By the morning of March 7, violent videos from Lucknow had spread across the country on social media. They repeated a sickening pattern seen over the last month: Kashmiris being surrounded by a mob, beaten and insulted. Ever since the suicide bomb attack on Central Reserve Police Force personnel in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14, mobs across cities in India have unleashed a vengeful fury on Kashmiris studying or working there.
This week’s video suggested another chilling trend. The attackers belonged to a rightwing group called the Vishwa Hindu Dal. They were clad in bright saffron as they attacked and harangued the Kashmiri dry fruit sellers on the street in Lucknow. Members of the group also posted videos of the attack on social media with some pride. If the initial attacks had been mob fury, they have now hardened into a political agenda of Hindu rightwing groups.
Even more alarming is the silence from those in government. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath is yet to condemn the attack. Instead, a day after the incident took place, several newspapers had full page advertisements, a saffron-clad Adityanath beaming out of them, boasting of the Uttar Pradesh government’s several achievements, including a “zero tolerance policy” towards crime.
But the silence travels right up to the party’s central leadership. Although Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted his condemnation of the attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is yet to speak. When the rash of attacks broke out after Pulwama, there was a similar lag between event and response. In the immediate aftermath of Pulwama, Modi told a gathering of people, “I would like to say that the fire that is raging in your bosoms is in my heart as well.”
Was that tacit consent to the mob attacks proliferating around the country? It was only after a week, when the initial burst of fury had been spent and hundreds of Kashmiris had fled, that Modi clarified: such incidents “should not happen”, “our fight is for Kashmir, not against Kashmiri, not against Kashmiris”. Missing in his speech was round condemnation of those who had been rabble rousing, calling for attacks and rounding up mobs.
Such condemnation is urgently needed as India enters election season and Pulwama is regularly invoked in rallies, shorthand for a jingoism that drives attacks on Kashmiris. Through decades of conflict, while the Valley was convulsed by bloodshed, hundreds of Kashmiris found refuge in cities across India, picking up the pieces of shattered lives.
In universities, offices and crafts exhibitions, in winters marked by the arrival of Kashmiri shawl and fruit merchants, friendships were forged despite the fraught politics. These assaults threaten to strike at the very heart of those everyday ties. They reinforce a bitter and growing conviction among many Kashmiris that while the Indian state calls Kashmir an “integral part” of the country, it would like to secure the territory without the people who live there.