Extremism

When Basant Rath ‘came to the rescue’ of Kashmiri students in Dehradun

mob trying to enter one of the colleges in Dehradun. (Pic: Indian Express)

After violent mobs chased them lately in Dehradun, a group of Kashmiri students had to run for their lives. When they again met, scared and gasping, they “cried like babies”, before police escorted them back to their ransacked hostel rooms where they came to know about the timely ‘lifesaving’ intervention from Odisha’s ‘Kangri Carrier’.

With a loud thud, Ishfaq was now on the other side of the 6-foot wall. The sun had set, making way for the rain clouds; it had now also started drizzling. Panting, Ishfaq desperately waited for his friend Abid, who, in his slippers, had been struggling to get that safe-grip while climbing from the other end. He couldn’t waste any time as there were six more in the line.

As Ishfaq waited for Abid, he found himself in the middle of a narrow lane – which was the back-passage of a residential colony. It was dark. All he could spot around him were the tall residential houses, blocking away every scope of light to pass-through.

Somehow, Abid made through, and one by one, followed six others. As they couldn’t speak, their eyes were the only source of communication; the angry mob in Dehradun had been on a look for the eight Kashmiri students, missing from their hostel-rooms from the past three hours.

Abid looked at Ishfaq, who pointed his finger towards the right, and there they went: running endlessly in the dark, in-between the back-walls of the residential houses – which had all its gates closed for these eight sprinters.

For the next ten minutes, they ran continuously only to stop at a dead-end.

It was so dark that they were not even able to see each other’s face, but, only silhouettes. Ishfaq made the count and realised one among them was missing. Who, they couldn’t ascertain.

About 15 minutes later, Ishfaq heard the sound of a man running, who took a halt just a few meters away from where the group was hiding, walked a few steps, and continued running again.

Ishfaq says: “I thought he was Abid, but I was so scared to even move a little.”

Maybe yes, he was Abid – who was now separated from the group, still making his way out.

Abid had ended up in the middle of a vast mango-orchard. “It was like a jungle,” he describes.

A picture allegedly from Prem Nagar area of Dehradun, which went viral on social media.

It was February 14, just a few hours past the deadly suicide attack by Jaish-e-Mohammad’s local recruit, claiming the lives of 49 CRPF men in south Kashmir’s Pulwama. The entire mainland in India had been burning in rage, seeking #Revenge against Pakistan, as Kashmiris outside the valley slowly became soft-targets.

The attack had taken place at around 3:30 in the afternoon.

While reports on targeted harassment on Kashmiris in places like Delhi, Chandigarh, Bihar and Jammu had already started surfacing on social media, Dehradun, too, was bracing up for probably its first such incident – with Ishfaq, Abid and six other Kashmiri students of DBIT college becoming the initial targets.

Ishfaq narrates: “Our hostel is at a distance of three kilometers from our college. At around 4:00 pm, suddenly, the local residents around us gathered outside our hostel and started demanding for us to leave the place right away. With nowhere to go, we called our college chairman Sanjay Bansal and explained the ordeal.”

Bansal, instead of supporting, Ishfaq adds – replied: “Tum Kashmiri isi laayak ho…bhukto ab (You Kashmiris deserve this…now face the heat).”

“I was speechless,” Ishfaq recalls. “I told him: ‘If you can’t support, at least don’t add to our misery!’ Anyway, I cut the phone and called my landlord, who was kind enough to keep us in his own residence. With only our mobile-phones and important documents, we left our room and were at our landlord’s place. But, we still did not find ourselves safe.”

At around 6:30 in the evening, two hours later, Ishfaq’s fear came alive: the mob had found out their location. Demanding the landlord to hand over the students, they chanted threatening slogans: “Kashmiriyo ko zinda jalaao”, “Bharat maata ki jai”.

And so, the students, from the back of the residence – one by one – jumped the six-ft wall and ran for their lives.

A mob had surrounded around 15-20 Kashmiri girls in Dehradun demanding that they should be thrown out.

An hour had passed by since Ishfaq and six others had confined themselves under a small window-roof. “We would have stayed there the entire night,” he says, “Had the woman inside the room not spotted us.”

From the top of her voice, Ishfaq says, she shouted: “Niklo yahaa se (Run away from here).”

And there they were. Once again running towards nowhere, from the angry mob that could have done anything – “even beat us to death” – he says.

Sitting under a mango tree and separated from his friends, Abid had lost all the hope of staying alive. He dialed an emotional phone-call to his writer friend.

He recalls the conversation:

“Dear friend, I’m all alone and don’t see any chances of me surviving today. If I’ve done any wrong to you, please, forgive me! I’ve a request, if I die, please go to my family and give them my love and also apologise on my behalf. Aur yaar tu jo kitaab likhega, ussme mera bhi zikr karna – tera ek dosst aisa bhi tha.

The conversation had given it all away. Abid had lost all hope, but his friend was still hoping against hope. He motivated him not to give up, and that they both have together dreamt of becoming “the big-guns in this big-big world”.

As the phone call ended, Abid, with all the little hope, marched his way out of the “jungle”. He came across a marriage-hall that became his temporary shelter. A few minutes later, he got a call from a Kashmiri named Junaid, who promised Abid to rescue him on a motorcycle in the next five minutes. But even as half an hour passed by, no help came.

Meanwhile, the Uttarakhand Police had been continuously contacting Abid. “But I really feared them. I thought maybe they would hand me over to the mob, who knows?”

“A police officer with Sriyal as his last name,” Abid stresses, “asked me to come outside a nearby Union Bank.”

With no option left, Abid started walking by the orchard from where he could easily spot the main road. He had decided to take the “risk” and reach the spot – where the police officer had asked him to come.

While slowly walking through the field, he spotted seven men sitting under the tree. He thought maybe they were his friends. “Kya huwa (What happened)?” he shouted, and all the seven turned their backs. They were indeed his friends.

“We all hugged each other and cried like babies,” Ishfaq says. “It was very emotional.”

Reunited, Abid revealed the plan to everyone, and they all together started walking towards the spot. Just a few meters away, they could see a car painted in black, which just didn’t look that of the police.

“Regardless,” Abid continues, “we had to do this. One of us went near the car.”

And out of the car, stepped a police officer.

Abid narrates: “He called all of us, and then clicked our group picture. He sent the photograph to someone and in no time, more police vans reached the spot.”

Recalling what the officer said, Abid quotes: “Don’t worry, I will ensure your safety in such a way that when you will go back to Kashmir, you will narrate how Uttarakhand police stood by each one of you. Now put a smile on that face, and let’s go home!”

The police escorted the students to their hostel, where four of their men, patrolled outside for the entire night.

At 1:30 in the night when Abid, Ishfaq and the rest of the students came back to their respective rooms, they saw it was ransacked by the unruly mob.

Surprisingly, the students got to know that an officer posted in Kashmir had a huge role to play in saving their lives.

“Don’t worry, you will also be safely escorted to the Airport by morning,” Abid recalls the officer telling him on a phone-call at around 2:00 in the night. He, Abid says, happened to be the Kangri carrier: Basant Rath.

Basant Rath.

Rath, Abid says, had made some exhaustive phone calls to his IPS colleagues posted in Dehradun which apparently translated into swift police action.

“Kashmiris are my brothers,” Basant responded when asked how he managed to avert the deadly situation. “I’ve not done any favour for my brothers. Anything for them.”

Then, around 10 in the morning, the students reached Dehradun airport and booked the next flight to Delhi. They are now safe, but, still in the process of recovering from the horrors of February 14.

“It was very scary. Now we just can’t wait to be home,” Abid says, as the 52-minute phone-call with this reporter, concludes.

 

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