Shadows of 2006 sleaze return to haunt Kashmiris

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A series of scandalous crimes has revived the community’s fears of outcast tags that gave sleepless nights to a native back in the day.

Amir Javeed’s headway from a mawkish teenager to a mellowed telecaller hasn’t undone some of his unsettling nightmares inflicted by the callous community response. As a sporty youngster in the hustling lanes of Habba Kadal in 2006, he faced the heat of an outrageous scandal forcing him to change his address, sever his social bonding and render him aloof.

Seventeen springs later, the trigger behind the throwback are the subsequent scandals that surfaced in Srinagar within 8 days.

Police on 11 April 2023 said it had busted a prostitution racket in the Nowgam area of Srinagar by arresting three persons including a woman. The racket was busted following an investigation of the Bagh-e-Mehtab case where two handlers, four sex workers and two customers were detained on April 3.

As skeletons are tumbling out of the community’s underbelly facing intensifying police crackdown, Amir fears déjà vu. With eyes full of spark as if playing the cassette of the past and a strange melancholy in his voice, he talks about the mindless labels tearing apart lives.

“Ours is a very unforgiving community when it comes to giving tags to others,” says Amir with a brooding face. “Giving tags is easy, but the real task lies in the treatment of the problem.”

But after his wistful talk, Amir falls silent as if feeling betrayed by his own words. He knows the costs of living in the shade of the sleaze that suddenly gets busted and gives a bad name to the community. He also understands the curt indifference of friends and acquaintances once the rot surfaces.

And with kin killing kin, surreptitious scandals surfacing in succession and a young girl being chopped in a ghastly manner, Amir wonders about the community’s response.

“At different levels, we’re all partakers,” he says. “As a community, we’ve failed to realise the onus on us and have our heads in the sand. We’re good pundits to pass on our not-so-expert comments, incognizant of the fact that we’re making bets in a burning house.”

He drives the discourse back towards the day when the sex scandal came to light after police recovered some CDs of minor Kashmiri girls being sexually exploited in a rented house in Habba Kadal.

“Just like the rest of the populace, it was news to us as well, except for the fact the newsmaker lived amongst us,” Amir talks about the sleaze busted in his hometown in 2006.

“I was as stumped as anyone else but the air beyond Habba Kadal was not the same. As I carried on with the day and got to my college, I came across people taking a dig at the residents of the place, thoughtlessly scoffing at them and blurting out general ridiculous statements, ‘Tum Habba Kadal say hona?!’ ’’

Amir felt deeply disdainful. He did not want to leave his home for a long period. As mad as he was at people for blabbering general sweeping statements as if they never belonged to them, and were an alien community, he was also excruciatingly disappointed in himself and the co-residents.

“Though we were not the ones guilty and were in a state of fait accompli, there still was a numbing sense of having failed as a community at all levels,” he recalls. “This sense got triggered after having seen the failure of the larger community outside Habba Kadal. Despite living together, and being so close-knit, I felt we were really distant. My inner self was hurling questions at me, that I did not have any answers to. How could we not know of such base and illicit activity going on under our noses? How did we get thrown with dust in our eyes?”

Had people not tattered the social fabric with their petty individualistic interests, and drifted apart from the sense of community in pursuit of momentary solace, Amir says, such things could have been dodged.

“Had we maintained the good-old custom of checking on our neighbours, not holding petty grudges I felt it could have been avoided. I could remember the old petty fight between our neighbours over some water connection issue. The issue did get resolved but they perpetually stopped talking, hence getting distant. I hated the fact that I had stopped wandering about the area post-dinner with a couple of friends. Somehow it did feel like a larger responsibility and the roots of more abominable social evils stemming from other social dysfunctionalities.”

As repugnant were the thoughtless remarks of people outside, so was the mannerism with which they spoke, Amir says. The young man was not taken by surprise by their jibes because that is something people have “normalized” in the community – giving sweeping labels.

“Instead of giving thought to what leads to such crimes,” Amir says, “we are quick to outcast people. Name-calling has become a norm. I do not know what got us here, but we have mucked up as a society. Especially when the crimes have risen so staggeringly, I think there must be something deeply wrong with us as a community and in our collective response.”

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