For Nasir Khuehmi, 21, of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district, Dehradun was like a second home. He liked the climate, the people and their hospitality. “People have been good to us and I never felt homesick,” says Nasir, a journalism student at the HNB Garhwal Central University for the past four years. The outspoken Nasir had started taking interest in Dehradun’s social life. “I helped organise programmes for drug deaddiction, women’s safety etc,” he says, smiling. “I never felt like an alien.” This changed after the February 14 suicide attack in Pulwama. Kashmiri students across India felt the repercussions almost immediately. Dehradun saw the worst of it. “I never thought I would have to see posters outside shops saying, ‘Dogs are allowed, but not Kashmiris’,” says Nasir. Fear gripped Kashmiri students in the city after 12 from among them were thrashed by mobs.
Nasir was at home in Bandipora when he heard about fellow students going into hiding. Next day, he left for Dehradun with a few friends. “We created a WhatsApp help group and received 1,700 calls over the next three days, all seeking help as right-wing elements were hounding them,” he says. “Girls were crying for help, it made my heart sink. That day I realised what it means to be a Kashmiri outside Kashmir.”
Nasir says the police were helpful when he and his friends sought their assistance for reaching different areas to evacuate Kashmiri students and businessmen. “It was impossible to rescue students without the support that the Dehradun SSP provided,” he says.
Worried about him, Nasir’s parents called him many times. “I would always tell them I am in Srinagar, though I was in Dehradun,” he says. “The trouble in going back is that we have to be among those who didn’t waste a minute to attack us, and those who created an atmosphere against us that led to the attacks.... But we have no other choice.”