Stranded Kashmiris who ran away from several areas in Jammu and students from other cities reached to Mecca Masjid in Jammu, where a shelter camp was started by locals. Photograph by Saide Zahoor for The Kashmir Walla
The afternoon of 14 February not only changed India’s, but also the world’s, lens through which everyone saw Kashmir militancy. The explosion of a human from south Kashmir not only shook the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway but sent the wave across India, especially to Kashmiris — living, studying, or working — outside the Valley.
The panic draped India, and Kashmiris started a run to home. Via air, road, rail-track, or, with un-checked luggage on the back, walking on foot; the only way out to save the life was to walk back home — walk back to Valley — suggested administrations of institutes across the country.
“We don’t even know if it is a rustication or suspension. We were just told to leave with immediate effect,” said a student, waiting in IGI New Delhi airport to board a flight to Srinagar, of Roorkee-based Quantum Global University.
Many halted themselves at safe houses nearby, in Mosque, Gurudwaras, or in a safer place, while some reached Valley. But, are they going back? When the environment is calm and peaceful again, unlike Valley, when things go back to normal — are they returning to complete the education?
The Kashmir Walla reached out to students who made it back to the Valley to get in-depth of the matter, left unchecked.
Not going back; next time they won’t spare him
Yasin Ahmad*, a 20-year old pursuing Radiography, and Information technology at Maharishi Markandeshwar University, Mullana, returned to the valley, fearing for his life. Talking to The Kashmir Walla, Mr. Ahmad recalls the horrific experience, “At around 3.45 pm (14 February), I was inside my room when I came to know about the attack,” and added that it seemed unbelievable initially, “but soon the pictures came.” Soon, the swiped and scrolled through social media platforms to get a clear insight into what had happened.
At around 9 pm, they went downstairs for dinner in the common hall. “Everyone was staring at us as if we were aliens. In mute signals, we were communicating with each other to behave normally,” said Mr. Ahmad.
They preferred to stay silent, as per Mr. Ahmad, otherwise, the situation would have escalated the to worst. “Students in the hall were behaving as strangers,” he added.
In the wee hours of the morning, when they were in deep slumbers, loud noises from inside the building reached them. “Some people were labeling us as terrorists and abusing us profusely,” said Mr. Ahmad, “In Kashmiri saalon ko bhar nikalo, goli maro (Take these Kashmiris out and shoot them).”
In even louder voices, the threats to vacate the place as soon as possible raise. “They gave us 24 hours ultimatum to vacate the campus hostel,” said Mr. Ahmad. Due to the rising anger and antagonism outside, he alongside his friends decided not to go outside their rooms; so was the decision of every Kashmiri in Mullana.
Soon, a mob surrounded the apartments rented by Kashmiris, “some of our classmates were residing in Bhagat Singh’s chowk in Ambala and a violent mob encircled their apartment, asking the landlords to ensure the eviction of Kashmiris,” Mr. Ahmad said.
Situation turned hostile, and the mob dared house owners via hand-held loudspeakers on the streets saying, “they (house owners) are also anti-nationals if they keep Kashmiris in their homes.”
Following the fearful reports, the boarders rushed to their apartments during the night but fear was hard to go by. In order to accommodate them in campus hostel, “The college principal demanded Rs 30 thousand from each of the students,” Mr. Ahmad said and added that after some pressures from the local police he allowed them to stay.
The degree of anxiety for the parents crossed limits. Mr. Ahmad said that his family is unwilling to send him back to the university. The attacks on Kashmiri students have frightened them about the safety of their children.
His parents are saying that if a situation like this occurs in the future, then the mob would not spare him, and would kill without any second thought. “They are advising me to pursue a similar course from SHMS (Srinagar) but one thing is very clear that it will kill my career by one academic year,” he added.
Human among inhumans
Such alarming situations have established a fear psychosis in the minds of young students from Kashmir. Dehradun surfaced among the worst-hit areas across the country. Some locked themselves in, some ran, while others flew.
Saqib Mir*, a student of Alpine College at Dehradun, reached Valley on Wednesday morning.
While the tensions grew in the capital of Uttrakhand, there were a few helping hands as well, like Mr. Mir’s Khatri uncle, owner of his rented apartment who assured the security of the students. “Many landlords threw out the Kashmiri students under the violent mob’s pressure, but Khatri uncle was a different person,” said Mr. Mir.
As per him, Khatri uncle is the only person in the area who provides rooms to the Kashmiri students after the killing of Shoaib Ahmad, a student turned militant from Alpine College, in an encounter in Budgam a couple of days before the Pulwama attack.
“They used to come in large numbers, including Bajrang Dal and other right-wing groups, on motorbikes and used to abuse us repeatedly,” said Mr. Mir, and further added that local police helped them save their lives, “when they (authorities) realized that we were not safe there, they helped us to reach Chandigarh via arranged private cabs.”
He was supposed to complete his B.Com in this academic session, but after the attacks on Kashmiris across the country, the situation is quite daunting for everyone in the Valley, and Mr. Mir’s parents are not going to send him back to his earlier University; fearing his life.
For Mr. Mir Dehradun used to be the safest place, “but after the attack, the city seems to be quite dangerous after witnessing their inhuman faces.”
Danish*, Mr. Mir’s close friend, added that they told police officials about their urge to go back home, but the police assured the safety. But soon, when police saw a violent mob marching towards us, they realized the gravity of the situation and facilitated our travel to Chandigarh.
The Jammu and Kashmir administration also informed the Ministry of home affairs (MHA) that most of the distress calls were coming from Dehradun and Ambala. Danish told how his two friends were attacked by an angry mob and how they were made to jump from their first floor via a back-side window, seeing the mob approaching mob.
Danish further expressed his gratitude towards his landlord, who also refused to take the due amount of rent, saying that he and his friends might need the money to reach their home. “We tried to pay him Rs 14 thousand but he took only Rs 5 thousand,” said Danish.
“Can’t go back, parents have invested in me”
The attacks on Kashmiri students has raised several questions in Wasim Ahmad’s mind, a student of Alpine college in Dehradun. What state government and administration could have done? What if Valley had enough educational institutes? Why couldn’t state administration ensure the safety of Kashmiris outside the state?
Mr. Ahmad is one of those who stayed despite the presence of the mob. He does want to come back to the valley once his degree in M. Sc. Information Technology is completed. “It (degree) will be completed in the coming months and going back (to Valley) is not an option. My parents have invested money on me.”
Kaiser Andrabi is a Features Writer at The Kashmir Walla.