August 26, 2009 3:49:15 am
In the first such incident in the Valley since the decline of militancy started two years ago,masked gunmen waylaid the principal of a North Kashmir college,destroyed his car,and gave him a three-day ultimatum to ensure the 3,000 girl students in his institution began wearing the hijab.
The principal,Muhammad Ashraf,a respected Islamic scholar,told The Indian Express today that he would not be cowed by the threat and would continue to do his work at the college.
Ashraf said seven men stopped his car in which he was riding with his son and a local acquaintance near his village at Dangiwacha,and commandeered the vehicle over a dirt track into a thicket of bushes. They wore masks and dark glasses and were heavily armed with Kalashnikovs,pistols and grenades, Ashraf said.
According to the principal,the men appeared to know a lot about him: that he was a specialist on Sayyid Qutb the Egyptian Islamist political theorist and leading intellectual of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 50s and 60s who is thought to be one of the philosophical progenitors of Al Qaeda and that he had been trying to enforce discipline in his college.
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You have taken some really good steps in the college like banning smoking and cellphones. Now,you must do something that we want you to do. Enforce an Islamic dress code for girl students, Ashraf said the men told him. They gave him three days to carry out their diktat,failing which they would act,they said.
Ashrafs college,Degree College,Sopore,has around 7,000 students on its rolls,3,000 of whom are girls. It is among the largest colleges in the state.
They told me that they had picked me to send a message to all other schools and colleges in the Valley in which girls study, Ashraf said.
Perhaps to rattle the principal and send the message that they meant business,the gunmen set his vehicle on fire. Ashraf and his companions were released after about two hours in captivity.
The Dangiwacha police have filed a case,and are looking at all angles,including one unrelated to militancy. We are exploring the possible dimension of college rivalry, said a senior officer who did not want to be named.
No militant outfit has claimed responsibility for the incident. The separatists too have been silent,and are perhaps trying to ascertain if militant groups were involved.
Senior Superintendent of Police Viplav Kumar said a hunt was on for the gunmen. We are trying our best. Hopefully,we will crack the case soon, he said.
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