When Kishtwar’s iconic singer-poet Ghulam Nabi Dholwal aka Janbaz Kishtwari rolled out his famous chaland on life’s ironies and crisscross of joy and melancholy 50 years ago, he wouldn’t have visualised last Friday’s inferno in the wildest of his dreams.
“kansi hund jinaza niwan, kansi chhai baraath yiwan; kanh chhu sada nala diwan, kansi aasan manzi raath” [someone’s funeral march passes this way, someone’s marriage band crosses that way; someone cries in grief over a death, someone sings in joy over a nuptial knot], Janbaz wrote and composed the most popular Watsun of his rich repertoire.
The contrast of a wedding in the macabre ambience of death and destruction on the colourful festival of Eid-ul-Fitr was a perfect enactment of Janbaz’s screenplay.
Last Friday, the family of Dr. Ashish Sharma, who was getting married to Dr. Sonia Sharma, had to join the mandap at the bride’s home to solemnise the wedlock.
“It was like crossing a hellhole,” Ashish’s father Naresh Kumar Sharma, a retired Excise and Taxation Officer, said.
“We are just six Hindu families among 300 Muslim households in Shaheedi Mohalla. Hindus and Muslims were fighting pitched battles out in the town. Over a hundred vehicles, shops and hotels had been torched. A Hindu had been shot dead. A Muslim had been burnt alive. His charred body was lying near Chowgan Grounds till midnight.
“We had managed to perform the havan. As we were close to the ritual of Telwai, following which even a death can’t force cancellation of a marriage, we began requesting the pandit for postponement. But our Muslim neighbours, who were attending the function, said that the wedding should not be deferred and promised to escort the baraat through all the Muslim neighbourhoods. Thereupon, we proceeded with the remaining rituals and called up my in-laws to be ready for receiving the baraat,” Ashish, who runs an Ayurvedic clinic, told The Hindu.
In the evening, 70 Muslims escorted Ashish’s baraat to protect it from possible attacks. Later, SHO Deepak Pathania escorted the caravan to its destination.
“Our classmate from Srinagar, Dr. Zahoor, made it a point to be present all through the wedding. Forty of our friends and relatives from Jammu and Delhi turned back on our request by telephone when the riots broke out. Only 25 men and four women attended the baraat. We sent back all other women under the protection of our Muslim neighbours. Our in-laws had sent a couple of vehicles to ferry us from Sarkot to Pochal,” Ashish said.
After 24 hours, the just-married couple returned without being harassed or attacked by anyone from Pochal to Shaheedi Mohalla.
District Health Officer Dr. Wajid, who was among the 70-strong Muslim escort, said: “We are proud to belong to the religion that teaches us universal brotherhood. Prophet Mohammad has said the minorities are my sacred amaanat for the Muslim Ummat. It’s our religious obligation to protect them. Apart from that, we have been living together like one family for centuries. We all treat Nareshji as our brother, Ashish as our son and his sister as our daughter. How could a handful of marauders affect our relationship and strong bondage?
“Whenever there’s a Janaza, they join us; whenever, there is a funeral procession, we join them. We eat, wear and live alike. They speak our language [Kashmiri]. The only difference is that they go to a temple and we go to a mosque for worshipping the Almighty. That never makes us different,” Dr. Wajid said.