One fine morning, my uncle called mom. As both spoke, I understood that my brother had received some threating letter in Kashmir. He had recently moved to Kashmir for work. After completing his MBA, getting a job was tough till he got a government offer to work in Kashmir under Central government employment policy for Kashmiri Hindu migrants popularly known as “PM’s Package”. With limited options available, he decided to take up the job in Kashmir against the wishes of many in the family.
After realising that my brother was being threatened, every adult in the family was concerned. This was for the first time in two decades that the family was discussing circumstances under which we had to leave Kashmir so openly in front of us. The topic was hardly discussed in details when we were growing up, the discussion was never meant for kids. For my brother, it seemed like just another day in Kashmir, he refused to leave Kashmir even though he had received a letter threatening his life.
On Facebook, several people started breaking the news about the letter on various Kashmiri Hindu forums. Facebook threads and discussions started to grow, some discussing how they had warned against going back to Kashmir and how the people had compromised the community’s dream of going back to a safe Kashmir by taking up the Jobs offered by the government. One particular post caught my attention in which one anonymous user had written that he was currently in Kashmir as a part of PM’s employment package and the situation was very tough for them. He spoke about how the government had tricked them in signing an employment contract under which they would no longer have migrant status in-case they left the job. I understood brother’s unwillingness to leave Kashmir.
I decided to go to Kashmir. I convinced parents that I was going to drive to Ladakh and on the way, I would stop by in Kashmir to meet my brother and try to convince him to quit the job and come back. Next day I was in Kashmir. As I entered the Kashmiri Hindu compound where my brother stayed, it all felt normal. He wasn’t at home. They had gone as a delegation to meet a separatist leader living nearby.
The first question I asked my brother as he came back was “Why would you people go and meet a separatist leader?” Brother responded with a smile and his first words were “This is not your Facebook discussion forum or the US; this is Kashmir. Things work differently here. Here if anyone tries to be a Sunny Deol, he will be floating in the river the next day. We are no tourists here now, we are living and working here and to do that we have to ensure everyone is on our side including the separatists.” And the discussion continued.
It so happened that a few boys from the township had purchased Beer from a local liquor store and gone back to their apartments in the township. Just a few days later, the township received an abusive threat letter through the post. They were warned against the “un-Islamic” acts they were indulging it and the possible ‘consequences’ in the future. It was a surprise for the township. People didn’t even pray loudly in the nearby temple in order to avoid any conflict. During urgent township meeting on the way forward, the boys revealed that they had purchased Beer a few days earlier. It was shocking to many as it meant that someone was keeping a close eye on what was happening inside the township.
Everyone was afraid. One of the first steps they took is to send the delegation of a few people to meet a separatist leader. The separatist had called his network across the border within the terrorist organization, who had sent the threat letter. Leader of the terrorist organization is said to have assured the delegation while on phone loudspeaker that the threat letter was fake and probably sent by a few local boys. Those who led the delegation mentioned in a meeting that conclusion of the meeting was that Kashmiri Hindus are here to work but they should remember that they are being watched and not indulge in any “Un-Islamic” acts.
Over the next few weeks, the delegation went on to meet many high-ranking Police officers, senior politicians in and outside Kashmir. Everyone met them, but no one helped. No arrests were made. Nobody tried to figure out who the people behind the threat were. Nobody understood what a threat letter meant for people of a community who had made an attempt to come back to Kashmir after 2 decades since Kashmiri Hindus were ethnically cleansed from Kashmir.
Few media houses paid attention to the incident but this was the turning point for the community who were already living under below standard conditions of living. Over the next few weeks, I learnt about how the teachers from the township were threatened in their classes by young students. During an India-Pakistan match, it is better for us that Pakistan wins otherwise the situation for us in class becomes very tough, we have now learnt how not to celebrate. The Beer incident changed everything for us. It was a warning for us to live on their terms and as long as we do so, all will be fine for us.
During my 3+ weeks in the township, I learnt how we see things as right or wrong on our Facebook discussions. Many felt helpless with 18-hour power cuts, no outside help, single security guard inadequate to save the township from a terror attack, Politicians unwilling to help, an administration that had other priorities, ignoring the local boys teasing the girls from the township on their way back from work, challenges in the office.
For this Kashmiri Hindu Township in Kashmir, it was about survival and they saw no hope.