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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 8 February 24, 2024

Indian State Kills a Muslim’s Soul | M.R. Narayan Swamy

Saturday 24 February 2024, by M R Narayan Swamy



The Diary of Gul Mohammad:
A Kashmiri Muslim Boy’s Journey from Kashmir to Kerala

by Humra Quraishi

Oxford University Press
Pages: x + 172; Price: Rs 185

He is all of 14 years when Gul Mohammad’s worried family decides it will be best if he is shifted out of the Kashmir Valley for his own safety. The situation in Kashmir is pathetic, what with trigger-happy security personnel viewing virtually every Kashmiri youth as troublemakers. Gul’s younger brother has already been partly blinded by a police bullet when he happened to be at the window watching the trouble outside his house. Then there are those who are picked up for questioning but who never return home. But is the rest of India safe for Gul?

Gul’s heart is in love with his beloved Kashmir but he is also immensely troubled due to all the zulm around him. In a diary he starts maintaining in English laced with Urdu words from the early August of 2016, the boy records all that he sees around him in Srinagar – and nothing seems to be even remotely pleasant. His father doesn’t understand why his son keeps scribbling in a diary. Gul provides the answer: “If I didn’t unleash all this anger in my diary, my head would have burst.”

Unfortunately for Gul, moving out of Kashmir seems to be akin to being flung into fire from a frying pan. He suddenly finds himself as an “outsider” in a madrasa in Delhi where his father has left him, praying for the best. The rest of the students, all from economically battered Muslim families in northern India, look at the Kashmiri with piercing eyes. They know nothing about Kashmir. Gul is sick and tired of the daal and rotis served every single day.

The world outside the madrasa is not safe either. When the students step out to buy groceries and vegetables, they get mocked on the streets - over their very Muslim attire and religious identity. When some madrasa students get invited to an official event at Lodi Garden, the other students – by implication Hindus – stay away from them. If all this wasn’t enough, the madrasa feels unsafe as it is sheltering a Kashmiri teenager. After barely a month, Gul gets shifted to a bigger madrasa in Muzaffarnagar. When he hears the name of the place the first time, he is confused: is he being sent to Muzaffarabad?

Muzaffanagar may be home to many Muslims but the place is definitely more unsafe. After thugs beat up a maulvi, accusing him of cooking beef, there is a complete halt to meat in the seminary. Fellow student Imtiaz says that never before have the Musalmaans of this region faced such hate atmosphere. The situation gets worse when the madrasa is attacked by goons, and its inmates, Gul included, run for their lives. The maulvi is killed by a blood-thirsty mob. Without shelter and taking refuge on a road, the other madrasa students decide to call him a pahari because admitting he is a Kashmiri could invite more trouble.

Life becomes so intolerable that the innocent boy laments in his diary: “Better to die quickly and not slowly like I am dying here.” Their madrasa has been vandalised. Politically-backed musclemen are greedily eyeing Muslim property. An elderly lady they meet says these look the 1947 partition times. Even a gentleman among Hindus who runs a roadside eatery doesn’t want to employ any of the madrasa Muslim boys. More trials and tribulations follow. Although a decent Hindu and a Muslim man decide to move the boys to a safer and bigger Lucknow, there is no end to trouble. In another attack by goons, one of the boys, Imtiaz, is pounced upon and lynched. Anger builds up in Gul. “I don’t know why father sent me here!”

Gul constantly worries about his family. He is desperate to talk to his parents but he is never able to get a telephone connection because of perennial communication breakdown in the Kashmir Valley. Life turns somewhat better at a madrasa-cum-school in Lucknow. But here too the madrasa is starved of funds – as it seems to be everywhere. The sad aspect of Gul’s miserable existence is when he realises that the well-off Muslims do not care much for the condition of the madrasas and its poor inmates. Once when he gets to see the outside world after climbing a big Neem tree in the seminar’s compound, he sees children on the streets who don’t look worried – unlike him. Fellow student Shaaz explains why. “They had no reason to worry as it was their Hindu sarkar! Hindu children don’t have to live in constant fear like we do!”

After a nasty brush with the law and a heart breaking trip to his home in Kashmir when he realises that his mother and grandmother have passed away and his father looks bent and broken, Gul finds a new home in the peace and secure environment of Calicut in Kerala. It is an orphanage. Nobody here looks scared. There is also plenty of rice to eat. Gul even gets honoured for an essay he writes on food and fish. But the dark shadows of Hindutva politics are never too far away. From a bunch of Muslims from Uttar Pradesh who reach Kerala to find peace he learns that an Uttar Pradesh family was hounded out of its home and neighbourhood because they gave him – a Muslim from Kashmir — shelter. Gul is shattered. He desperately calls out to God. “Allah mia, where are you!”

Author Huma Quraishi admits to webbing and inter-webbing several fictional factors-connectors-characters to the diary maintained by a Kashmiri Muslim boy. This is indeed a very disturbing book, and makes painful reading. There is no doubt that Muslims in India are facing one of the most testing and tough times since independence. The reasons are not difficult to guess. But one wonders, and I do wonder, if this diary is indeed a true reflection of the life all the Muslims in India are now leading? Or is one section more adversely affected than others? This question needs to be asked and answered.

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