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Young romantics have cricket and curses

Like their Kashmiri counterparts did 20 years ago, Jammu's teenagers lost their innocence this summer, acquiring a new hatred and a new political worldview. Neelesh Misra reports.

india Updated: Nov 09, 2008 20:06 IST
Neelesh Misra
Neelesh Misra
Hindustan Times

The cable guy just came to install a new connection. The brand new street lights are up. The paint on the walls is new.

Some neighbours hate it.

Neighbourhoods are being readied and Jammu is about to receive hundreds of new visitors – government employees and their families from Kashmir who travel each year to Jammu at the onset of winter in a Dogra dynasty-era practice called the "Durbar Move".

For Jammu's newly defiant youth, it will be their first interface with their Kashmir counterparts after two months of pitched street demonstrations, curfew violations, arson and clashes with police – in a violent and unexpected protest by Jammu against Kashmir.

Many of them just turned 18 and will be first-time voters, and their rage is expected to help Hindu nationalists in the upcoming state elections.

On Monday, the Kashmiris begin work at the Jammu Secretariat and as they will discover, much has changed since last year.

"For the first time we felt so much discrimination. We are seething with anger, and it is not going to go away so soon," said 18-year-old Deepak Sharma. He lives in the same residential complex; his father works for the state government.

The new halogen streetlight, installed for the Darbar Move, shone above him. Mothers strolled with infants on evening walks. The cable guy climbed up a utility pole.

"This is not about Hindus or Muslims. Muslims of Jammu are with Jammu, not Kashmir," he said, as their 23-year-old friend Ishtiaq Hamid joined in and nodded in agreement.

Hamid goes to temples with his friends and the group celebrates all festivals together.

Another member of the group, 26-year-old stock sub-broker Mukesh Sharma, actually went to a mosque wearing a skull cap for an Eid namaaz with his friends and "just did exactly what everyone was doing."

"We hate those who live in India but raise the flags of Pakistan. People of Kashmir want to go to Muzaffarabad. People of Jammu want to stay with India," said Ankush Jamwal, 18, a management student.

It is a conversation that would have been unlikely even a few months ago in Jammu, an aspirational city that likes to show off its wealth and has had little resonance with the Jammu and Kashmir conflict.

But just like their Kashmir counterparts have been for two decades, young, enraged people of Jammu lost their innocence this summer after the Amarnath land-related agitation, acquiring a new political hatred and an aggressive political voice.

Sharma and his friends took part in demonstrations, courted arrest, and played cricket for two months during curfew. They are upset they could not celebrate several festivals.

They missed their examinations and some lost an academic year. The blame is all going to the Kashmiris.

"We also live here around the year, but look at what has been done for the welcome of Kashmiris – look at the lights, the wall paint, there are fresh tiles laid in their homes," said Mukesh Sharma.

But its not just about replacing broken tiles on the floor. Something far deeper has snapped in a region where women and children joined protests and filled jails, and nine people were killed in police firing or committed suicide.

"All those who opposed us in Kashmir wrecked out life,"' said Deepak Sharma. "We cannot forget that, and we cannot forget the sacrifices."

First Published: Nov 09, 2008 20:05 IST