Kashmiri students flee Indian backlash after Pulwama attack

Junaid Ayub Rather cowered alongside 30 other students in a small room for two nights while mobs chanted for their blood outside, before finally escaping the rage sweeping India after last week’s suicide bombing in Indian-held Kashmir.

Similar scenes have played out across the nation as Kashmiris living away from home flee violent reprisals following the latest attack in the restive Himalayan region, which killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers.

Rather said angry crowds gathered outside hostels and apartments rented by Kashmiri students in Dehradun, north of New Delhi, shouting for the ‘traitors’ and ‘terrorists’ hiding inside to be shot. “It took us four days to reach home in Kashmir with some help from police and a Muslim businessman,” Rather, who had lived in the northern city for two years, said after reaching his home south of Srinagar. “Thirty of us slept in one room for two nights before we could mobilise help to flee.”

The businessman let them take refuge in his home until buses could be organised to get them to safety.

Around 11,000 Kashmiri students enrol at Indian universities outside their home state each year. Many are now clamouring to return home to a region battle-scarred by 30 years of civil war, fearing violent attacks if they stay.

Video footage of Kashmiris being beaten and taunted in Indian cities has been widely shared on social media, while rightwing Hindu groups and pundits on TV news channels have encouraged reprisals.

A professor from New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University this week publicly called for the execution of 40 Kashmiris to avenge the suicide bombing, while two other colleges announced they would no longer accept students from the territory.

More than 500 students, along with 100 businessmen, have already arrived back in Kashmir to flee a ‘climate of fear and intimidation across India’, said Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation chief Yasin Khan. More were on their way, he said. “We are continuously receiving distress calls from all kinds of people asking for help,” he added.

Some Kashmiri students have also been suspended by Indian universities for allegedly posting insensitive comments on social media about the suicide attack, while others have been arrested on sedition charges. India’s interior ministry has ordered state governments to protect Kashmiri students – but several political leaders have also stoked aggressive anti-Kashmir sentiment since the bombing. “Don’t visit Kashmir … boycott everything Kashmiri,” Meghalaya State Governor Tathagata Roy wrote on Twitter.

Published in Daily Times, February 22nd 2019.