NEW DELHI — Four days after 49 Indian soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in Kashmir, Vikas Verma, a Bajrang Dal leader in Uttarakhand, told HuffPost India that Kashmiri students had to leave the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state.
Verma, who is the right-wing organisation’s convener for Dehradun, Vikas Nagar and Purola, said that the Kashmiri students could return to Uttarakhand only after Kashmiris stopped throwing stones on the security personnel stationed in Kashmir, and the Indian flag was raised in every house in Kashmir.
Verma also said that students could return to Uttarakhand after Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir State, was abrogated, and Indians could live, work and buy property in Kashmir.
“Kashmiri students cannot come to Uttarakhand until the stone pelting in Kashmir stops. Kashmiri students cannot come here until there is an Indian flag raised in every house in Kashmir,” he said.
The deadly attack on Indian soldiers stationed in Pulwama on 14 February has triggered a backlash against Kashmiri students in different cities of the country, but largely in BJP-ruled Haryana and Uttarakhand.
HuffPost India has previously reported that locals, led by a village sarpanch, demanded that Kashmiri students studying in the locality of Mullana in Ambala, Haryana, leave within 24 hours.
Kashmiri students have been forced to leave hostels or rented rooms in Haryana and Uttarakhand. Almost a dozen have been either suspended or expelled from college for expressing “offensive” views on the Pulwama attack. At least five students — one in Bengaluru and four in Rajasthan — have been booked for sedition under the Indian Penal Code by the local police.
While, on the one hand, Verma says the Bajrang Dal is targeting Kashmiris who allegedly raised “pro Pakistan” slogans and lauded the 19-year-old suicide bomber, Adil Ahmed Dar, on social media.
On the other, the 41-year-old activist, who has studied till class 12 and has worked with the Bajrang Dal for the past five years, accused “all” Kashmiri students in Uttarakhand of engaging in some kind of “anti-India” activities.
“Our campaign against them will continue,” he said.
Hundreds have fled Dehradun
Dehradun, worst hit by the Bajrang Dal-driven backlash, has seen hundreds of Kashmiri students fleeing their colleges and heading to a makeshift shelter set up by the Jammu and Kashmir Student Organization in Chandigarh, Punjab.
Khwaja Ittar, who is handling the relief operations in Chandigarh, told HuffPost India that he received 300 phone calls from Kashmiri students on Monday. Out of the 200 students who were at the shelter on Monday, Ittar, said, 110 had arrived the same day and 84 were dispatched for Jammu in seven jeeps.
Ittar said that the J&K Students Organization had managed to arrange for two private buses that were ferrying the students from Uttarakhand to Punjab.
On Tuesday, Ittar estimated that 700 students — 80 percent from Dehradun — have arrived at the shelter since it started functioning on Sunday morning.
Ittar, based on conversations with the new arrivals at the shelter,
said that most Kashmiri students have left Dehradun, with around 100 remaining in the city. “I’m still getting calls but now I’m asking students to go directly to Jammu as the situation there has also improved,” he said.
Preparing a ‘dossier’
Verma, who claims to have the backing of senior leaders in the Bajrang Dal, said that his workers were tracking the social media accounts of Kashmiri students to prove that they were engaging in “anti-India” activities and they would soon submit a “dossier” to the Uttarakhand police.
“We will file cases against them,” he said.
Claiming that his actions were legal, Verma said that the Bajrang Dal was only appealing to landlords as well as heads of colleges to remove Kashmiri students.
The Indian Express reported on Monday that at least two colleges in Dehradun have said that Kashmiri students will not be admitted in the new academic year.
FIR filed against Kashmiri activist
In addition to the shelter in Chandigarh, political activist Shehla Rashid has led a social media campaign to reach out to distressed Kashmiris, coordinating with activists and the local authorities to help them.
Citizens in different cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru and Rajasthan, have offered to open up their homes to Kashmiris who are feeling unsafe.
The “group of concerned citizens” says it intervened in about 25 cases - seven cases from Jammu, five from Rajasthan, four from Delhi, four from Punjab, three from Dehradun, and two each from Haryana and Bangalore.
On Sunday, Rashid, who had highlighted the case of 15 to 20 students “trapped” inside the girls hostel of the Dolphin Institute in Dehradun, was slapped with an FIR for allegedly spreading rumours on Twitter.
HuffPost India spoke with one student at the Dolphin Institute on Sunday, who said that she had locked herself in her room and needed safe passage out of the premises.
Verma has alleged the women students at the Dolphin Institute had raised “pro-Pakistan” slogans and thrown stones at a candlelight march to honour the soldiers.
Rashid has pointed out that the FIR makes no sense because she was coordinating with Uttarakhand police personnel who eventually reached the women. “The claims of the police on social media are misleading. Why would they put up a helpline and protect the girls if all is well?” she said.
‘No one has any sympathy left for them’
Verma said that feelings against Kashmiri students have been simmering in Uttarakhand, but the recent violence in Pulwama was the “last straw.”
Of the four security personnel killed in Pulwama in a second attack on Monday, 34-year-old Major General Vibhuti Dhoundiyal is the second officer from Uttarakhand to be killed in the past three days. Major Chitresh Bisht, who was killed while defusing a bomb in Jammu, was 31-years-old and getting married next month.
“No one has any sympathy left for the Kashmiris. We have to stand together. We have to show them that we are one nation. We have to show them that until the attacks against our soldiers stops, Kashmiris are not welcome,” Verma said.
A spike in fatalities in Kashmir since the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014, and in the Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir State as the partner of the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) in 2015, is worth noting.
Some analysts believe that BJP’s brand of Hindutva politics has hurt not helped the conflict in Kashmir.
The South Asian Terrorism Portal, a website which tracks fatalities in Jammu and Kashmir, shows a spike in the deaths of security personal from 2014 to 2017 as compared to 2007 to 2013.
In one telling remark, which exposed a prejudice more generic than only a concern for the Indian soldiers, Verma echoed the oft-repeated claim of “love jihad” made by the Hindu right.
Kashmiri male students, he said, were using their female classmates — “our Hindu sisters” — as “honeytraps.”
Anuj Walia, the state coordinator of the Bajrang Dal in Uttarakhand, said that Verma and his colleagues were carrying out the will of the people.
“The public is very angry. This is what the public wants. We are doing what the public wants,” he said.
Claiming that only those Kashmiri students engaged in “anti-India” activities were targeted, Walia said, “We are not responsible for people running away.”
Degree left behind
One Kashmiri, who had reached the shelter in Chandigarh on Monday, said that he was staying at the boys hostel of the Dolphin Institute in Dehradun, waiting to collect proof of his degree in bio technology.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the Kashmiri said that he decided to leave when he heard about a Kashmiri student getting beaten up by goons, not far from where he was staying.
“I managed to get my mark sheets but I left without my degree. The atmosphere was really scary and I wanted to leave immediately,” he said. “I don’t know if I will ever come back for my degree.”