The day I became Kashmiri

Photo: AFP

HOW DO you introduce yourself to people you have just met? In my case, it’s easiest and most accurate to say I am a photographer. Sometimes, I may introduce myself as someone who loves motorcycles. And beer. I might talk about the school or college I went to. Or that I am from Delhi, have lived and been educated in the city all my life. My parents live here, my grandparents lived here. Perhaps, at a visa office, I might describe myself as ‘Indian’.

If I belong to any nation though, it’s the nation of photographers, or of owners of beautiful Enfields. Or so I thought.

Last Saturday, I found myself at Jantar Mantar on assignment. It was the usual chaos of a functioning democracy. I was there for the small knot of protesters against the government’s decision to hang Afzal Guru. When I was in school, student body elections involved racing out into the corridor and screaming the name of your preferred candidate as loudly as you could. It was delirious, exhilarating. The fun was in shouting down the opposition. Of course, we did actually vote. So the groups who shouted loudest didn’t necessarily win. It’s a lesson you learn early.

At Jantar Mantar, there were many groups, shouting for many things. There was a group of RWAs from Ghaziabad, demanding, according to their banners, a wider road. A man in white was giving a stirring speech. “About tarmac?” I wondered as I made my way towards the cheers, “How exciting could that be?” “Now that we have killed Afzal Guru, it’s time to get the rest of his family. Put each and every one of them in jail.” Ah, the road can wait. He was drawing applause from other groups, from those who support capital punishment, from those who want the formation of ‘Gorkhaland’. From the biggest group present at Jantar Mantar: the police.

The small group of protesters against Afzal’s execution was heavily outnumbered by the media, the police and Bajrang Dal supporters identifiable by items of saffron clothing and their spittle-flecked self-righteousness. Each time the protesters tried raising a slogan, they were shouted down with abuse, accusations of being anti-national Pakistan-lovers, hooting, cackling laughter, and more abuse. The protesters were being split apart until ever smaller groups found themselves surrounded by emboldened mobs. A group of Kashmiri students, young men, girls in hijabs, began a chant: “Azadi, hamey chahiye azadi.” Their banners proclaimed Afzal did not get a fair trial. The Bajrang Dal mobs went berserk. And the police let them, arresting some protesters, but only after the thugs had got in a few punches, a few kicks. None of the men actually committing the violence were arrested.

A female colleague of mine was jostled. I saw one skinny kid, who looked a little like me, running away from a group. I followed, as any photographer would. I saw he was about to be trapped between two groups of right-wing Hindu men intent on violence. At this point, I tried to help the kid, push a few of the men off him, and help him run.

I am of Kashmiri origin. My grandparents left Kashmir. I don’t speak the language. But I have, what my family jokingly calls, a Kashmiri nose. I look like the kids who were being beaten up around me. I have always been aware of my heritage, but it has never been how I defined myself. And here I was, all of a sudden, not a photographer, not a motorcycle rider, but a Kashmiri running and fighting alongside other Kashmiris.

I got smashed in the face by someone unseen, a fist or a forearm in the jaw. I swung my camera in defence. “Arre, yeh toh presswallah hai,” came the surprised shout, obviously confused because I looked just like the other kid. It was strange because that’s how I had thought of myself all afternoon, as a ‘presswallah’, but for a brief moment, while I was helping that kid (who the mob saw as an ‘anti-national Kashmiri’), I too became an ‘anti-national Kashmiri’. I am an experienced journalist. I have been at other protests. But this one left me more than usually affected. To see the police arrest not a single Bajrang Dal hooligan; later, I saw a couple of cops and hooligans share a cosy, packed lunch. That Saturday, I got a lesson in identity. How we see ourselves and how others see us. They saw me, however briefly, as a Kashmiri. They see themselves as great patriots. I see them as bullies. Cowards.


  1. Dear friends, what u have experienced briefly is a way of life for us Kashmiris…but we will not budge, will never give up until our freedom comes…and it will for sure come…we have all the time in the world…

    • Dear Bro, We are with you..I understand your feelings yes Ksshmiri people should get freedom and live like other part of Indians region but i beg to disagree your wish on freedom from Indian Union

      • Why not brother i mean Please do not see as an Nationalist but as a fellow human.. thats what called democracy its of the people by the people and for the people but in kashmir issue it is not. my brother dont we oppose liberation of tamil eelam from srilanka? its a fact brother same is goin as well… it is not upto both pakistan and indian government to decide in this matter but its upto Kashmiries to take a stand.. Leave it to them let them decide thats called a real democracy…..

  2. what a load of BS. This after the ethnic cleansing of Pandits from Valley? Guess they are not Kashmiris as they did not support the Jihadis and they could be killed and terrorized from their homeland.
    If you thought you felt your identity of Kashmiri today, the people who beat you up felt the identity of a Jihadi.
    I wonder how many protests do you see in Kashmir from Pandits as opposed to protests in Jammu? Says everything about your righteous victim attitude.

  3. Humanity is alive. I have hope and thanks for keeping it alive,Ishan. Resistance shall continue and love for our Indian brethren who stand up for justice is undeniable. Ishan,we Kashmiris are slaves and can’t offer much but please accept love and respect from the vale of martyrs.

    With love

    Asif Kashmiri

  4. i bet its not first time happened in india i really feel shameful being india as i used to tell my pakitsani friends we indians muslim live with freedom and we muslim and hindus live like brothers but this is proving completely wrong.Guess the national anthem should be changed

  5. for them every kashmiri seems to be terrorist and every mongolian from north – east a chinese or nepali wonder how they came to be supported by the politicians who can’t even regard us, – people from the corner of their own country which is ofcourse ours also, as their own countrymen the INDIANS.

  6. Being a kashmiri, I can expect this hooliganism from these so called patriots… but the harder life is when u get thrashed by your own people in uniform.. we are born to resist and this is what we are doing and will continue till last drop of blood…

  7. Trust Muslims to talk about freedom of expression, secularism and minority right when they r in minority. The minute they achieve majority, they ask for AZADI! Ahsaan-faramosh!

    • Kya ahsan kiya be?
      Killing 1 lakh people and raping 9000 women is ‘Ahsan’?
      Repeatedly ditching Kashmiris on the promise India’s Govt made to them to hold a plebiscite is ‘Ahsan’?
      Ahsan faramosh to tum ho saalo!

      • so you want to be like pakistan, every alternate day 50 people die. the terrorism was born in the name of azadi and now nobody wants to live in pakistan. they it is hell and no security, you can see a 15 yr old girl threatened and shot. they say for azadi,jihad. Working in a country as equal, earning bread, practicing your religion, educating chidren is not azadi. is that going to improve your statue by azadi- free food no work, soudi money , free food, madrasa education. is that azadi- what is azadi -please explain

  8. Because of bullies you lost Kashmiri identity many did if not you because of bullies you are reminded of the land you come from. Even Pakistanis are reminded of Indian identity.I am glad for your eyeopener experience that beer & Enfield are bought & they don’t define you. Congratulations !

  9. There r too many victims of politics …u r one of them.. don’t take it otherwise. u r Indian.that is important. nothing else matters.Because Bajrang dal action & thinking is not the action & thinking of all Indian.

  10. just wondering what are your views on the kashmiri pandit refugees living in camps from decades amd Mr. Malik of Hurriyat conference meeting the most wanted in India for 26/11 hafeez saeed of the Lashkar e Toiba on a trip funded by honest hardworking tax paying INDIANS! Do write on these aspects affecting Kashmir also or at least let us know your views here on facebook..

  11. The non-sensical Jihad jihad ranting is valid no more. What you have witnessed is a moment of History. I was born in Kashmir and came to study in bombay to forget all conflict etc. But when in 2010 my 180 children were killed, I was forced to connect to my identity. suddenly everyone around me was strange. Being Kashmiri is the most hard reality that one is confronted ith

  12. India says kashmir is an “integral” part of it. Then don’t you all think we all start treating Kashmiris like Indians? This alienation must stop. The so called “special status” and draconian laws like AFSPA have been highly counter productive. Its high time we take necessary steps to integrate Kashmir into India.

  13. This should have been headlined as The day I became Jihadi, Pitting Kashmiri identity against extremist Bajrangdal comes from a clever, cunning mind. A dirty design. Sad part of it all is that the editor allowed this piece with malicious intent to be published. This is an excellent example of perceptional truth is created on the base of complete lie.

  14. I think after 2014 US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan India might has to face big challenges and what would be those challenges obviously Guru’s hanging would help to make those challenges much more toughest for India……… those western powers who did not condemn the Guru’s execution but indirectly supported Congress Government were worry about the fate of their falling weapon industry and unfortunately a dirty politics and clever military establishment of New Delhi has made India another milestone for those elements that would force greedy politicians to buy cannons to maintain the balance of power in South Asia,,,,, so anarchy , bloodshed and the possibility of another Kargil,,,,,, coffins demand would rise and commission may land in the pockets of Politicians like former Defence Minister Jorge Fernandez ,,,,,,,,

  15. What happened with you is so bad but good for Kashmir. so you are now became a true Kashmiri. Now join the Freedom struggle for Our motherland from Indian illegal occupation. when we will unite then our destination will come to close. One day the Indian occupation will end and we will get Independence. Afzal Gru is shaeed and Hero how many Afzal India will kill? every Kashmiri is Afzal now. Indian Army is a rouge army killing innocent Kashmiri children. women, destroying and blazing our homes our farms and infrastructure but our determination is not weakening. at last we will win our freedom fight INSHA ALLAH.

    • I think to give the real taste of what struggle is, all the Kashmiris need to be given the same treatment as what has been offered to Kashmiri Pandits. Kashmir need to be cleansed of Kashmiri Muslims. Then probably it would be a justified case for them to run a freedom struggle. Right now all Kashmiris living in Kashmir are fed by the billions being pumped by Indian state into Kashmir. So, with a full stomach all these issues are coming. Once they know what is it to fight for food, they’ll forget all Azadi and jihad and then it’ll be the right time to talk with them about freedom.

    • Kashmir hopefully will be cleansed of terrorists and will again become a land of Sharada Maa and Rishis. These bigots have had their fun and the time is ripe for the good sense and justice to prevail.

  16. Kashmiri protesters are good people and people fighting for India’s integrity are cowards wow!why do kashmiri muslims attack Indians cowardly.If you want Muslim state go to pakistan.Kashmir is our land it will always be ours!

  17. You should thank god that Anti-jihadi protestors just punched you face to face, did’t pelt stones like your innocent ‘boys’ do in Kashmir, nor eliminate all of you using AK47 like Muslim terrorists did to Kashmiri Pandits, thereal inheritors of Kashmiri identity, stolen by aliens thuggish cult.

  18. People who were sympathyzing with Afzal Guru were in reality supporting the cause of separatists, succession of Kashmir from India, condoning and supporting ethnic cleansing, killings and exodus of real Kashmiris, the Kashmiri Pandits. How many of these gentleman opposed fanatic mufti’s fatwa and supported poor Kashmiri girl singers. How many protested killing of a fellow Lashmii Hindu recently by pakis in the custody? Have you ever thought that some of those angry young Hindus who tried to punch you were also Kashmiris driven out of their homeland by Islamic terrorists and its sympathiziers like you?

  19. Dear professional photographer ur claim that “To see the police arrest not a single Bajrang Dal hooligan; later, I saw a couple of cops and hooligans share a cosy, packed lunch” would have carried weight had you clicked th camera and followed the case with authorities. otherwise it seems like The pot calling the kettle black.

  20. Bro Mark Sharm, you are just an Hindu fanatic brainshed washed with idealogues, false propaganga against Muslims. Being the fan of the Modi, the most dangerous animal, are you going to take the share shameless Gujarat Massacre, Are you going to take share of Malegon blast, Mecca Masjid Blast, Samjokthi Express Blast…countless…countless.. who did this, yes your admirer Mode and gang. Unfortunately being a world biggest democracy we are not ready to hang him and his groups…are we not biased human beings… there will one day will come you kind of people pity for the sins that you commited and you are going to commit by authorizing the animal Modi. I seek you to be human being….please kept a distance from all these terrorist and take a momnet we hate fellow India in the name of religion, in the name of party, in the name of caste…etc.,.

    • Madam do you know who is responsible for flight of Kashmiri Pandits???It is only BJP supporter Jagmohan when he was the governor he planned to Bomb the valley and asked the pundits to go from valley????? If they are not coming back it is not the fault of other Kashmiris it is just bloody politics..why accusing innocent people,correct ur knowledge and understand the dirty politics.

      • Lady, Jagmohan didn’t stand on the Mosque minarets and issued fatwas for Kashmiri Pandits to leave the valley. Nor did he kill all the innocent Pandits in dozens with bullets. You call politics dirty and the murderers innocent people. Can you write one line of sympathy over here for the people who got killed, and their family, in the Parliament attack. Let me see your empathy.

  21. What azadi are you talking about? You have forced to leave their motherland Pandits, killed thousands. Please have the guts to fight for their rights – my dear kashmiri muslims.
    You kashmiri’s object amarnath yatra, the development of its surrounding area just because you muslims are majority.
    Azadi – from what – to occupy our land, to kill Hindu’s.
    Ungrateful birth is azadi.

  22. Mr. Sujit
    kashmiris have never had any objections as far as yatra is concerned ..if that wud have been da case we wud neva have allowed yatra during 2010..indian police murdered 100 kashmiri teenagers but nt a single yatri was harmed..and the development of pahalgam is not allowed because it will destroy the entire landscape n the ecology of the area…the entire tourism of pahalgam will be finshed n lemme remind u that the people associated with the tourism industry have to earn their livelihood during the entire year n nt just during the yatra period..

  23. do u know which is real democracy? learn from england…. they aer about to give freedom to scotland by general voting….(Ref:,_2014) why cant we do so? okay this may be a offensive statement but we should see at the point of human feeling not as a nationalist….for ourself its like a news… that’s why wee keep our mouth shut when lots of tamil been killed in srilanka…. i am not blame you dear fellowmen its dirty politics rulling and ofcourse we are victims….

  24. Fascist Hindus (with due respect to true Hindus) demand freedom of Tibet from China, want Sri Lanka to share a part of its territory with LTTE, demand freedom of Balochistan and all other places except freedom of Palestine and Kashmir.
    They blame us for the exodus of Kashmiri Pandit, i have no objection in accepting that they were exiled but to those people who accuse us can they please confirm who actually asked them to leave valley. According to government recored some 300 pandits were killed on contrary same records show some 20K muslims killed. Offically 3000 people are missing, 9000 rape and molestation charges many gone unreported. But as we all know its a conflict, where stones are returned with bullets, the troops of India who are for safeguarding people and maintain neutrality under all circumstances forget they are humans here.

    As the writer has said people who demand Gorkhaland joined others in attacking Kashmiries demanding their sovereignty this is the kind of hypocrisy.

    Same fascist accuse us of terror worldwide. Can anyone for God sake tell me who asks west to invade our lands. If an American soldier dies in Afganistan, Taliban is terrorists so are Muslims, who told them to come to our lands uninvited. About 9/11 you can search youtube you shall know who really did it. American intellectuals, scientists and some intelligentsia hold firm opinion it was an inside job.
    And who benefited of such an attack? It was an well or-chested plan by the illuminate as they cant take Muslims on face.

    India is a great nation undoubtly its the land of Lord Krishna, and Lord Ram who fought against injustice. Its the land of Vedas which speaks about Prophet Mohammad pbuh.

    All we demand is justice, as all the major religions Islam-waiting for Imam Mahdi & Prophet Jesus pbuh Christainity waiting for Prophet Jesus pbuh Hinduism waiting for reincarnation of Lord Krishna so do Jews, when we all from the same roots Hazrat Abraham pbuh(Brahma in Hindu) why do we fight in the name of religion??

    • Dear Sameer, first of all i’m not a Hindu rightist, but still i would like to give a few answers and ask a few questions. first of all LTTE, Indians were supporting LTTE in the early stage(during the time of Indira Gandhi), due to Tamil influence in the congress party after that LTTE got support of only the Tamils, and Rajiv Gandhi sent forces to fight LTTE later. Rajiv Gandhi was Killed by LTTE later(bomb blast). Freedom of Tibet is politically suitable for India because of its demography and of course it has nothing to do with religion. Now Kashmir, few innocent Pandits were killed and so were few innocent Muslims(cant give numbers as i don’t have any strong unbiased reference) and rapes took place, but no government will order its army to commit such a heinous crime, so rapes were done by individuals and those responsible should be prosecuted. you said 20k Muslims were killed(last week someone said 1 million), were they all innocent? Pakistan said Kargil insurgency was done by Kashmiris (that turned out to be false) but if there were few Kashmiri involved, they were not innocent. 30000 soldiers have died in the Kashmir since 1989 and they also have families and i’m sure few of them were innocent. who killed those innocents? i am an atheist so wont talk about religion. but about 9/11, do you really think that it was done by Americans? there is a song”you only see what your eyes want to see”. Illuminati? I thought that’s fictitious, and i can give you 1000 references those say there is nothing like illuminatus and 9/11 was in fact done by al-qaeda and you can search youtube as well(although its not credible). NO country will destroy its $10Bl worth building and $5bl worth planes 3000 innocent citizens and give $11Bl to Pakistan in the name of war on terror and $12Bl to Afganistan as compensation and another $100Bl for their army, just to get a Muslim named Osama Bin Laden. Was he worth it? open your eyes and see that there are a few rogue Muslims just like other rogue religious extremists. live long my brother and have peace.

  25. The people who say that India is a Great Nation or great democracy , its a bluff and a big lie of this century. The reality is that there is no democracy in India , there is only typical Hindu Brahmanisim in India , controlling every thing. Second thing most of Indian they do not know anything about Kashmir. Kashmir is not a part of India and never be, simply India is an Invader, we Kashmiri do not want to stay with India, simply we hate India and there so called Democracy. Long Live Free Kashmir.

  26. kya wahh. what is mainland India.are you living on an island? there is no such thing as main land. and about ABVP, tumne choodiyan pehn rakhi hai kya? you have a right to defend yourself. who do you expect to defend you? police personals there are from north east. don’t they defend you? you have your own politicians and you should fight against what is wrong!! you guys are very happy when you’ve been selected in IAS and IPS and admission in best colleges with the help of ST quota and then you don’t have any problem with the main land. when some thug bully you, its done by the main land. its motherland not mainland ok. the motherland who give you rice at a price of Rs. 1 per kg whereas the mainland starves. if you have any problem, fight with it, don’t complain like a child. I’m from Himachal and the land productivity is very less here, but we don’t complain. we fight our way out.
    live long my brother and work hard.

  27. India has enjoyed probably among the oldest democracies on the planet. Kashmir, never. For centuries since forced Islamization of the pure land of Vedas, Kashmiri Pandits, the original sons of the land, have been tormented. It’s about time to give the lesson or two back to terrorists before the cleansing of the land of Sharada and Rishis is done. Time is not far. If it’s not done by the Indian Army, the next best way would be to leave it to the people who are left there. They’ll fight and kill each other.


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