It’s been more than a decade since I moved to Delhi — well, that’s what you do if you are looking for a career, a profession to call your own. Finally, a year back or so, I settled here in a high-rise in Indirapuram.
My schooling happened in Kathua. Yes, I know you are staring at the word — it’s now a name that will forever be associated with unspeakable horror. But I own lovely memories of my hometown; my schooling and even secondary education happened from Kathua. All my adolescent memories are from that place. I remember every time, an interviewer looked at my resume the invariable question would be: ‘Where is Kathua exactly?” and I would painstakingly explain this significant detail of my life — that it is a district among 22 administrative districts of Jammu and Kashmir; that it is very close to Punjab and J&K border, Lakhanpur.
I didn’t mind explaining the details — I was proud of the place.
But things changed suddenly... what happened in January made Kathua the household name for disgust and shock. The place that honed me; made me what I am; formed my attitude towards life headlined in all dailies both nationally and internationally for the brutal rape and murder of 8-year-old.
I grew up playing with local boys and girls in non-manicured playgrounds. We spent our adolescent years in the city, went alone to the temples nearby to pray at early hours. We hailed from a different place, and my father was transferred to this pristine place owing to his government job.
But the city embraced us with warmth — with mirth, with laughter.
My father never felt any threat living in an unknown place with two growing-up daughters. He freely went about treating animals in surrounding areas, leaving me, my sister and mom at home alone most of the times.
The recent headlines on Kathua swept me in a sea of fond memories and a sadness that I feel hard to shake off. Her large twinkling eyes, her hair — everything reminded me of the friends that I had left behind. In fact, I had a lot of friends from the Bakarwal community; boys and girls who studied with us. They would supply milk to us. My mother would teach a few of them.
It was a life of peace, of unbound happiness. The only rule — everybody had respect for everybody else. What happened to that sacred rule? What happened to my Kathua? What drove people to come out in support of the gruesome murder of a child who didn’t know whether she was a Muslim or a Hindu?
So, when it was reported that a section of Hindus there felt that Bakarwals did not belong to Kathua — that they had no right to its land — I felt deep shame, the deepest that I have known. And to inflict such bestiality on a child to scare this nomadic community away felt like a blunt, dark blow to my love for the place.
My own state had collectively failed humanity.
Today sitting in the national capital, my heart bleeds every time the innocent child’s lifeless body is shown and the headline says ‘Kathua Rape’.The kid's face, especially her innocent eyes, haunt me for the bond with the place, but my heart doesn’t accept the people and the place I grew up in formative years of my life have lost the warmth, which for me is the real essence of Kathua.
World today knows the place I grew up in. I no longer have to explain them the location. Now I have to explain to them that the city is not racist, intolerant, and narrow-minded. The familiarity to the world has made the place lost its essence and moral.