My other had literally become my “brother” - an update from Kashmir


India celebrated her 73rd Independence day on the 15th of August 2019. Coincidentally and symbolically, Rakshabandhan also happened to be on the said significant date for a change. Rakshabandhan is the cherished bond of brotherhood celebrated historically by Hindus and Muslims since 1905( Partition of Bengal on communal lines) besides being extended to also include a ceremony where a woman ties a band of protection on the arms of her brother. As an Indian, it was an important day to me given the state of affairs in the country.

On the 5th of August 2019, the Indian government went ahead with the revocation of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Constitution which had previously provided special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In a clean sweep, Jammu and Kashmir was declared an integral part of India with the same status as other states and Ladakh was separated from the state and made a separate centrally administered Union Territory. As phone lines went dead from the 3rd of August and the Centre sent more and more troops to build a stronger hold over the region, my last conversation with my friend and youth peace-builder Touseef Raina, based in Kashmir was “We don’t know what is happening here. There is much panic and confusion. “ He wished me safe travels as I was scheduled to travel to Leh Ladakh for a family trip on the 5th. Even amidst the confusion, this young man made it a point to reassure me and gave me courage to go ahead with my travel plans.

As I landed in Ladakh on the 5th of August, with the historic decision which led to much celebrations across India, we experienced a deep sense of unease as a family. Communication lines and internet connectivity were disrupted for the next few days. Finally on the 7th, we could connect with the world from Ladakh. Kashmir has been silent amidst communication and media blackout for days now, over 20 days to be precise.

My dear friend Touseef’s brother Burhan contacted me as I was leaving Ladakh. Away from his family, seeking opportunities to support himself, this young man decided to call me his sister even before he knew me properly in person. Do people from conflict zones really have such a deep sense of connection with the outside world? Burhan had de-otherized me so beautifully despite the raging polarized narrative doing its rounds on social media and all over the country.”We only want a little bit of love and acceptance didi (elder sister). If you love us 30%, we will make sure we will love you back more than 70%.” And so Rakshabandhan, coinciding with India’s 73rd Independence day turned out more symbolic than I had expected. I met Burhan in Delhi, tied him a rakhi as a promise of protection and celebrated the freedom and independence to decide for myself as an Indian on how to treat my “other”. My other had literally become my “brother”. With this unique tool having historic significance as a gesture towards building peace amongst the Hindu and Muslim community, I added Kashmir’s beauty to my repertoire of relationships. With this, we have already begun the journey of turning the other into a brother.

Sohini, Chapter President, India