Junaid Rather, a 20-year-old boy from Awaneera, Shopian district, rescued 75 Kashmiri students when mobs were reportedly raiding almost every college and university hostel in Dehradun, targeting Kashmiri students to ‘avenge’ the deadly Pulwama attack on CRPF personnel that took place on February 14.
Junaid, who hails from a middle-class family, joined Dev Bhoomi College for BTech in Civil Engineering at Navgaon Manduwala, Dehradun, after his class XII.
On February 14, like any other day, Junaid was at his college between 9 am and 3:30 pm. After college hours, he returned to his rented accommodation at Bahuwala, which is around 2 km away from his college campus.
When he took out his phone to check messages, he received the news update of the Pulwama attack in which at least 40 CRPF men were killed and many others were injured. In a few hours, he saw a status update on WhatsApp where the local students were demanding that Kashmiri people be sent back to their home state. There were provocative updates that were asking people to kick Kashmiris out of the colleges and universities. “I panicked as I read it,” confesses Junaid. “My classmates and college friends too had said such things which got me really worried. Not for just about myself, but also for fellow Kashmiris.”
He spent the whole night worrying, and pondering the situation. Next day, at the crack of dawn, Junaid started receiving calls from his friends who were living in the college hostel. “I was informed that people were throwing stones at their windows, and were shouting Kashmiri Wapas Jao (Kashmiri, Go Back),” he recollects.
Even though he was extremely scared, Junaid decided to act quickly in a bid to help the students, he says. He created a group on WhatsApp, and added all the Kashmiri students from his college to the group. It enabled them to be able to communicate and report incidents, and be apprised of the threats. “Within no time, I had received hundreds of messages from people complaining about such incidents,” says Junaid.
It was a Friday when most of the Kashmiri Muslim students usually join the congregational prayers. In the afternoon, the students managed to reach the local mosque, Bahuwala Masjid, which is just 300 metres away from Junaid’s apartment.
“Once I stepped out, I looked around to check whether it’s safe or not, and walked towards the mosque taking every step with caution,” he says.
After reaching the mosque, while offering prayers, Junaid could hear people gathered outside the mosque, chanting ‘Kashmiri Wapas Jao’, and ‘Bharat Mai Rehna Hoga Wandey Mataram Kehna Hoga’. “Our blood ran cold as we heard the mob outside,” he remembers.
Non-Kashmiri people, who were praying at the mosque at that time, escorted the Kashmiri students out once the mob moved a little away. “They gathered all of us, and we were asked to head towards my room because it was nearby,” says Junaid.
After spending a few hours at Junaid’s three-room flat, a group of students decided to go to their rented apartments. A few among them, who were staying a bit far, decided to stay with Junaid. Completely drenched in the heavy rainfall, all of them slept in one room. “There was no food, but there was at least a sense of security,” says Junaid.
Junaid’s phone had turned into a ‘grievance centre’ during the crisis. Almost all the Kashmiri students from the Dehradun district kept seeking help, and sent messages to the group. He says, “I must have received more than 500 calls. I had to sit next to an electric socket to keep my phone charged throughout the night."
Also read: Kashmiris Reel Under Impact of Pulwama Terror Attack, Violence in Jammu
At around 10 pm on Friday, one of his friends, Syed Mujtaba, a resident of Pulwama, called him and whispered, “We are stuck in a mango orchard just behind our Rangeen Lal hostel. We were eight people in the group, we lost one.” Junaid says that Mujtaba and his group had used the hostel’s back exit when a mob reportedly pelted stones at the hostel, and hurled abuses.
Omar from Northern Kashmir, who had got separated from the group, too managed to call Junaid, and informed him that he had taken shelter in a marriage hall near the hostel, and sought his help.
Junaid asked Mujtaba to call the police. A few policemen escorted his group to the hostel where they received protection for the night. In the wee hours of Saturday, Mujtaba and his other two friends managed to reach the airport, and flew out of the city. Rest of the group booked a cab, and left the city.
Meanwhile, Junaid too was looking for an escape, but the streets were full of mobs. He contacted many MLAs of J&K, Deputy Mayor of Srinagar Municipal Corporation Sheikh Imran. “All of them promised to help, but the politicians are famous for breaking their promises, and they lived up to that reputation,” says Junaid.
He kept trying to contact every high and low-rank officer, and politicians from Kashmir, but no one came to his rescue.
On the same day, in one of the private hostels, for female students, called The Nest, many Kashmiri girls were trapped, when the mobs reportedly attacked the hostel.
One of Junaid’s friends, who was staying with him, received a call from a girl from the same hostel, asking for help. This left everyone in the room feeling even more depressed, he says. Junaid called the police, and sought their help. Finally, police arriatd to the spot, and succeeded in pushing the mob away.
In the evening, Junaid’s landlord, Mohammad Ali, a 60-year old man, came to him, and asked Junaid to get ready as per the orders of the police. He says, “Police had already prepared a safe location for us, and a few of them reached the flat.” All of them managed to carry only a backpack, and left rest of the things behind.
At least 35 students, who had taken a shelter in Bahuwala, gathered at a spot from where they were packed in cars, and were taken to the Muslim majority area of Rampur Selaqui which is almost 9 km away from Bahuwala.
After repeated calls from students of three colleges, namely Babaa Farid Group of Institutions, Alpine, Dolphin PG Institute from Sidduwalla area of Dehradun district, Junaid decided to rescue them, he says. The students were reportedly being attacked by a mob.
At around 7:30 pm, Junaid was introduced to a man known as Rashid Pehalwan. “Rashid Bhai, I need two-three vehicles,” said Junaid. Rashid readily agreed to provide all the help he could offer. Immediately, Junaid sent a message in the group, asking everyone to share their location, and left with three cabs.
In the first trip, he rescued around 12 students, who had asked Junaid to reach Sidduwala fuel pump station. In half an hour, Junaid returned to the safe house. Making multiple trips, he managed to rescue around 40 students.
“Everyone was hugging me, and tears were rolling down their eyes. Rashid Bhai took responsibility of arranging food and shelter for all of the rescued students. However, due to the threat of the mobs, no one was able to sleep peacefully,” says Junaid. Next morning, he contacted every possible travel agency and their agents to get vehicles to reach Jammu. Everyone refused by giving different excuses, he says.
He kept trying till 3 pm. By this time, the situation in Dehradun and in other states had become worse for the Kashmiri Muslims.
As a last resort then, he called his friend Sameer* (name changed) who is well-informed about the city. He asked Sameer to book 14 cabs. Each cab charged between Rs 11,000 and 13,000. Everyone agreed to share the amount, and soon, they were able to leave for Jammu by stategically choosing the route to avoid mobs.
On Monday morning, the cars reached Jammu, where Junaid and other students joined the Kashmiri Muslims who were harassed—some had been even thrashed by the mobs—in different parts of Jammu. All of them were now waiting for the drive to Kashmir.
Junaid and his friends arranged vehicles for their group of 75, and left for the Valley. After paying money to the cab drivers of Dehradun, most of the students were running low on funds.
They decided to cover half of the distance till Banihal via buses and tempo vehicles, and from there, they would use the local train service. Students got down at their respective stations. Junaid got off at Bijbehara station as he was bid a farewell by a group of thankful fellow Kashmiris.
Also read: Kashmir: 49 CRPF Personnel Killed in IED Blast in Pulwama