Indian Kashmiri Muslims harassed back to Kashmir
Some Kashmiri students at Haryana University (top) had to lock themselves in their hostel rooms and could not step out even to get food (Photo: MDU Rohtak/Creative Commons)
The collateral damage of the latest military stand-off between long-term enemies India and Pakistan has been Kashmiri Muslim students living across India.
Students have been forced to return to their homes in Indian Administered Kashmir for safety following a wave of physical and verbal abuse (called ‘terrorists’ and ‘anti-nationals’).
The problem began after an explosives-filled car smashed into a convoy of vehicles carrying Indian security personnel in the Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir in India on February 14, killing 40 constables of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and injuring another 35. The driver, who was also killed in the crash, was a Kashmiri who was allegedly radicalised by terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad based in Pakistan.
Since their birth in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought over the border state of Kashmir. It is the only Muslim-majority state which acceded to India when the sub-continent was divided by the imperialist British as they left giving the two countries independence. Pakistan has always claimed that Kashmir should have gone to them in 1947.
The two enemies have fought two wars over it and since the late 1980s, Kashmir has been the playground of militants who have turned the ‘heaven on earth’ into a living hell. India has always claimed that the ‘militancy’ in Kashmir is inspired, aided and funded by Pakistan.
Immediately after the attack on Pulwama, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, announced that it would take revenge and said it had given the country’s armed forces a free hand to retaliate against Pakistan. With a general election only two months away and his popularity waning, the Pulwama attack was just the excuse Modi needed to galvanise the country behind him. Jingoism and ‘chest thumping’ nationalism is one of Modi’s trademarks and the Pulwama attack allowed him to incite his supporters into warmongering.
In this heated atmosphere, it was Kashmiri students in the rest of India who bore the brunt being hounded in their own country as terrorists. “We have nothing to do with terrorism and have left Kashmir to study. We want to live like normal human beings,” said a student from Delhi.
There were more than 8,000 Kashmiri students living and studying in universities and educational institutions across north India, and last month, the majority of them have been forced to return home fleeing from far-right Hindu groups who have been baying for their blood. In some cases, the educational institutes have been pressurized into suspending and even expelling students simply because they are from Kashmir.
In Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled state of Uttrakhand two colleges have been forced to promise that they will not admit any more Kashmiri students in the new academic sessions. Just after the Pulwama attack, some 20 girls from Kashmir were forced to remain confined to their hostels at one institute in Uttrakhand with a crowd outside demanding their expulsion. They were rescued and sent home.
Ironically, a helpline started by the CRPF Chief of Operations in Kashmir, Zulfiqar Hasan, for Kashmiris facing difficulties and harassment, was inundated by calls from Kashmiris outside the state.
Some Kashmiri students at Haryana University in another BJP-ruled state had to lock themselves in their hostel rooms and could not step out even to get food. “We have come here to study and chase our dreams like other students but they are treating us like enemies,” said a BTech student.
He added that they were surviving on food provided to them by fellow students. Students who were living off campus in rented rooms nearby were also forced to take shelter with friends in the hostels as landlords told them to vacate their premises.
Groups of belligerent BJP workers and supporters were crowding round educational institutes demanding that Kashmiri students be “dragged out by their collars, beaten up and taught a lesson”, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
Though the police claimed that they would protect Kashmiri students, no action was taken against any of the groups that were intimidating and assaulting the students.
Days after the students had already returned home, Modi gave a feeble call to his supporters to not attack Kashmiris – but as is his usual pattern it was too little, too late.