Muzamil Ahmad was never consulted, only told who he was getting engaged to. And so there was a minor point he could not bring up: that he was in love with a girl from the neighbourhood. The year was 1988, and Muzamil was 19. “Such was the fear of parents and neighbours that I never met my girlfriend during the day — only at night,” he says.
A year later, things became worse as the insurgency had all of Kashmir up in flames. “Nobody dared leave home after sunset,” Ahmad says, now 42 and the father of two. “Sometimes, we couldn’t meet for months together.” Needless to say, they did not get married.
Two decades on, love is witnessing better days in Kashmir.
The arrival of cable TV in the Valley in the late 90s brought wider social changes. Young people took their cue from the protagonists in the soaps they saw. Suddenly, urban youngsters knew all about Valentine’s Day — something their parents knew little about. The cellphone, that reached the Valley in 2003, also helped. “Cellphones have helped lovebirds,” confirms 30-year-old Mohammed Ather, who runs a school in Srinagar. “When we were young, we had only landlines and parents could eavesdrop,” he says. “But the cellphone allows today’s youngsters to talk to their lovers all the time without their parents getting to know.”
But from 2006 or so, a new threat to lovers emerged in the form of Dukhtaran-e-Milllat, an outfit headed by the mercurial Asiya Andrabi that began burning Valentine’s Day cards, calling them unIslamic. But to some Andrabi’s efforts had just the opposite effect. “I had girlfriends all right, but February 14 was just another day for me until the Dukhtaran campaign began,” says Ishfaq Ahmed, a Kashmir University student.