In various cities and towns across India, Kashmiris are prone to face harassment and societal exclusion. These dangers became visible recently when various groups were targeted for staging peaceful protest demonstrations against the hanging of M Afzal Guru. This is a sign of Kashmiris getting increasingly alienated in India, Syed Asma reports.
It was a time for celebrations in many parts of India! The 2001 Parliament Attack convict, Afzal Guru, was hanged in Tihar jail on February 9 at 8 am without informing him and his family that his mercy petition was rejected by the President of India.
For many Kashmiris living in various parts of India, the celebrations were a reflection of the apathy of middle-class Indians towards their plight. In some cities and towns, the Kashmiri students came out on roads and staged a peaceful protest to condemn Afzal’s hanging.
After the news of Afzal’s hanging became public, Adil says he had assembled at a parade ground in Dehradun along with at least 100 Kashmiri students studying in different universities and colleges of Dehradun to offer funeral in absentia for Afzal. He says they were peacefully marching towards Gantaghar.
“We just held placards reading ‘Stop killing innocent Kashmiris’ and there was no sloganeering,” he told Kashmir Life. Media and police had already arrived at the ground. After some time, the Shiv Sena and BJP workers arrived at the scene and asked the police to hand over Kashmiri boys to them, .
“They were telling the police: ‘In Kashmiri ladkon ko hamray hawalay karo, hum innay kaat daingay’ (Hand over these Kashmir boys to us. We will kill them). Sensing threat to our lives, the police immediately cordoned us and detained many of us at a police station at Paltan, Dehradun,” Adil said.
At the police station, similar demands of handing over Kashmiri students were raised by Shiv Sena workers. The police then shifted the 16 detained Kashmiri students to another jail. “The police whisked us out from one of the back doors silently and warned us not to make any noise which would otherwise provoke the Sena worker to kill us,” says Huzaifa, who was part of the detained group of protestors.
Huzaifa is studying in Dehradun from a couple of years. “I never saw such fierce communal clashes in the town. Earlier, minor arguments used to happen but this time I can’t see things getting normal. Now I am scared to even move out of my room. If we [Kashmiri students] don’t act smartly and don’t have co-operation among ourselves, we will be killed easily by these Hindu fanatic groups,” he said.
Adil says none of the Kashmiri students dares to move out of his room these days and whoever has to move out because of their exams, returns injured. “Wherever a Kashmiri is seen here these days, he is beaten brutally,” he said.
Adil and Huzaifa say that when the police did not hand them over to Shiv Sena workers, they targeted two Kashmiris watching a cricket match at a dabha. “The duo did not participate in protests but were brutally beaten up, just for being Kashmiri. They were hospitalized and discharged after a week,” she said.
Since February 9, Adil says the Hindu groups have visited their hostel many times and beaten Kashmiri students. “They drag us out of our locked rooms and beat us till we get unconscious and bleed. Even police and university authorities do not provide us with security. I believe they are all one party against us.”
Seeing the worsening situation, about 50 boys from Dehradun have shifted back to Kashmir, leaving their studies midway to save their lives. Adil and Huzaifa say they have not told their parents yet because they are hopeful that the conditions will improve after some time, “But if it continues to be like the same, we too will come back home. We will have to waste all these years that we spent studying here and move back home. We can’t lose our lives.”
Dehradun is not the only place where Kashmiri students had come out on roads and protested against Afzal’s secret execution. Kashmiri students came out on street across many parts of India and many non-Kashmiri students joined their protest. Among them, many were detained also.
These student groups marched peacefully to express their condemnation and held placards reading “We want peace not pain”, “Stop killing Kashmiri innocents”, “Hang me. I am Afzal Guru”, “How many Afzal Guru will you hang?” At some places, the peaceful protesters chanted slogans demanding freedom and returning the body of Afzal to his family.
The videos of these protests have gone viral on social networking sites and comments appreciating those who staged these protests are continuously flowing in. The students say that they have always been a foreign element in India. “India will never accept us as their own. We have to prove our identity and our loyalty towards them every day,” says Saqib, a Kashmiri student in Hyderabad. He was a part of the peaceful protest in Hyderabad.
Many people believe that the protests staged across India were nothing but a spontaneous emotional outburst following Afzal’s hanging. Saiqa, a student of Jamia Millia University says Delhi was a different place that day. “Each soul was celebrating. Badayi ho Aaj usay phansi deegayi’ was a message that my rickshaw driver passed on to another when we stopped at a traffic signal. That is how my day started,” says Saiqa.
Along with her friends, Saiqa had decided to assemble at Jantar Mantar to join a peaceful protest and condemn the Indian government’s decision of hanging Afzal. “At Jantar Mantar, we were almost 50 students. We could do nothing but cry,” she says.
“These kids broke down not because they were mishandled by some fanatic Hindu groups but for the loss that we suffered that morning. They cried for our helplessness,” says Khurram Parvez, a human rights defender who also was a part of the peaceful sit-in at Jantar Mantar.
At Jantar Mantar, the protestors were manhandled by members of Bajrang Dal along with the Delhi police. The students claimed that when they reached Jantar Mantar, the police and the right-wing Hindu groups had already arrived and they were distributing sweets amongst themselves.
“From the beginning, they tried to provoke us. Initially, we did not react but later, when their behaviour got intolerant, some of us did react. They continuously abused us and later assaulted us, both boys and girls,” says Saiqa.
When the right-wing activists became violent, the students had to run to protect the modest of the girls who were allegedly molested by the activists of Bajrang Dal. Scores of Kashmiri students were detained, both girls and boys, along with non-Kashmiri students.
Ambar was one of the protestors at Jantar Mantar. It was her first protest and when she saw the Bajrang Dal activists assaulting Kashmir girls and boys, she panicked and was advised to run to save herself. “I can never forget what I saw at Jantar Mantar. I was chased by a few goons. I ran away and my friends were ahead of me. Suddenly I was hit by something heavy on my back. I fell hard on the ground. When the guys who were running ahead of me saw me lying on the ground, they turned back and started running towards me. Those goons knew they would come back and shouted, ‘Ab tou waapus aawogay….aajoa…aajoa ab nahi chodaingay tumhay (Now you will have to come back. We won’t let you go now’,” Ambar recalls. She says the police too was continuously shouting at them saying ‘Baaz aajow apni harkatou say warna hawalaat mein baraingay (Mend your ways, else we will lock you up in prison)’.
The Kashmiri students say they have always been on the receiving end in India and have rarely reacted. “This this time they have crossed their limits. They have hanged an innocent and haven’t told him and his family about the rejection of his mercy petition. This is the height of inhuman behaviour,” says Aaqib, who is pursuing his Masters at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
Aaqib says while they were protesting in the campus which he considers is the “safest of all places in India for Kashmiris” the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) members started shouting slogans against them that AMU should be closed. “They were shouting ‘In Aatankwadiyoon ko yahan say bahar nikaalo ya AMU ko band karo’ (Either get these terrorists out of the campus or close down the university).”
Many protesting Kashmiri students were detained which is not new. The harassment and detention faced by Kashmiri students had forced chief minister Omar Abdullah to write to his counterparts to sensitize their police forces towards the security of Kashmiri students but it seems it did not change much.
Many students who faced threats from Hindu fanatic groups in India had to leave their studies midway. There were many others who were detained for years, had to go through a court trial and were later acquitted because of no concrete proof against them.
One of them is Imran, who was studying to become a pilot. But fate had something else in store for him. Imran was detained in one of the ‘anti-national’ activities and was acquitted after seven years because no proof was found against him. Imran’s close friends say that he is not willing to move out of Kashmir now.
Shehzad, a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University who is doing M.Phil in Political Science says the minorities living at any place have high chances of facing threats, “But it hardly means that they will stop resisting against their oppression. Besides, the tendency of oppression by Indian extremists is increasing manifold with each passing day which is a danger to their secularism. India is getting unsafe for Kashmiris with each passing day,” he says.
(Some names in the story have been changed)