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'There is fear and anxiety among Kashmiri students'

By JYOTI PUNWANI
November 13, 2021 14:27 IST
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'Families think 100 times before sending their children to mainland India.'

IMAGE: Pakistan pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi celebrates with team-mates after dismissing Indian opener Rohit Sharma, October 24, 2021. Photograph: Francois Nel/Getty Images

Since October 24, when India lost to Pakistan in the World Cup T20 cricket match, the J&K Students Association has been pursuing authorities wherever Kashmiri students have been attacked or punished for cheering for Pakistan.

"Words fall short to commend the Punjab government's treatment of Kashmiri students," J&K Students Association National Spokesman Nasir Khuehami tells Jyoti Punwani in the concluding segment of a two-part interview:

How many Kashmiri students are studying outside Kashmir?

About 60,000, of which about 20,000-25,000 are in Punjab alone.

Punjab is like their second home. There exists a brotherhood between Kashmiris and Punjabis. The Kashmiri students feel as safe there as in Kashmir. When the Pulwama attack happened (February 2019) and Kashmiri students were attacked, Khalsa Aid came to their help.

The Punjab government too has a good relationship with them. Whenever any incident took place, (then Punjab chief minister) Captain Amarinder Singh would intervene. When Article 370 was revoked, he invited 200 Kashmiri students to his farmhouse for dinner.

Words fall short to commend the Punjab government's treatment of Kashmiri students.

How do you explain this brotherhood?

Basically Punjabis have a political understanding of the Kashmir situation. Many of them travel to Kashmir often; they know the reality on the ground. It may also be because they too have suffered in the same way in the past, during and after Operation Blue Star. They understand our pain, specially after Article 370 was abrogated.

And UP?

After Yogi Adityanath took over, the situation is terrible.

There are 1,400 Kashmiri students at AMU (Aligarh Muslim University), they face no problem. But in other places... in Meerut, 67 students were suspended in 2014 again over an India-Pakistan match. But Akhilesh Yadav (the then CM) intervened and got the suspension revoked.

Do Kashmiri students enjoy a good relationship with their classmates?

Before 2014, they did. But after the BJP came to power, the media has created an image of Kashmiris as stone throwers. They blame us for all the violence in Kashmir.

Kashmiri students have been studying outside Kashmir since the last 15-20 years. Their general experience has been good except when it comes to sports or political developments in Kashmir, or any spike in violence in Kashmir.

Given this experience, why do so many Kashmiri students go out of Kashmir to study?

Because it takes three years to graduate in the rest of India, but almost 4-4.5 years to graduate in Kashmir due to the situation here. Colleges remain closed for long periods and ultimately students fail to complete their graduation. Something or the other has been causing turmoil in the Valley since 2008, almost every year.

Will the experience of recent days see a drop in Kashmiri students going outside?

There is a lot of fear and anxiety. Families anyway think 100 times before sending their children to mainland India. After these latest attacks we have also decided to expand, to have a presence in every college which has Kashmiri students.

You have studied in Dehradun. How was your experience?

I was there between 2015 and 2020 and never felt any inconvenience. But I must add that I was very active. Be it in the floods or any situation, I was always available.

So I developed good contacts not only with the people, but also with the police and the government, even though it was a BJP government. Even in the tense situation after Pulwama, their police were very good with us.

Personally, the only time I felt victimised was last year in Delhi when I was denied rental accommodation because of my Kashmiri identity.

How would you summarise the experience of Kashmiri students in the rest of India -- overall good or bad?

Both. These attacks do take place, but they also get the kind of exposure in mainland India which they never could in Kashmir.

Had I studied only in Kashmir, I would never have been able to be as vocal as I am now. We started the J and K students association in 2015 from a small private college in Uttarkahand. It has now spread to 13 states.

Last year, I got a Xiaomi Award for the work we did in evacuating about 20,000 Kashmiri students from across the world when Covid struck.

Apart from Punjab and Uttarakhand, in Bengaluru, both the police and the people are very friendly. The MVA (Uddhav Thackeray's) government in Maharashtra has also been very quick to intervene whenever Kashmiri students have been in trouble. So also the Gehlot government in Rajasthan.

But Kejriwal's government in Delhi has been very bad, a carbon copy of any BJP government. His office does not respond when we approach him when Kashmiri students are harassed.

Finally, can you explain why Kashmiri students cheer for Pakistan's cricket team?

It is their individual choice. In many families, half the family cheers for India, the other half for Pakistan. This should not define our identity or ideology.

Also, this isn't anything new; it's been happening since Independence. It was never made into such a big issue.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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