Since Friday, thousands of people have taken to the streets across India and participated in vigils to express their anger and sadness against Thursday’s attack on a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Kashmir’s Pulwama district that cost the lives of 40 security personnel.
But in some places, these expressions have taken an ugly turn. In some places across North India, Kashmiris say they have been intimidated and attacked. On Friday, reports emerged that Kashmiri traders in Patna had been beaten up. A video of the incident that circulated widely on social media showed the Kashmiri traders trying to defend themselves and asking how they could be held responsible for a terrorist attack.
In Ambala, NDTV reported that a village panchayat allegedly asked house owners to evict Kashmiri tenants. In Dehradun, scores of Kashmiri students locked themselves up in their rooms and houses after mobs threatened violence. Activists of the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, had no fear admitting that they were targetting Kashmiris in the town. In Jammu, violent protests forced the administration to impose curfew and call in the Army.
On social media, hundreds of posts have demanded a range of action against Kashmiris, including calling for an economic blockade of the state. Many people who called for peace and restraint were dismissed as “anti-nationals”. It didn’t take long for anti-Muslim sentiments to be aired. In Assam, for instance, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal said the Pulwama attacks showed that Mughal onslaught on India has still not ended.
On Sunday, a shutdown was called in the Kashmir valley to protest against these threats. All of this resulted in an advisory from the Ministry of Home Affairs asking state governments to ensure the safety of Kashmiris.
There were some resons to be optimistic. With reports flowing in about attacks on Kashmiris, many people took to social media to offer assistance, including inviting to their homes any Kashmiri who needed a safe place The Central Reserve Police Force responded to the reports by asking Kashmiris to call their helpline in case of trouble.
This divisive rhetoric is self-defeating (and the actions it engenders are often criminal). Such actions will further alienate a community that has faced the brunt of three decades years of insurgency and borne the loss of thousands of lives. If the aim of Pakistan-backed organisations like the Jaish-e-Mohammad is to exacerbate divisions in Indian society, the groups that are targeting Kashmiris outside the Valley are playing exactly to the plan.