‘Kashmiriyon Ko Bahar Nikalo’: How A Dehradun College Abandoned Kashmiri Students Attacked by Right-Wing Mobs
Kashmiri students are being targeted across the country in the wake of the Pulwama terror attack.
Ahmed*, a fourth-semester engineering student in Dehradun’s Dev Bhoomi Institute Of Technology (DBIT) did not go to college on February 15. He wasn’t alone. Ahmed’s flatmates — two other batchmates and five second-semester MBA students — stayed indoors as well, fearing their safety. All eight of them are Kashmiri. As locals reach their lodging shouting, “Kashmiriyon ko bahar nikalo (Throw the Kashmiris out),” they desperately called their landlord in hopes of stalling an almost inevitable disaster.
On February 14, a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide bomber had rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, Jammu, and Kashmir, killing nearly 40 jawans. The incident sent shockwaves across the country. But while leaders from across the board were condemning this “act of cowardice” and TV news anchors were calling for retribution, almost 750 kilometres away in Dehradun, Kashmiri students found themselves at the receiving end of undeserved aggression.
At 11.30 am, half an hour after they made the phone call, the landlord arrived and tried to calm the angry crowd outside. Unable to control the mob and having received some threats himself, the landlord advised the young men to run. The students, however, stayed put. By 4 pm, the landlord, fearing for their safety, took them to his home. Scared, the students attempted to contact the local police. However, despite multiple calls, they were unsuccessful. By then, the angry mob had found them again. The students dashed. Ahmed said they took only their documents and their chappal (slippers) and ran. For the next five hours, they sought to hide in the open — between houses, in narrow lanes and finally in a mango orchard.
By nightfall, around 9 pm, they began calling home. Ahmed managed to contact his cousin, who shared their plight on Facebook. The Facebook post did the trick. The local police finally got in touch with them around 10 pm and escorted them to their home. Huddled in a single room with his seven roommates, somewhat secure under the protection of three armed cops, Ahmed explains how things got so out of hand.
On the evening of February 14, Syed Musail, a former student of DBIT took to Facebook to make incendiary comments about the Pulwama attack. Musail, who was allegedly rusticated from college long before this incident (NewsCentral24x7 has not yet been able to ascertain why he was rusticated), also posted photos of the Pulwama terror attack with insensitive captions.
Screenshots of Mussail’s posts soon made their way across WhatsApp groups in college. And before long, it reached the masses outside the campus as well. A mob assembled at the college campus on February 15. A student told NewsCentral24x7 condition of anonymity that the crowd may have been led by the Bajrang Dal, a far-Right Hindutva group. This mob allegedly sloganeered for some time — “Pakistan murdabad,” “Bharat Mata ki jay,” and “Kashmiriyon ko bahar nikalo” — before being dispersed by the cops.
The sloganeering forced the college into shutting down by 1 pm, and college administration allegedly told Kashmiri students who stayed in the hostel to leave immediately. Moshin* told NewsCentral24x7, “Around 4 pm, we were rounded up. There are eight or nine Kashmiri students who are hostellers. We were told by DBIT’s chairman Mr Sanjay Bansal that he would not be able to guarantee our safety if mobs arrived. He said the college would provide us with transport to bus stops, railway stations or airports. But we all would have to leave,” adding, “But it’s not that easy. A flight ticket to Kashmir costs Rs 25,000.”
Ahmed, who lives outside of the campus, too had tried to get in touch with the college after the mob had appeared outside his house. The students wanted refuge and felt the hostel would be a safe place. But when he spoke to “Arjun sir,” the dean of hostels, he was told, “Tum logo ki chetti (sic) hoti hai suicide bombing (you people have a habit of suicide bombing.” The dean allegedly added, angrily, that he would not be able to help Ahmed and his flatmates. NewsCentral24x7 has not been able to contact Arjun. The institute in question has denied the entire episode. Speaking to NewsCentral24x7, Saurav Rajvanshi, an administrative employee at DBIT denied any incident taking place on the campus at all. He said that the college was shut on February 15 on account of upcoming examinations. He also denied Kashmiri students being asked to leave. Other students speaking to NewsCentral24x7, however, have called Rajvanshi’s version a lie, adding that the college gave them all an off day after the mob incident.
A general sentiment of resent towards Kashmiris, catalysed by the terrorist incident and fuelled further by hyper-nationalistic diatribe from groups like the Bajrang Dal have threatened the safety of Kashmiri students in Dehradun and other parts of Northern India. There have also been a few incidents of violence. A video sent to NewsCentral24x7 by one of the students allegedly shows a Kashmiri student being beaten up by a mob in Sudhowala in the Dehradun district. Chants of “Desh k gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalo ko,” can be heard in the background. While NewsCentral24x7 hasn’t been able to independently verify the video, this incident does not sound far off from what other reports have been stating. As per a report in Rising Kashmir, a number of Kashmiris in Dehradun were beaten by violent mobs which asked them to leave the city.
According to a report in The Wire, Vikas Verma, the Bajrang Dal convenor in Dehradun, admitted that students from Kashmir have been subjected to violence and took responsibility for the same. “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,” he said. Verma added that the group 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 said.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Nivedita Kukreti, however, has denied all reports of violence. She said that while mobs had gathered and sloganeered in various localities, there was no physical violence. She also assured that added police protection was being provided to Kashmiri students.
Not all students are as lucky as Ahmed, to have a landlord who would come to their aid. Jaamil*, another Kashmiri student from DBIT said that an angry mob had gathered outside the Bhauwala mosque and disturbed namaz. After hiding in the mosque for a few hours, Jaamil left. He and his friends are now lying low in a small apartment, too scared to step out.
The Pulwama terror attack, a tragedy in itself, has paved the way for more. Mobs, instead of questioning the government’s policies and intelligence failure, are being dog-whistled to attack minority groups. The large-scale persecution Kashmiris across the nation cannot be overlooked, for what may seem like sporadic incidents are anything but that.
(*Names of students have been changed for their safety)