Kashmiri students face backlash after major terror attack

The political tensions over a 14 February suicide bombing that killed more than 40 paramilitary officers in Pulwama in Indian-administered Kashmir have spilled over onto university campuses in India with Kashmiri students bearing the brunt of people’s anger.

Many were forced to lock themselves in their campus rooms for days, others attempted to flee home to Kashmir, and hundreds were evacuated from university campuses by Kashmiri student organisations which provided them with temporary shelter.

The bombing – the worst attack on Indian forces in the region in at least 30 years – has heightened tensions within the subcontinent, although Pakistan has denied a role in the attack.

This is the first time Kashmiri students have been targeted in this way in India.

In the Indian capital, New Delhi, many students from Kashmir said they were fearful. A Kashmiri student at Delhi University who did not wish to be identified said: “We are receiving reports of harassment of Kashmiris from all over the country. Some of my Kashmiri friends have told me they were harassed and attacked after the terrorist attack.

“Many Kashmiri students from Uttarakhand [state] and other places have reached Delhi. They are on their way to Kashmir. Open threats have prompted Kashmiri students to leave for their homes,” the student said.

According to government estimates, some 20,000 Kashmiri students are studying outside Jammu and Kashmir state. Some 8,000 of them are beneficiaries of a special Indian government scholarship scheme for students from the region to study for professional qualifications at Indian universities and colleges.

Branded ‘traitors’

In Patna, capital of the northern state of Bihar, people took to the streets soon after learning of the Pulwama attack. A Kashmiri student at Patna University said: “We fear a backlash. I heard people saying Kashmiris are traitors and enemies of the country. We are in a state of fear after the incident.”

Many Kashmiri students targeted in other parts of the country took to social media to say they were harassed.

One impromptu social media tracking site pinpointed angry mobs calling for students from Kashmir to be “kicked out” in Ambala, in the state of Haryana, in Udaipur in Rajasthan, and in Roorkee in Uttar Pradesh.

In the northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, more than 300 Kashmiri students left for their homes in Kashmir within days of the Pulwama attack, after being harassed and threatened.

Wahab Lone, a student at a private college in Dehradun, capital of Uttarakhand, said: “Anger against the Kashmiris is palpable. There is fear among the students. We’re worried as anger against Kashmiris is building up.”

Drastic measures

Universities and colleges have been taking drastic measures to dampen rising campus tensions. Three Dehradun colleges – DAV PG College, Baba Farid Institute of Technology and Alpine College of Management and Technology – announced on 19 February that they would not admit Kashmiri students from the next academic session.

Aabid Majeed Kuchay, dean of Alpine College, who is Kashmiri, was suspended – although it is still unclear clear if the suspension has actually been carried out or simply that a suspension letter has been issued to him in response to the demands of mobs of students carrying out anti-Kashmiri attacks on campus.

The announcement came after a protest demonstration led by activists of Hindu groups including Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council).

Anil Saini, chairman of Alpine College of Management and Technology, insisted the move to bar admissions of Kashmiris was taken simply to calm the situation on campus. “The institute’s administration said this only to appease the protesters and to prevent the situation from getting out of hand,” he said.

“No policy decision had been taken about denying admission to Kashmiri students from the next session,” he said, adding: “How can we deny admission to Kashmiri students? The mob had demanded so, but we are bound by the country’s constitution.”

‘Pacifying the mob’

A Kashmiri college student in Dehradun said: “Such reports are distressing. College authorities have clarified that the orders to not admit Kashmiri students were issued under pressure only to pacify the mob, but Kashmiri students have every reason to fear they will face discrimination at most of the educational institutions across the country.”

Lone said some unnerved Kashmiri students had not stepped out of their hostel rooms in fear. “Those staying in rented accommodation are being told by their respective landlords to vacate the premises as soon as possible,” he said.

A Kashmiri student studying for an MA in economics from a private college in Dehradun said: “The landlord told me that he feared an attack on his property and so had no option except to ask me to vacate [it].”

Dehradun is also the site for the officer training academy for the Indian army and reportedly the city where Kashmiri students have been particularly affected. Around 3,000 Kashmiris are studying in colleges in Dehradun, and at least some 150 of them were helped to leave the city by the Jammu and Kashmir Students Organisation, which has set up a shelter in Chandigarh, Punjab for fleeing students.

Government denies assaults

However, Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar denied reports of any assaults on Kashmiri students following the Pulwama terror attack.

“People are angry after the Pulwama attack but no student from the valley has been assaulted anywhere in the country. There is no threat to Kashmiri students,” Javadekar said on 20 February.

Home Affairs Minister Rajnath Singh issued an advisory to all states to take measures to ensure the safety and security of Kashmiris. Delhi police asserted that security had been enhanced to ensure the safety of all citizens including Kashmiri inhabitants.

Singh pledged that the government would take the necessary action for the protection of the Kashmiri students and people allegedly threatened after the terrorist attack, but this has done precious little to allay the fear of Kashmiris.