Pulwama attack fallout: Fear, panic grip Kashmiris

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As New Delhi reiterates “befitting reply” to Pulwama attack that left 49 Indian paramilitary CRPF personnel dead, many Kashmiris—studying, working, travelling—in different parts of India are currently grappling with fear, panic and threat perceptions. Besides belligerence, the highway attack has only created new concerns and challenges.

Sumaira Rizvi

Mehjabeen was taking a regular nap inside her Rajbagh residence when a sudden sound shook her up on Thursday afternoon, 14 February 2019. It was so intense, she says, that she almost froze and shivered.

Some 20 kms away at Lethpora, Jaish-e-Mohammad’s local recruit Aadil Ahmad Dar alias Commando Waqas had rammed his explosives-laden Scorpio into the paramilitary bus. The 2500-odd CRPF convoy was coming from Jammu to Srinagar.   

“I thought it’s a usual, loud air sound,” Mehjabeen says, recalling the anxiety of the moment. “It was only when I received a call from my son, enquiring about things back home that I could know that something has again happened in Kashmir.”

Mehjabheen’s 19-year-old son is pursuing his engineering in a Chandigarh college. He had apparently seen the viral video of Jaish fidayeen on social media, in which Kakpora’s shy mason turned suicide bomber—sitting amid stashes of arms, including US made M-16 rifle—was speaking, one last time, as a human bomb.

“I was waiting for this moment for last one year,” he says in the video.

It was the second video of this kind in Kashmir. Earlier on 31 December 2017, another Jaish fidayeen from Tral, Fardeen Khandey had shot the similar fidayeen video, before attacking a paramilitary training centre at Lethpora, along with two other associates.

Soon after the deadliest attack took place on Indian forces since the start of insurgency in Kashmir, it became a raging “national debate”. New faultlines emerged. Cries for war resonated. Indian news channels at once sounded like the war studios.

And since the fidayeen was a Kashmiri, many debaters called for the immediate action, against what they called a “local support” to insurgency. The subsequent speeches of Indian premier Narendra Modi and his ministers set the war pitch: “We’ve given free hand to forces.”

Back home, as the mood turned sullen, Mehjabeen started dialing her son’s number every now and then. “I just wanted to ensure his safety,” the mother in her mid-forties says. Among other things, she’s repeatedly advising him: “cut down your outings for now.”

Such a fear isn’t confined to a single household in Kashmir following the highway attack. Many Kashmiris outside the valley have already conveyed a sense of panic, fear and threat. Scores of videos that went viral on social media show how Kashmiris are being attacked at number of places outside the valley.

The disturbing visuals are further adding to the distress and fear.

The situation is especially tense in Jammu, where on the call of Jammu Chamber—supported by National Conference—some angry mob torched vehicles of Kashmiris in Gujjar Nagar. It has already created panic among Kashmiris in Jammu.

Even Kashmir-based Secretariat employees, currently camping in State’s winter capital on the customary six-month long Darbar Move, sought Raj Bhavan’s intervention for their safety and security.

On Sunday, Darbar Move Employees Federation (DMEF) appealed employees not to resume office work from Monday, till peaceful environment is not restored in Jammu.

Earlier, amid curfew, some of the Kashmiri families were taken to Bathindi, Muslim dominant area of Jammu, where they were sheltered in a local mosque.

“Problem is, this severe, but usual militant-military attack in Kashmir, has been put on ordinary Kashmiris studying or working outside the valley,” says Mohammad Amin, whose daughter is being trained as dentist in Jammu.

“What is our fault, and that of our children’s who are peacefully studying and working in different parts of India?”

Hailing from Old Srinagar’s Eidgarh area, Amin is mulling over to call his daughter back home, for a time being, till things calm down.

Amid New Delhi’s “no talks” stance and bolstering military reliance, Lethpora attack has already triggered a wave of uneasiness across the valley, with many expecting that Modi government should “rise above rigidness to end bloodshed in Kashmir”.

“But perhaps that is too much to ask right now when Lok Sabha elections are just around the corner,” says Mushtaq Ahmad, a trader from Sopore. He had to earlier caution his son, studying in Mumbai, about not to get involved in any discussion with his college friends. “A wave of fear gripping our people outside tells us that this government is likely to use the attack for its ballot prospects,” he believes.

That being a dominant sense in Kashmir right now, many traders have also threatened to snap the trade ties with their Jammu counterparts, if these attacks won’t stop.

“The atmosphere is still fearful here,” says Shabnam, a Kashmiri student studying in Jammu. “We are not stepping out of our homes for the fear of attack.”

While Jammu and Kashmir Police have already set up various help-lines for Kashmiri students, the immediate need, says Shabnum, is “to first ensure the safety of Kashmiris outside the valley”.

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