The vapors from the teacups were blowing. Life was at normal in Srinagar. Around 20 kilometers away from the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, in Lethpora area on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway — Adil Ahmad Dar — a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) affiliated militant from Kakapora, Pulwama rammed an explosive ridden vehicle into a CRPF vehicle, part of the convoy, and killed at least 49 troopers. The flames spread around the highway, and Twitter India started rolling.
#BadlaKab. #PulwamaRevenge. #IndiaWantsRevenge.
The panic among Kashmiris living away from home — habited somewhere else in the country — was inevitable. A 19-year-old boy hailing from South Kashmir’s Pulwama was the new state-enemy; only adding to a long list. The phrase — a local Kashmiri militant, affiliated to JeM — soon took another shape: A local Kashmiri militant. A local Kashmiri. A Kashmiri.
#IndiaWantsRevenge got its target. Kashmiris from Jammu to Bangalore started pleading for help on social media, and the run to home started.
Facebook post to “organize and start something”
The hate-mongering social media posts — especially on Facebook and Twitter — started spitting venom. One such vague post surfaced in the capital of Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Uttrakhand’s Dehradun. This particular post soon grew to prominence and came from a Facebook user Kukreti Saurabh, a resident of Dehradun, and as per his social media profile, studied in SGRR Public School, and currently works in Forest Research Institute, Dehradun.
The fiery post, which appeared at 10:41 am on Friday, 15 February 2019, mentioned a photo of ex-student at Alpine Group of Institute, reportedly, killed in an encounter in Budgam on 13 February 2019. Generalizing the prism via a lot of abuses, Mr. Kukreti claimed that the educational institutes including, Graphic (Era University), Alpine (Group of Institute), Dolphin (Institute of Biomedical & Natural Sciences) – have given admission to Kashmiris, who are spreading “terrorism” in the name of education, that too without proper investigation.
Here, Mr. Kukreti comes up with an idea. “Let’s make a WhatsApp group. Organize. And start something, (then only something would happen).”
On the same evening, talking to The Kashmir Walla, a Kashmiri student from Dev Bhoomi College said that the panic took the forefront after 12 pm on Friday; notably one and a half hour after a few hundred shares of Mr. Kukreti’s post.
With screenshots of Kashmiris’ profile and name – the public shaming started; “Bahar nikalo in desh dhrohiyo ko, maar dalo inko!” (Kick [Kashmiris] them out, kill them) commented Anuj Chauhan and the parallel comments started surfacing.
“Stop giving rooms and flats to these terrorism supporters, these people are also the potential terrorist,” read another comment from Saurabh Yadav. In a comment thread, another Facebook user, Anshul Awasthi, claimed that he managed to gather boys and was all set to thrash a Kashmiri, but police came to rescue. “Once he is out, I will thrash him.”
The hate campaign gets organized via a WhatsApp group
Amid the scattered comments on the Facebook post, Pradeep Srivastav, a local resident came with WhatsApp group link, flaunting, “sena ko aadesh hai, par hum yuvao ko nahi.” (Army is bounded by rules, we the youth, are not). And that is where I came into the scene. Rushing into it, after kicking all nearby posts, I managed to reach Mr. Srivastav on his personal WhatsApp.
“Bhaiya, I got your number from Facebook. Please add me to the group,” I said.
After the shortest possible verification of my identity – ur good name – I was into the group.
“Hum denge aazadi (with five Indian flags).”
Talking to Mr. Srivastav on personnel window asked me to meet at 11:30 am on Saturday, near a blood donation camp. “Will discuss what to do next,” he said. When I asked him, “But, where would we go? Graphic, Alpine, or somewhere else?”
He told that it is ascertained right now, as there might be a shutdown across Dehradun tomorrow. “What would happen if it is a shutdown?” I asked, “Nothing, Kashmiris would be thrashed properly!”
Bidding me good-bye, he went to sleep. Next day, 16 February, at 10:32 am he texted me, “When r u coming?” and disappeared.
The campaign against Kashmiris was organized was also proved when Vikas Verma, convenor of the Bajrang Dal in Dehradun, talking to The Wire, said, “Yes, they are our targets. They have been celebrating the Pulwama attacks. They have been chanting pro-Pakistan slogans. We feed them, we keep them in our homes and this is how they pay us back. We will teach them a lesson.”
Mr. Verma added that the Bajrang Dal has warned landlords to evict tenants of Kashmiri origin. “We have lost three sons from Uttarakhand in the attacks. Kashmiris must leave Dehradun. We are warning them and those who give them shelter,” he told The Wire.
At 5:20 pm on 16 February, at least 20 girls rang SOS from Dehradun’s Dolphin Group of Institute’s Nest Hostel in Suddhuwala area fearing “a big mob has surrounded our campus”. The Twitterati from Kashmir took the forefront and several police officials’ phones rang. But, only by late night, Dehradun police was able to rescue them, and they are believed to be safe now.
A B.Tech student, who wished not to be named, studying at Dev Bhoomi Institute of Technology and Engineering in Dehradun, on Friday told The Kashmir Walla, “I alongside six other Kashmiris was inside the college hostel (inside campus area), and a mob arrived at the gate,” panicking to the situation, he also told that two more Kashmiri girls were inside the girls hostel of the college, “and the administration, led by chairman, is asking us to return back to Kashmir.”
He is one of the hundreds of students who cannot return to Valley due to sky-rocketing airfares and the only highway blocked due to landslides. Though, after speaking to him today, he had rushed to New Delhi and looking for a way to reach back home.
In another incident from the Institute of Technology and Management in Dehradun, another student, has a viva for the 3rd semester in M. Sc. IT, and via a request to local police officials, he has arranged a cab for him and his two friends to go to college. “Our landlord told us that we can live here, but we don’t feel safe. Police advised us to leave for Kashmir, and after my exam, we will look for a way to reach home,” he said.
A student, who also wished not to be named, told that they were very frightened when they heard announcements on hand-held speakers to leave the rented apartments occupied by Kashmiris. “We are leaving all our belongings there and rushed to get help from the college dean. But, his response was very cold. Why you people there (In Kashmir) do such acts,” the student told The Kashmir Walla over the phone.
Adding to it, he told that they wandered in the mango orchards for their safety. “We thought this is our last day of life as the mob was looking for us as like anything.”
Another morning news hit Dehradun when the Army officer died while trying to defuse an IED explosion in Rajouri area, near the LoC. Right now, Mr. Kukreti has now either deleted the Facebook post or is not accessible, almost everyone has left the WhatsApp group today; a few students have fled, while the administration has ensured the safety of the students.
Yashraj Sharma is a Features Writer at The Kashmir Walla.