to Muzaffarnagar he faced a more bleak prospect. There the maulvi was brutally roughed up. One of his friends lamented that never before had Muslims faced such a hate-filled atmosphere. To conceal his identity they decided to call him Pahari. The maulvi was assassinated by frenzied mobs. The situation looked grim like the partition years. Even he did not get employment in a roadside eatery because of his identity. His life went through trials and tribulations. Later he found refuge in Calicut. But at the end of the book, he receives the shocking news that the family that sheltered him in Uttar Pradesh became the prey to blood-thirsty politics of hate-driven dispensation.

Throughout the book, the author’s empathy for the Kashmiri people is evident. She does not mince words in attacking the majoritarian mindset that launches attacks on ' others’. Though there are several fictional characters–factors are inter-webbed–webbed in this account this book stands out for its effort at unraveling the different tangles and knots in a Kashmiri Muslim boy’s life. Its smooth flow of narration also helps the reader to navigate without any hindrance. This book will be etched as a realistic portrayal of a boy’s life who was shoved to the brink by mainland inhabitants.

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Vol 56, No. 49, Jun 2 - 8, 2024