Sajid Yousuf Shah is a lawyer, writer, and political activist. He is the founder of The Real Kashmir News, a platform that aims to provide accurate and unbiased news coverage of the region. Through this venture, Sajid strives to counter misinformation and present the real stories of the people living in Kashmir. He is also the President of All JK Youth Society. Sajid Yousuf Shah's presence on television screens across different platforms has enabled him to amplify his message and raise awareness about the challenges faced by the people of Kashmir. His efforts to shed light on the region's issues have garnered attention on both the national and international stage.
Sajid Yousuf Shah’s recent book, They Snatched My Childhood, talks about the pain and suffering of losing his mother to an act of terrorism.
Sajid Yousuf Shah, the author of "They snatched my childhood".
Akasha Usmani (AU): In your book, you have shared a deeply personal experience. How did this tragedy impact your life, and what compelled you to share your story with others?
Sajid Yousuf Shah (SYS): My book is all about the pain and struggle. I have written twelve chapters in it and different chapters cover the different stories, if you see the first two chapters you will see I have talked about my family details and background, how my father was born in a middle-class family and then how he became a businessman, being his son how I became whatever I am today. This story is about my mother who was killed by the terrorist on October 29, 2002. I was just 8 years old at that time when my mother was shot by the terrorist and after that you can say I went through a change in my life because I was just 8 years old at that time who didn’t know what to do, I was not sure whether my mother will talk to me again or not. Gradually when I became mature and completed my 12th grade, a little bit of maturity came so I started getting information on who were the people who killed my mother. These were the questions which were striking my mind again and again. I went to Pakistan to get the details, if you will read the chapter The Pakistan Saga and A Train to Pakistan, it's all written there, why I went to Pakistan and what I had done there. There are some instances which I have not mentioned in the book for a reason, but there are other things mentioned, my experience in Pakistan those nine months.
Let me tell you, when my mother died, and an eight-year-old kid had affection towards her mother and all of a sudden, I lost everything. After that when I went to school, I chose boarding school because I always felt that whatever I had in the past I don't have now so it's time that I should go to boarding school to learn something new. I have mentioned in the book my horrible past. I think it is rare when an author writes about both sides of himself. I don’t feel shy to share my past with people who are reading the book right now because this book is all about pain and I have mentioned real stories. I don’t care about the people who judge my past, I have mentioned a lot of things in my book like how I have escaped from many terrorist attacks, about my organization - All JK Youth Society, how it creates a nationalist post in the Kashmir Valley, I have also mentioned in the book as how I became the first Kashmiri to unfurl tricolour on the top of clock tower, how I became a lawyer and what was the purpose behind being a lawyer. It was my mother’s wish; I remember when I was born, she told me that one day I would become a judge. I always kept this in mind, my mother is no more and now I must keep her promise. So, I pursued my bachelors in law from University of Kashmir because it was my mother’s dream. I always felt like I should do something for my country related to counter terrorism as a lot of misinformation echoes from the border. I can say I have done something, one person's contribution towards my country by busting the propaganda from across the border.
In 2016, when I was approached to write for the other side as well and said we will give you more praises than the Indian side, but my answer was straight, Yes, I am ready to work for you, Can you return my mother to me? This question carried a lot of weight as nobody answered this.
As a panelist, I keep asking this question to Pakistani people.
I always felt that what is that one thing which can keep my mother alive. I always had that thought of writing a book and telling the story to the rest of the world is very important. Today, I can proudly say that I have kept my mother alive. They might have snatched my soul, but my mother is still by my side, I can still see her. I have a lot of books in my library, when I see my books, I always feel that my mother is here with me. Even if you talk about my school life, I have mentioned how I became very aggressive as once I was a very shy guy who was always silent and used to speak less. In my chapter, I have mentioned when I went to boarding school, I became a rebel. After the death of my mother, I thought everybody in my life would just leave me, be it any girlfriends in my life or anybody in my life, I used to think that no girl is meant for me. Whoever girl used to come to my life they were snatched away was for me, be it my mother, my girlfriend or anybody. In my chapter I have written about my wife, how I met my wife for the first time, how she approached me on Twitter and started chatting with me, but I have different things in my mind. I used to think it was a trap because at that time I was on Pakistan’s list. In this book I have mentioned a lot of instances, the stories of terrorists attacking me. I used to get calls from terrorists that I should stop whatever I am doing for my country. I remember when a threat was issued that whoever would kill me would get money. I believe this is only 1 percent of what has happened in my life. When I was writing this book, the first two-three chapters, I completed in a day but when I started writing the other chapters, it took me more than 6 months.
AU: The incident you experienced was undoubtedly a life-altering event. You started your activism at a very young age and now have a successful career. Can you talk about your journey towards your career? How did the incident make an impact on your dreams and career, and how did you navigate the path towards success amidst the challenges you faced?
SYS: There are several challenges that I have faced in my life because it was very tough for somebody who was from a village and is settling down in the city. I remember when I first came to Srinagar, I can say it was a very terrible time. I slept on a footpath, so I have seen those days as well.
I remember when I started activism, my father called me once and said you have to focus on your studies, or you can earn something from whatever you’re doing as you cannot do both the things. At that time, I took a stand that yes, I can do one thing. I started working with a Kashmir based newspaper, an internship with them, I started writing for them and I got the opportunity to become the youth president of the organization called Kashmir Society International. I started my own organization - All JK Youth Society. We have worked on many of the developments in the Kashmir Valley. I remember when the pandemic happened and our organization came forward, distributing food not only to North Kashmir but to South and Central Kashmir as well. My focus was on education. When the Burhan episode happened, a lot of people approached me through social media for some source to buy books, medicare and all these things. Me and my friends started donation drives of books, we got a lot of books from the public and started distributing to people. There are many people in Kashmir who have been victims of Pakistan sponsored terrorism in the Kashmir Valley and the same story goes for me.
When you see in the television, there are some panelists who always defame Kashmir, they always portray that Kashmir is with Pakistan and that was incorrect. So, I started getting on the channels to defend the country because it was necessary. I always used to wonder why people from the country should believe that all Kashmiris are the same. Let me change this mindset as I am from Kashmir, and I am a part of India. There are many people in Kashmir like me who are very happy to be a part of India. Then later, many international channels also approached me to come on their channels to show them the reality from ground zero. Then later I started writing for the local and then later international publications. I have written articles for various newspapers. Whatever I had in my mind, the strength and passion towards my country, I need to create more such. So, the All JK Youth Society came to existence, to create multiple and more people like me.
If you see, before the abrogation of Article in Kashmir, everyone from Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were getting killed but no one was speaking so I always thought I should start something for Kashmir. I started protests from different parts of Kashmir Valley. I remember when I started protests Pakistan, it was hardly 3-4 people and today if you see a lot of people are coming out. People started seeing if this Kashmiri can come so we can too. Today a lot of people from Kashmir are coming forward and writing, especially on Twitter, they are openly writing against the killings irrespective of their religion.
I have mentioned everything in my book, there is an interesting chapter called From Bullet to Bulletproof, when I was in my office, I was attacked. I was walking to my home and suddenly a terrorist tried to shoot me, and it was just my luck that I was saved. At that time, he shot me and now I am traveling in a bullet proof car so that is how the chapter came up.
AU: Can you elaborate on the themes explored in your book, particularly regarding the impact of terrorism on individuals and communities?
SJS: The Kashmiri Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims have been targeted by Pakistan sponsored terrorism since 1989, so this is nothing new. I have seen a lot of Kashmiris where their parents or someone from the family thinks they are from Pakistan. I have seen and I can see the pain in their eyes though they don’t say much but I can feel the pain.
I have a lot of friends who were killed by the terrorists. I have seen many things with my own eyes as to how things work within Kashmir Valley. If you talk about individuals, the story that I have narrated is just about one person but there are many more Kashmiris who are facing the same trauma which I have gone through. Whatever I faced in the past made me what I am today. There is no one who can hurt me now because I have already lost everything.
AU: By sharing your story, you are likely aiming to create awareness and empathy among readers. What do you hope readers will gain from reading your book, and how do you envision it contributing to broader conversations around terrorism and its consequences?
SJS: I have written this book because I was in that phase that this world is not for me or that I was not capable of doing something in my life. I used to think that when people are thinking like this then maybe they are right because 10 people can’t be wrong. Everybody is saying the same thing, from my teachers to my family. But everything changed. Those teachers who used to say that I wouldn’t be able to do anything, they are now proud of me. I keep checking their social media, they post my photograph saying that he is our student. So, we should have faith in ourselves in whatever you are doing. Everybody has a past, but you can’t just judge someone from the past. Whatever I was in the past was because I lost my mother at that time. I have seen a lot of trauma but these things change. A person should be strong. My message to readers, people who will read this book will get to know the trauma of common people in Kashmir. That's why I wrote on how the Pakistanis snatched the life of my mother but the life of seven children, including the children of my uncle who was also killed. These are the stories which we need to tell the world. I want others to pen down their stories, the pain they faced and should tell the world.