In the immediate aftermath of the terror attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama, sporadic incidents of violence and alleged harassment of Kashmiri students have been reported in many parts of the country. The first reports came from Jammu, where dozens of vehicles were burnt, and the city was brought under curfew after mobs attacked Kashmiris in the area and destroyed their property. An enraged crowd demanded revenge for the death of the CRPF men and threw stones on the state secretariat building, despite police protection. The curfew is there even four days since the attack, and more than 120 people have been reportedly arrested for breaching the law. In many parts of the state, the authorities had to suspend mobile and internet facilities for multiple days.
But such incidents were not restricted to areas near the Valley. At least 40 Kashmiri shop-owners in Patna were threatened by a mob and asked to leave Bihar — a state they have been staying in for over 30 years. In another state capital, Dehradun in Uttarakhand, hundreds of Kashmiri students were forced to hide after an angry mob took to the streets, asking for “India’s traitors” to be “shot”. In fact, two educational institutes in Dehradun announced that no Kashmiri will get admission even as open threats were made to Kashmiri students to leave. A mob tried to occupy a Kashmiri girl students’ hostel in Dehradun. Social media platforms such as Twitter have been carrying several other reports of intimidation and harassment of the Kashmiris in other parts of the country. The matter has taken a serious turn, prompting the Union home ministry to issue an advisory to all states to ensure safety and security of the students and people from Jammu and Kashmir living in their areas. Aligarh Muslim University had to issue an advisory to Kashmiri students, asking them “not to move out of campus” in the wake of protests.
It goes without saying that these incidents are utterly shameful and reflect poorly on India’s credentials as an open, secular and democratic society. Also, persecuting Kashmiris because the Pulwama attack was carried out by a local youth plays into the hands of organisations such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad that intend to trigger civil strife in India by polarising society along communal lines. While the Kashmiri students should also desist from issuing provocative statements on social media, treating the entire population of a state with suspicion and targeting the whole community for the faults of a few will only deepen the sense of alienation. That will be a terrible self-goal, as this is exactly what a terrorist organisation would be hoping to achieve. It’s true that the state has seen a dangerous drift that is not only fuelling the popular rage, but has also called into question the government’s claims about dwindling support for militancy. The best way to fight this is to show solidarity not just with the armed forces but also with the majority of Kashmiris in whose name such dastardly acts are perpetrated. The government should also play its role by having a comprehensive programme for addressing youth radicalisation in Kashmir. That will be a more productive and sustainable strategy.