That students from the Valley had to lock themselves inside a hostel room in Dehradun on Sunday to protect themselves from a mob that had gathered outside, and that this is not the only incident of Kashmiri students feeling vulnerable, in Dehradun and elsewhere, after the Pulwama terror attack, is a shame. It is a reproach to the much touted idea of India. After all, what binds Kashmir to India is not military force or merely a political pact made decades ago. It is, among other things, the unremarkable and unselfconscious movement of people of J&K — students and those in pursuit of jobs, better opportunities or larger vistas — to other states. The idea of India is made up of, it is strengthened by, the possibility that they can find a home anywhere in this country, away from home. If that idea should become besieged or threatened by mobs wielding patriotism as a weapon against India’s own, it would be the terrible success that the Pulwama suicide bomber aimed for. What else is the terror project, after all, but the bid to maximise the terror fallout.
The all-party meeting convened by Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday reassuringly brought together the political leadership behind a message of sobriety and restraint. There was no divisive or provocative rhetoric. There was condemnation of terror “in all forms”, a vow to speak in “one voice” to fight the challenge. There were expressions of concern that the attack may lead to the harassment and targeting of Kashmiri students, and appeals to the government to ensure the safety of Kashmiris wherever they are in the country and to prevent communal polarisation ahead of polls. The Union government did well to immediately issue an advisory asking all states and Union Territories to provide security to Kashmiris and maintain the peace. More needs to be done. Those in positions of power and responsibility who are trying to blame the victim must also be advised restraint — like the Uttarakhand minister, Madan Kaushik, who, instead of assuring safety to the besieged students from the mob in his state, told this paper that “Kashmiri students should refrain from making anti-national comments in social media… (that) are fuelling the public against them”. This is not the time to find a reason to justify the lathi-brandishing mob or to allow it to set patriotism tests for others.
This is a delicate moment. The mob that targets Kashmiri students must be stopped before it becomes more crazed, enlarges its target. As the government mulls its options, it is the duty of the administration and all political and civil society leadership to ensure that calm is maintained. Much is at stake, and on test.