Patriot interviews three Delhi-based Hindus to highlight their efforts to help Kashmiri Muslims who felt insecure after the Pulwama attack. People like them are sorely needed when communal temperature rises
When news came of the attack on a convoy of 78 vehicles escorting more than 2,500 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel by terrorists of militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, the whole nation was disturbed.
Soon after, 12 students from Kashmir were beaten up by members of Hindutva outfits Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Dehradun. This was the first of attacks and harassment of Kashmiris in many parts of the country.
The students felt their lives were in danger, as the roar of the lynch mob kept getting louder, while social media was brimming with hatred directed at them. Some students locked themselves inside their hostel rooms and some fled Dehradun as the mob demanded their expulsion.
Meanwhile, three persons who Patriot spoke to speak about the safe houses they created in Delhi to help the Kashmiri students — with an aim to make them feel safe and return safely to their home state if they so wanted.
“As soon as I heard that students are fleeing their colleges, I updated a status on Facebook writing if anybody needs accommodation, they can connect to me. The idea was to help students because the environment was so charged,” says Sagrika Kissu, a media professional.
Kissu, a Kashmiri Pandit, lives alone in Delhi. She took the decision and posted the status without telling her family living in the Jammu district. They came to know about this much later.
On February 16, she posted the first status on Facebook which said, “The way Kashmiri students are being beaten up & kicked out of the hostels and rented apartments is very scary. Have been talking to students since yesterday. In case you need some help, please connect.”
After this a series of posts appeared on her Facebook profile, all suggesting help. “At one point I was receiving 30-40 calls. They inboxed me, I asked for their number and called them.”
She went to the Jama Masjid area to pick up the first batch of students who came from Dehradun. She says that she spoke to them in Kashmiri, which they found comforting. It was only later that they got to know that she’s a Hindu. Kissu recalls, “A lot of divide has been created between Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims, so they were very happy.”
Kissu and the students reached activist Harsh Mander’s office at 9 in the night. Mander had offered his office space to accommodate students in need. When the students reached the place, they were not very keen to stay, because the premises were empty by then. “They were panicking a lot and I assured them that I will also stay with them. They said anybody can come here and we don’t feel safe. So I booked a hotel room for them.”
The next morning, Kissu spoke to Mander’s daughter, who told her that the students can be accommodated in Mander’s other office. “The office was full of staff so the students felt a little okay there,” says Kissu.
During this period, airfares skyrocketed. A one-way ticket for Srinagar cost as much as Rs 25,000. “They wanted to leave the same day but the ticket price was way too high.” So the students stayed at the accommodation for three days.
Students from different parts of the country like Dehradun, Jaipur and Ambala made the accommodation a safe haven for them. Although, no one stayed at Kissu’s home because of lack of space, she used to stay with them in Mander’s office space till 1 am.
She recalls the time when she had to pick another batch of students from the airport, “I thought I also look like a Kashmiri, hence I took my colleague along with me and was in constant touch with police and other officials.”
Kissu says that a WhatsApp group was formed which had members such as the IGP of Jammu too. “So everyone knew each movement of ours.” When the students left for Srinagar, she made sure that a person was there to receive them and check whether they reached home safely.
In return, when the students reached Kashmir, they tweeted emotional messages for her, they also posted a selfie with her, which went viral on Twitter. Along with this, she also faced “mindless trolls.”
One of the students wrote on Twitter that “Sister Sagrika helped us,” to which the trolls responded with abusive language.
One of the trolls who’s a member of ABVP asked Kissu, “Kash tumne Kashmiri Panditon ko bhi jagah di hoti jab who tent mein reh rahe thhe.” (If only you have helped Kashmiri Pandits who are living in tents) To which she replied, “Mehlawat ji jab main tent mein rehti thi tab koi nahi aya aapke parivar se madad karne.” (When I was staying in a tent, nobody from your family came to help me.)
Amit Tyagi is another resident of Vaishali, Ghaziabad who offered such help to the Kashmiri students. He has an emotional attachment with the people of the region, as he goes on a road trip to the remote areas of Kashmir every year for 15 days with his family.
“The hospitality I find in Kashmir is the best in world,” he says. Even his pinned tweet on Twitter shows his daughter hugging a Kashmiri girl at her home.
The moment Tyagi got to know about the violence against the Kashmiris, he could not control his patience and appealed for peace on Twitter, for which he got flak from trolls.
“They were given 24 hours ultimatum to leave. So I tweeted that anyone who needs any help can come to my place in Delhi,” says Tyagi.
Soon, Tahir Syeed, additional spokesperson at J&K People’s Democratic Party (PDP), contacted Tyagi for help. “He told me that five boys were to leave from Dehradun so I told him I can accommodate them at my place,” says Tyagi.
Later, he got to know that the boys got accommodation at Kashmir House in Delhi. The next day, four boys contacted him for help, they told him they were in West Delhi. Since Tyagi has a friend who lives in West Delhi, he told the boys to stay there.
He then got another call by Sayeed asking for help for another group of five boys who were in Roorkee, Uttarakhand. Tyagi says that since his sister lives in Roorkee, the boys could stay there itself. However, he says, “I warned Tahir that Roorkee was as sensitive as Dehradun at that time and he should speak to the local administration first before sending the boys to my sister’s place.”
With Tyagi’s help, Sayeed contacted the DSP of Roorkee who told them that security will be arranged for the boys; they would first be brought to Delhi and later sent to Srinagar. “Once reaching Delhi, they directly went to Srinagar.
Summing up the whole experience, he says, “Good Samaritans are usually silent. If I’m not seeing too many people around speaking in favour of the Kashmiris, it doesn’t mean there aren’t many.”
Tyagi himself remote-controlled three successful plans which helped 14 Kashmiri students reach home safely.
Another Delhi-based Good Samaritan Nishtha Sood says, “I saw a video in which people in Bihar were messing with Kashmiri traders. That is when I thought I should help out in some way,” she says.
Her post on Twitter gained traction and also got retweeted by JNU student Shehla Rashid and politician Yogendra Yadav. When Kashmiris based in Ahmedabad contacted her for help, she connected the callers with people in that city who were hosting Kashmiris.
She also received some calls from Kashmiris in Delhi. “They told me that they were safe in the city so I told them if they feel unsafe anytime they can call me,” she says.
It is such people who keep the social fabric of a country intact in these troubling times. And they did it in the face of rape threats, hate speech and vituperative abuse. Clearly, it takes not just a compassionate approach but sheer guts to be the voice of sanity at a time of great tension.