Chandigarh: Khwaja Itrat, a Kashmiri student studying at a private college in Dehradun, was finally feeling secure after days of fear. He and several other Kashmiri students were welcomed with open arms at a gurdwara in Mohali by Guru Nanak Naam Leva members. What Uttarakhand wasn’t able to do, Punjab did: offer a safe haven to hundreds of Kashmiri students studying in the hilly state, who'd started fearing for their lives after the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February.
In the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack, in which 42 CRPF personnel were killed and several others injured, fringe elements targeted Kashmiris, especially students, in several states up north. Thus, the gurdwara in Mohali’s popular 3B2 market opened its doors for at least 700 Kashmiri Muslim students, while another NGO Khalsa Aid, provided transportation to these students to Jammu. On Monday, 500 students were sent to Jammu, while the rest left by Tuesday evening.
'Students in shock'
“Punjab is a peaceful state; we didn't feel unsafe there. In Dehradun, we faced threats on a daily basis after the Pulwama attack. People targeted us as if all Kashmiris were behind the attack,” said Itrat, a member of J&K Students Association. “We never thought a terror attack in the Valley would land us in such a situation. In Dehradun, some landlords even locked up their [Kashmiri] tenants, saying it was for their own safety. Many of us did not have access to a toilet for days and had to urinate in polythene bags. It was a pathetic situation and we just had to get out of there.”
Itrat added that they did not even have food for 24 hours as they were in a tearing hurry to leave Dehradun. Another student, Ishfaq Qureshi, said while some landlords helped Kashmiri students, others asked them to leave immediately. “J&K Students Association asked us to head to Chandigarh and Mohali after the Uttarakhand government did not come to our rescue.”
Qureshi added that all 700 students taking refuge in Mohali came by bus, after which the local Sikh organisations came to their aid. Arrangements were made at different gurdwaras, namely those in Sohana and 3B2, in Mohali, and some were put up at TDI City, Landran, Mohali.
Amarinder Singh, a member of Guru Nanak Naam Leva, said these students were in a state of shock when they arrived. “We have been working around the clock to send them back to their homes in the Valley. Many others from Yamuna Nagar have approached us to rescue them; we have asked them to reach Ponta Sahib gurdwara from where Khalsa Aid buses will bring them to Mohali. We are also trying to provide cars for girls from Mohali to Jammu to ensure their safety,” Singh added.
'Felt like a never-ending journey'
Mohammad Irfan said all through their journey, which began in Dehradun on 17 February, students were worried about being attacked. “The four-and-a-half-hour trip felt like it would never end. There were girls on board, and it was their safety we were concerned about the most. Our parents, too, are anxious and in constant touch with us through mobile phones,” Irfan added.
A female student, speaking on condition of anonymity, who took shelter at the gurdwara, said all of them left Dehradun in such a panicked rush that they could not even take their books. “We want to go back, we hope to… after all, exams are just a few days away. We are waiting for the situation to improve. But I would not recommend any of the children in my family to go out of Kashmir for studies,” she said. Twenty female students took refuge in the 3B2 gurdwara.
The students are enrolled in the Baba Farid Institute of Technology, Alpine College of Management and Technology, Sai Institute of Paramedical and Allied Sciences, and Doon College of Agriculture Science and Technology in Uttarakhand.
Authorities on alert
The Punjab Police, too, is doing its bit to provide security to Kashmiri students. Senior Superintendent of Police, Mohali, HS Bhullar said, “We are deploying policemen in buses carrying these students from Mohali to Jammu.”
Meanwhile, the liaison officer of J&K government, Inderjot Singh, also the manager of J&K House Chandigarh, said he has been receiving panicked calls from parents and students across Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Haryana. He added that even Kashmiri labourers, carpet sellers, and woodcutters have been calling him.
Inderjot, however, doesn’t think that leaving a troubled city, seeking shelter elsewhere, and returning home is the solution. “If this goes on, students’ academic year will be ruined. So, we have spoken to several college administrations who are putting up students in their hostels. Even parents agree that students should not be disturbed by shifting them; it could impact their careers,” he reasoned.
Nearly 400 Kashmiri students from Sirhind in Punjab reached out to liaison officers for help. Also, advisors to the governor of J&K, Vijay Kumar and Khurshid Ahmed Ganai, on Tuesday reviewed the security and safety of Kashmiri students in other states. The government has deployed officers in New Delhi, Noida, Meerut, Jaipur, Bhopal, Pune, Aligarh, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad to assist distressed students.
Authors are freelance writers and members of 101Reporters.com,
Updated Date: Feb 19, 2019 21:57:55 IST