A series of attacks has been reported against Kashmiris living in various parts of the state by mobs who are enraged over the attack on a CRPF convoy that killed 40 personnel in Pulwama on February 14. In the latest incident, a group of shawl traders from Kashmir were targeted in Kolkata on Sunday night.
“I don’t know what happened in Kashmir but some hundred people came to our house on Sunday night and asked us to leave the area as we are Kashmiris. They accused us of being terrorists and beat us up. They also threatened our landlord and asked him to throw us out. I have been coming here for the past 6-7 years but have never faced any problem. Now I am scared for my safety,” said Raees Ahmed, 22, who was beaten up along with other Kashmiri shawl traders by some unidentified youth in Muchipara area in South Kolkata on Sunday night. His friends from Kashmir living in the same house were also beaten up when they came to his rescue. Later some local residents intervened and took Raees to Behala police station.
The reason: a Facebook post he wrote four months ago. “Four months ago a local guy named Sanjit tagged me in a Facebook post where he wrote ‘I love India and I love Indian Army’. I asked him to remove the tag as back home our families would face the wrath of terrorists for writing such posts. To protect my family and myself from terrorists, I wrote ‘I hate Indian Army’ on Facebook, for which I was beaten up then. My landlord asked me to vacate the room and I’ve been staying here since then. But they came here on Sunday night and beat me up again. They asked me to chant Vande Mataram and beat up my friends as well,” said Raees.
Police have launched a probe into the incident though no arrests have been made. “The incident took place around midnight. Local people brought Raees to the police station and the next day we escorted him to his house. Now everything is peaceful,” said officer in charge of Behala Police Station, Amit Rakshit. A case has been filed under section 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint) and 448 (punishment for tress trespass) of Indian Penal Code.
About 15 Kashmiri shawl traders from Budgam district in Jammu and Kashmir have been living in Behala area for six years. However, after the Facebook incident four months ago, nine of them shifted to two rented palces in Muchipara area. “We have been staying here for six years. On Sunday night, we were sleeping when a group of around 200 people came to our house and asked for Raees. They dragged him out and started beating him up. I was also thrashed when I tried to save him. They abused us and called us terrorists. Then they took us to our friends’ place and thrashed them too,” said Firdous Ahmed Wani, a roommate of Raees.
Another shawl trader, Shabbir Ahmed Wani, said he was not sure whether he would come back to Kolkata. “Our families are concerned about our safety. We are scared. We are thankful to the police for giving us protection. But we don’t know whether they will come back again to beat us up. I am not sure whether I will come back,” said 30-year-old Sabbir whose family of wife and four children live in Kashmir.
The shawl traders come to the city around October every year and usually go back in the second week of March. Raees and others are scheduled to return on March 10.
According to the police, Kashmiris were attacked in several places of the state. A video of a Kashmiri being beaten up was circulated on social media. “The person has been identified as Javid Ahmad Khan, 27. It was shot at Taherpur in Nadia district, not in Behala. Similar incidents also took place in Basirhat and Bangaon areas in North 24 Parganas district. We are yet to get the details of them,” police said.
Sources said a suo motu case has been registered in connection with the Taherpur incident. “One shawl trader in Taherpur area in Nadia wrote something objectionable on social media for which he was severely beaten up by a group. He refused to lodge a complaint and left for Kashmir,” said a senior police officer on condition of anonymity.
These attacks come close on the heels of a Kashmiri doctor being threatened by some unidentified youths to leave the state. The doctor who have been living in Kolkata for over 20 years lodged a complaint with police saying that he has been receiving threats from various groups since Friday, a day after the Pulwama attack.
For Basanti Shaw who lives in a rented house in the neighbourhood where the traders were beaten up, Sunday was a nightmare. “I was sleeping in my house with my seven-year-old girl when some people started kicking on the door asking us to come out. They hurled abuses at us when they understood that we were not the persons they were looking for. Then they tageted the the next house. I was numb with fear and did not know what to do. I protected by child and did not open the door. Later the landlord called the police,” said Basanti while showing the damage on the door of her house.
At Raja Ram Mohan Roy Road, fish seller Biswanath Chakraborty was surprised to see a large number of people assembled in the locality. “I did not know the reason but when they entered the house next door, shouting abuses, I understood something was wrong. I could not venture out of my house,” Biswanath told The Indian Express.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah lauded the Mamata Banerjee government for taking swift action to ensure the safety of Kashmiris. “Having seen the video doing the rounds on social media of a young Kashmiri man being beaten up in Kolkata, I’ve been in touch with @derekobrienmp & @MamataOfficial regarding the matter. The culprits have been identified & strongest possible action has been assured. The young man being beaten has also been contacted by the administration & is being looked after. Am grateful for the swift response @MamataOfficial didi,” he wrote on Facebook.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday evening said the state government was giving protection to all Kashmiris living in the state. “Some people with hatred in their hearts are doing all these. They are thinking they are all Indians and we all are all terrorists. We condemn this attitute and we want the country to be united. Only one incident took place in Kolkata. We have taken strong action and we have provided them security. We have to see that this does not happen again,” Banerjee told reporters at state secretariat.
A section of parties spreading hatred: Mamata Banerjee
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday said a section of political parties and groups were indulging in rumour mongering and spreading hatred by making dangerous statements. Using her Twitter handle, she wrote, “One section of political parties/groups along with people holding constitutional positions (are) indulging in rumour mongering, spreading hatred with dangerous statements. Even journalists not spared. This is shameless politics. What levels of polluted politics have we descended to?”
The comment came after Meghalaya Governor Tathagata Roy supported a call for a boycott of everything Kashmiri. Mamata also announced Rs 5 lakh each for families of two CRPF jawans from the state — Bablu Santra and Sudip Biswas — who were killed in the Pulwama attack. She also announced a government job for one member from each of the families. ENS