Mumbai: Home to Aadil Gurezi for over a year, the city has suddenly closed the door on the 24-year-old Kashmiri singer.
Gurezi, a social media sensation and a well-known bilingual (Kashmiri and Hindi) singer, has accused his landlord of evicting him in the aftermath of the Centre watering down Article 370 of the constitution on August 5.
Gurezi is now struggling to find a place in Mumbai. Speaking to The Wire, he said that after spending a month in his hometown, Bandipore, 65 kilometres from Srinagar, he returned to Mumbai on September 3 only to be told by his roommates that he could no longer live in the rented apartment they shared.
The landlord, through his broker, Gurezi said, had asked him to leave. “I had left for home on August 1 and returned on September 3. I had no contact with my friends and roommates here for all these days. When I got back, I was told I could not live here anymore,” he said.
Gurezi, a postgraduate in environmental science, came to Mumbai over a year ago to make a career in the music industry. His charming Kashmiri and Hindi songs have done very well on social media, where he enjoys a huge fan base of over 153,000 followers.
His popular Kashmiri song ‘Dupte Nunem’, released in March last year, has over 1.4 crore views.
During his short stay in Mumbai, Gurezi has already bagged a few music assignments. “This city gave me a lot. I came here with no contacts. But my Kashmiri and Hindi songs were welcomed by the people of Mumbai and across the world. I felt at home here,” he said.
Today, however, uncertainty has settled in. “It is as though the city has Article 370 applied on Kashmiris. Like, back home, non-Kashmiris could not claim rights over our land until recently, in a similar way, Kashmiris too seem to have been put under Article 370 in Indian cities. Not being able to rent a house in the city is unfair,” he told The Wire.
There have been several instances in the past in Mumbai where people have faced trouble in finding housing due to their religion, marital status or eating habits. The Muslim community is the worst affected by this prejudice. In 2016, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Leilani Farha had criticised the Indian mindset for continuing with this discrimination.
Gurezi says when he first came to Mumbai, he too was told that as a Kashmiri, he would find it difficult to rent a house here. “So I was advised to get an agreement made on my Hindu friend’s name. I did not see a problem then and agreed to it. Now, I have been thrown out of the same house that I have been paying rent for,” he told The Wire.
While both brokers Dinesh Rajput and Rashid involved in getting Gurezi the house denied these allegations and said that they have not discriminated against him or any one for being a Kashmiri or a Muslim, one of his flatmates, Ajay Shankar, told The Wire that Gurezi’s Kashmiri identity had indeed been the reason.
“Soon after Aadil left, the rent agreement had to be renewed. The brokers wanted to avoid possible problems of leasing out a space to a Kashmiri,” Ajay said. Gurezi also shared recorded phone calls between him and Rajput where Rajput can be heard saying that he doesn’t want to take any chance “owing to the ongoing Kashmir problem”.
Back home, Gurezi says the condition has been anxiety-inducing. “My family has been living under a complete curfew. I reached home a few days before the Centre’s decision. After that, our movement was curtailed and we lost complete contact with the outside world. My parents did not want me to stay in that stress and urged me to go back to Mumbai. They, and even I, felt Mumbai would be safer for me,” he says.
Since his return to Mumbai, Gurezi says, he has not been able to contact his family. Amid the communication blockade, Kashmiris have to travel to the nearby district administration offices to use telephone services.
“Two days ago, my sister had walked a few kilometres to reach the district collector’s office and managed to call me. But the network was patchy and I could barely hear her. We could not share updates and I had really wanted to tell her about my situation here. It is depressing.”
As of now, Gurezi is crashing at a friend’s place in a western Mumbai suburb. “But this is a temporary arrangement. How long can Kashmiris stay here like this? We need to be accepted with dignity and without any suspicion.”
Though the experience has left him distraught, Gurezi said that before this incident, he had always had warm experiences in the city.
“People have loved me and my music. The fact that I considered Mumbai as a place to return to says the city has taken care of me. I only hope it will continue to do this in the future,” he said.
“I am a musician and I know music transcends everything else. I have a huge fan base across the world. The youth of Kashmir look up to me and dream of doing what I have managed to achieve in this short span. I really don’t want them to think that they are not welcome in Mumbai and other Indian cities. This madness has to stop.”