'Fell in love with Lucknow again': Days after attack, Kashmiri street vendors back at work, say nothing to fear

Saurabh Sharma | Mar 8, 2019 | 6 min read


Saurabh Sharma

Sitting in his small 8X10 sqft room, playing with his two-year-old daughter Sahiba, Abdul Salaam says "there are good and bad people everywhere, and we should always look at the good people and not form an opinion based on any single unfortunate event". 

Salaam, a 29-year-old dry fruit seller from Noorabad village in Kulgam district of Jammu and Kashmir, was thrashed last Wednesday by men belonging to the newly floated and little known Vishwa Hindu Dal, while selling dry fruits at Daliganj bridge. The attackers thrashed Salaam because he is a Kashmiri.

Salaam, who is busy receiving phone calls and meeting people from every nook and corner of Lucknow city, says that there is no dearth of good people in the city, and this incident will not stop him from coming here again. The father of two -- Sahiba and Umar (6 months) -- says Lucknow is his second home and the safest place on earth.

"Lucknow is safer than Kashmir, where we live in fear. I have been coming to this city every winter to sell dry fruits and Kashmiri shawls with my brothers, since I was just 14 years old. The attack is unfortunate and it upset me for a short time, but the people of Lucknow have showered love on me like I am their own son or brother," Salaam says, with Sahiba on his lap. He lives in a small rented dwelling in a lane of Maulviganj in old Lucknow. 

Salaam adds that he had never thought he would be beaten up in this city for being a Kashmiri, but it happened. "I will say this is an accident, and accidents can happen anywhere and at any time. When Kashmiris were facing a backlash after the terrorist attack in Pulwama, people of Lucknow assured me and my brothers (Kashmiri street vendors) that everyone is safe here. We are like family members, and this incident made me fall in love with the people of Lucknow once again," says the victim of the hate crime.  

In the wake of the Pulwama attack, Kashmiris, especially students, had been attacked by mobs in parts of the country, forcing them to flee home in secrecy.

Assuring his brothers and family members who called after seeing a viral video of him getting thrashed by saffron-clad men, Salaam says, "Nothing happened to me and everyone from Kashmir should visit Lucknow because people here do not hesitate to give love. There is nothing to fear and I am back at work, selling dry fruits." 

Salaam was given Rs 20,000 by the Lucknow district administration for his treatment and to restart his business, last Friday evening. People from different social service groups also came forward to help him.

Seema Rana, district secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), says that their organization made a small effort to show the goons that Lucknow will not support their deed of beating up innocent poor people who come here from Kashmir to make a living. "We (AIDWA) called them for our programme on International Women's Day and asked everyone to make Abdul Salaam comfortable. Surprisingly, people came in large numbers to support him and he was able to sell dry fruits worth more than Rs 10,000," Seema told this reporter. 

It came as a bonus for Salaam, who is very poor. Seema says, "I think I was the first person to reach out to this man. His wife was very hurt by the incident and was afraid to step out of her house even to buy milk for the kids. Her landlady came forward to help, and assured Salaam's wife that nothing would happen to them." 

Salaam's wife was so shaken that she couldn't eat anything and was praying to God constantly, but the love and support showered on them made them comfortable. "It was a bad incident and it will take some time to heal the wounds and bad memories," said Seema. Salaam's wife was hesitant to speak with the media.

Naik Mushtaq, the other street vendor who was also targeted by the Dal men, says that in the past two decades, no one had asked him for his identity card, and this was a first. 

"I have been coming to this city for the past 22 years and this was the first time I was asked to show my identity and prove that I am an Indian. This was also the last time, probably, because the kind of love and support we got after this incident has sent a message to the hatemonger that nothing in the world can replace love. Salaam lost around Rs 26,000 in this incident, but every single person from Lucknow has come forward to help us. A lady came today and handed over Rs 10,000, and didn't even give her name. She didn't take the packet of apricots we gave her either. The District Magistrate sahib gave Salaam Rs 20,000 and we were able to sell a good quantity of dry fruits. If this is not love, then what is," Mushtaq adds.

"I had seen such speedy action by the police only in the movies, and Lucknow police are the best in the world. The attackers were arrested within no time, and police assured every Kashmiri that there is nothing to fear in this city," the 38-year-old dry fruit seller from Kulgam district says. 

Five men were arrested on Thursday, a day after the incident. The two main accused were identified as Bajrang Sonkar and Amar Mishra, besides Dal president Ambuj Nigam. Sonkar has a “criminal history”, with around 12 cases registered against him, including charges of theft, loot and murder, said police.

Additional Director General (law and order) Anand Kumar told the media, "This was an unfortunate incident, and the entire force will crack down on such troublemakers. No one is above the law and no one has the right to target the citizens of India. The police will take the strongest possible action against those who are targeting innocent Kashmiri people." 

It may also be mentioned that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Friday, while addressing a public rally in Kanpur, condemned the attack and urged the governments of other states to take the strictest action against people who are trying to disrupt the unity of the country.

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