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The (new) angry young man of Kashmir

A 65-year-old doctor's suicide tells the story of Jammu's new rage -- and how six decades of pent-up anger is set to fester, in an era of hostile regional aspirations. Neelesh Misra reports.

india Updated: Nov 09, 2008 00:19 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times

The 65-year-old doctor did not have a pen. But he carried his own paper — a blank letterhead with his name and qualifications — as he stepped out of his clinic to kill himself.

Outside Balwant Khajuria's clinic in Jammu region's border town, a war was being prepared. Hundreds of people crunched together, shouting furious slogans in their clash against the Kashmir region. Their throats were hoarse.

Few had had food. Few cared.

The war has subsided, but the state known for the rebellious Kashmiri face has a new angry young man: Jammu. Decades of perceived discrimination has boiled over, stunning Kashmiris and the rest of India.

“The Kashmiris thought only they could do strikes and throw stones? We have showed them what we can do and Jammu will never lie low again,” said Pradyumna Sharma, a college student who threw stones at police and courted arrest during the violent two-month campaign.

Nine people died in the protests. Curfew lasted two months. Women and children — some just a year old — filled jails in protest and streets witnessed bloody battles with the police.

It was the morning of August 14 when Khajuria stepped out of his clinic, when Jammu and Kashmir was in the throes of its most violent civil unrest ever. A squabble over a piece of land on the way to the Amarnath shrine had boiled over into violent street protests in the two regions that give the state its name.

Khajuria sat in a corner of the crowd and wrote out a long suicide note. He folded it and put it in his pocket. Then he walked quietly to a public tap nearby, took out a packet from another pocket and gulped down some tablets of insecticide.

He melted into the crowd, shouted slogans with them, and, within a few minutes, collapsed. Doctors could not save him — and they did not know it was a suicide until they found the note, asking people to oppose the government and “keep the faith”.

On that day, hundreds of kilometres to the north, in Kashmir's capital Srinagar, something unimaginable until even a few week ago was happening. Pakistani flags were being waved by furious protesters, watched silently by security forces keen to avoid clashes.

Still, not enough reason for a silver-haired man to kill himself.

“He was emotional, but we never thought he could take this extreme step,” said Vivek Khajuria (36), the doctor's son. Above him, hung a picture of his late father, wearing a suit and tie.

Some days before his death, he came home furious. He had met some women at Amarnath Yatra soup kitchens who said they had been tortured with cigarette butts and ordered to shout “Pakistan Zindabad (Long Live Pakistan)” on their way back from the shrine.

“He believed that Hindus and minorities in Kashmir, and they are ignored,” said Vivek Khajuria. “Employment opportunities go to Kashmiris.”

That anger is sweeping across the Jammu region, centred on jobs, economic opportunities and the alleged financial pampering of Kashmir. “If you are against India, you are pampered. If you say ‘India Zindabad’, you are taken for granted,” said Khajuria.

The town, barely 7 km from the international border, has heard that echo before.

Two men died in Hiranagar in 1953 in police firing in the widespread agitation led by Hindu nationalist leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee against the special permit required to enter the state. Mukherjee defied the ban and entered Jammu and Kashmir. He was put in jail, where he died in intriguing circumstances.

This time round, the rage is set to play out in the elections, and Hindu nationalist groups like the Bharatiya Janata Party are hoping to gain from it.

But at the heart of it, there is a battle for resources, not religion.

The dead doctor's son graduated in then-fancied agriculture from Ghaziabad, the New Delhi suburb, 11 years ago but blames the government and its alleged pampering of Kashmir for not being able to find a job yet.

“I’m sure they are giving jobs through the backdoor to Kashmiris,” he said nonchalantly, his fingers punching buttons on a calculator.

First Published: Nov 07, 2008 16:28 IST