Kashmiris Make City Their Own

4 December 2008
The Times of India

Nagpur: The tents are painstakingly kept clean and arranged to resemble a house back in Kashmir, probably providing some succour on feeling homesick. However, instead of the serene landscape in Kashmir what they face outside their homes near the railway tracks in Mominpura is a filthy patch of ground swarmed with mosquitoes. Poverty and lack of opportunities have forced the Kashmiris to move to Nagpur and adjust to local conditions. Wednesday’s police action has left these migrants a harried lot even though they agree that the cops are only doing their job. They were summoned by the Sitabuldi police station to verify their identities. It’s another matter that such a thing wouldn’t have happened had their surnames been Kulkarni or Pawar. For them cities like Nagpur hold the means of survival. As the harsh Kashmir winter slams all doors on them, they head for the plains to eke out a living by selling carpets. This has been a practice since generations even if it meant adjusting to the filth like in Mominpura. “I know that the cops do not mean any harm, but you must understand we are too poor and cannot survive if we do not make yearly trips to Nagpur and other cities in India to sell carpets,” says 70-year-old Ghulam Ahmed. Over 90 persons have been camping here and they will be staying on till the summer. “I miss the apples and the fresh air back home and just cannot sleep peacefully here,” says 50-year-old Raja Bano. “But, then, we cannot survive the winters too,” quipped another. They can cultivate only a single crop during summers after which it is a grim struggle. So embarrassed were Ghulam Ahmed and others of their conditions in their home state that they refused to be photographed by ToI and wanted that the district they belong to not be disclosed. On the earnings from the carpet business, they say it is just enough to meet the expenses and they still have to depend on alms for food. Some of the youngsters also take up odd jobs in the city. “There are other Kashmiris in the town. But we don’t want them to know about our pathetic condition as that would be a social disgrace,” said Enna Bhat. “Even the poorest have relatively bigger homes in Kashmir.” There is another group of Kashmiris in the city too. They are mainly from Anantnag district and life has treated them slightly better than the carpet-sellers. They can afford to stay in lodges near the Sitabuldi area. This lot, about 230, have been staying at Gurudeo Lodge at Modi No 3 for many years, and selling warm clothes and shawls in the city. “We are poor too but their condition is even worse as life is tough in that part of Kashmir. We don’t mix with each other,” said a Kashmiri staying in a city lodge while referring to his statemates residing in Mominpura. The shawl-makers started coming to Nagpur in 1993 when a group led by Haji Mohammed Akbar landed here. Now in his 70s, Akbar said the shawl-makers come here by the end of October and stay on till mid-February. “Nagpur is the best city in the country. The people are so friendly. It’s only now that the cops have summoned us, probably because of the trouble in Mumbai,” said Farooq Bhat. “But we hold no grudges.” However, the terror attack has left its impact on them too. “Earlier people would always welcome us but after the Mumbai attack the security guards in some of the colonies say they have been asked to not let us in, These are the very people who would once patronise us,” said Shakil Ahmed. “The business is quite bad with winters not being cold enough,” said Bhat adding, “Most of us purchase stock by borrowing money from the local rich.” Yet they can afford to pay Rs 10 a day for a small room which is shared by 3-4 people. Food expenses are about Rs 20 per head per day. “It is a frugal meal of rice and dal. We cannot afford meat everyday,” said one of the shawl-sellers. “Our livelihood depends on the people of India,” said Mohammed Ashraf. “While tourists come from rest of the country to Kashmir, we travel across the country selling our wares.”