On the evening of February 20, social media in Kashmir was flooded with offers of free snow-bike rides and hotel stays for Sikh tourists, free medical check-ups and discounts on medicine for Sikh patients, free admission to educational institutes and English-speaking courses for Sikh kids. There were offers of free blood donation and even kidneys.
Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley were thanking the Sikh community, members of which had helped out Kashmiris in distress across the country this week.
On February 14, a Jaish-e-Mohammad militant drove a car packed with explosives into a Central Reserve Police Force convoy passing through South Kashmir’s Pulwama district, killing over 40 personnel. As news of the attack spread, mobs fanned out in various Indian cities, closing in on Kashmiris living there. As mob attacks and punitive action against Kashmiri students gained ground, Kashmiris across the country made distress calls back home, anxious to return.
Amid the videos of violence and hateful messages, other images floated up on social media: Sikh groups guarding hostels where Kashmiri students stayed, Kashmiri taxi drivers in Jammu thanking local Sikh residents for helping them to safety, Kashmiris being ferried back home from places like Ambala and Dehradun in buses organised by the Sikh volunteer group, Khalsa Aid.
Moved to help by ‘disturbing videos’
Nasir Khuehami, spokesperson Jammu and Kashmir Students’ Organisation, said that without the help of Khalsa Aid, the safety and security of Kashmiri students on their way home would have been compromised.
“Khalsa Aid got in touch with us on Twitter and offered help. They arranged buses for distressed Kashmiri students from Dehradun and Ambala. Otherwise, it would have been immensely difficult to ensure safety and survival of Kashmiris,” he said.
Khalsa Aid, an international organisation based in the United Kingdom, is known for its humanitarian work during natural disasters, wars and other calamities. Gurpreet Singh, head of group in India, said they decided to offer help to distressed Kashmiris after coming across “disturbing” videos of harassment and calls for help from Kashmiris.
“We were able to evacuate more than 300 Kashmiri students safely to Chandigarh and then to Jammu. We could have sent them to Kashmir directly but there were some problems with coordination. Most of the distressed students we helped were studying in Dehradun and Haryana,” said Singh.
They were helped by other local Sikh organisations and gurudwara committees. “Local gurudwaras were thrown open for Kashmiri students and we were able to give them shelter and food,” said Singh, who led a group 30 volunteers for the task.
‘Need to show gratitude’
The gesture evoked a warm response in Kashmir. Imtiyaz Ahmad Wani, a general surgeon, was among the first to offer gratitude to the Sikh community. Wani has offered free medical consultations to Sikh patients in Srinagar for a year.
“As a Kashmiri Muslim, I am highly thankful to our Sikh brethren for what they did to ensure safety of Kashmiris. This is my way of showing gratitude to them,” said Wani. Till Thursday morning, Wani had not received any calls for free consultation. But he is hopeful. “I can travel to anywhere to fulfil my promise. I won’t be charging any fee from them at all,” Wani, who is posted in Baramulla in North Kashmir.
Thirty-year-old Mudasir Ahmad of Anantnag district, a mechanic, has decided to waive labour charges for washing or repairing vehicles owned by Sikh customers. “If someone takes a single step of love towards you, we should reciprocate with two. That’s what humanity is. By this I want Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs to come together to strengthen the sense of brotherhood among us,” he said. On Thursday afternoon, he said, he had received half a dozen calls from Sikh customers inquiring about the discount.
The local Kashmiri press expressed its gratitude as well. Kashmir’s leading English daily, Greater Kashmir, carried a cartoon of a turban-wearing man in a boat holding out a hand to a drowning Kashmiri man.
“I was touched by their gesture,” said Suhail Naqshbandi, the cartoonist. “I kept hearing about Khalsa Aid sometime back, when they were working in Syria and other places. Honestly speaking, they have got nothing to do with Kashmir but still they took it upon themselves to offer help. That’s why I thought of showing them my version of gratitude.”
On Wednesday, a group of non-local traders and labourers in Srinagar also held protest against attacks on Kashmiris.
‘We are secular’
For Sikh leaders in Kashmir, the warmth pouring in was yet another example of communal harmony and brotherhood in the Valley. “It’s a great gesture but it’s not for the first time. During floods of 2014, it was our Kashmiri brothers who put us in mosques and provided us with food. So, a gesture like this is not rare in Kashmir,” said Jagmohan Singh Raina, chairman of the All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee. “Whenever there’s a crisis, Kashmiri Muslims distribute food and other items to minorities first. Our secularism is undisputed. People may say anything but the brotherhood and love in our Kashmir is nowhere else.”
Khalsa Aid representatives also acknowledged the gestures of local Kashmiris. “We didn’t carry out our work to expect any benefits. Serving humanity is our philosophy. But the way Kashmiri Muslims have reacted, it will send a good message of brotherhood and love,” said Gurpreet Singh.