Bengaluru, July 19: In an upscale coffee parlour in India's IT hub Bengaluru, two men-a Kashmiri and an Assamese-decided to enjoy their Espresso together on Sunday evening. This is how the meeting unfolded.
27-year-old Ashraf Ali (name changed on request), is a native of Kathua in Kashmir and is working in an IT firm in Bengaluru for the last two years. Sanjib Bordoloi (30) from Guwahati in Assam is a friend of Ashraf and works as a freelance photographer in the city.
They had met almost a year back and since then have become close buddies. They often meet and discuss what they say 'they can't talk openly about'. On Sunday, both the friends while enjoying their coffee and sandwiches once again lamented the fact that how conveniently the "mainland India" ignores the plight of Kashmir and Northeast India.
The importance of Kashmir and Northeast India in the collective conscience of India can be gauged by the treatment these places get in the mainstream newspapers. If you have scanned through the popular national English dailies on Sunday (July 17), in all probability you have not read any Assam-related news on the front-page of these newspapers.
As regards to Kashmir, most of the front-page had a brief about the ongoing crisis in the Valley.
Assam is reeling under massive floods. Reports say flood situation in Assam is critical. Around two lakh people have been affected by the floods in six districts of the state.
"Have you seen any news about Assam floods on the TV channels?" Sanjib asked. "When Chennai was reeling under floods last year, there was so much attention. Hundreds of people die in floods in my state every year. Nobody cares, not even the successive state governments. If we talk about our problems, we are called as crybabies," he added.
"I am a Kashmiri and a practicing Muslim. I am a well-educated man. I have a decent paying job and have no criminal record. However, it took me almost seven months to get a rented place in Bengaluru. My colleagues and friends told me to hide my identity to help me get a place of my choice. I can't lie about my identity. Nobody can erase my truth," said Ashraf.
Like Ashraf's truth, nobody can deny the real facts about Kashmir. Curfew remained in force in the Valley and life was paralysed for the ninth day on Sunday. Violent protests have rocked Kashmir since July 9 following the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani and two of his associates in an encounter with security forces a day earlier.
"In the ensuing clashes with security forces, 39 persons including a cop have been killed, while 3,160 persons including 1,500 security force personnel have been injured," stated a PTI report.
Ashraf is struggling hard to connect with his family and friends back home due to the breakdown of cellphone networks across Kashmir. There is no internet access in Kashmir after the Jammu and Kashmir government suspended internet services.
The government has also asked the cable TV operators in the Valley to stop their services. And in an unprecedented move, for the first time in Kashmir, newspaper presses were raided by the government on Saturday (July 16).
"I have not spoken to my mother for the last two days. I have managed to speak to my sister, who stays in Delhi. My sister told me my parents are very scared," he said.
Ashraf said with the media gag in Kashmir, the Valley was under total siege. "How could the government muzzle the voices of its own people? If thousands of people are protesting on the streets and are dying everyday there is a reason behind it. The wound of Kashmir is severe. The government needs to heal it with a dialogue, not suppress the voices of its own people," he added.
What troubles Ashraf and Sanjib the most is the "shrill tone of jingoism" that has taken over the current Kashmir discourse. Both the men confessed that they don't openly express their opinions as in the past they have been labelled as "terrorists" and "anti-nationals".
"If we don't speak the language of the ruling parties at the Centre and the states, we are labelled as terrorists and anti-nationals. The situation is fearsome. So, we don't talk much," said Sanjib.
On Sunday, probably these two men-who call themselves aliens in their own homeland--expressed themselves openly because of the coffee or the lovely weather of the city.