Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily
DEHRADUN — Nasir Khuehami and his four associates were unloading sacks of ration from the load carrier auto when a crowd of locals surrounded them inquiring about their identity. Upon learning that they were Kashmiris, they asked the boys to wind up.
Around 70 Kashmiri students, including a dozen girls, had assembled at the spot – MDDA colony near ISBT – in Dehradun city on Sunday (August 25) morning. They had come to collect food supplies brought by volunteers of a group of Kashmiri students.
When the crowd came to know that the students were from Kashmir, they got “angry” and started hurling abuses at the volunteers and students. “Aap Kashimiri atankwadi ho (You are terrorists from Kashmir),” the crowd shouted at the volunteers and alleged that the bags they were carrying are full of AK-47 guns and grenades. They told the volunteers to stop distributing arms and ammunition.
The volunteers had informed the Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) about their activities beforehand, Khuehami said. Media people had turned up there to cover the humanitarian activities of the students.
When Khuehami, who led the group, tried to reason with the crowd, they responded by arguing about the abrogation of Article 370.
“They sought to know whether or not we considered the move as good for us. Using our discretion, we desisted from engaging involving ourselves in argument over political issues,” Khuehami said. “We did not want to lose focus on our voluntary work.”
The “atrocious siege” in Kashmir has entered 21st day. Telecom and internet services continue to remain suspended as restrictions. Kashmiri students enrolled with colleges across India are facing financial crisis due to their inability to contact their families back home. Considering the difficulties faced by their compatriots, many students volunteered to join Khuehami to raise funds and provide succor to needy students.
A police party arrived at the site even as the unruly mob continued to create nuisance on the road annoying the volunteers without any reason. Upon the arrival of the police on the scene, they started vociferously demanding the arrest of the Kashmiris students.
Eventually succumbing to the pressure of their tormentors’ demand to arrest the students, Haroon, one of the volunteers, said the police team took them to a nearby police station in a van. Seeing this, many students, especially girls, felt insecure and left the spot without collecting their share of relief materials.
At the police station, Khuehami made a phone call to his friend, who is an influential youth activist. The friend in turn called the city police chief and some other officials for their rescue and thus the situation could be diffused. Thereafter, the volunteers could be able to distribute packets of rice, sugar, salt, pulses, spices, powdered milk and oil among around 40 students living there.
Nasir Khuehami, 22, is a journalism student of the DAV College in Dehradun city. He hails from Bandipore district of Kashmir Valley and is staying in the city for the past four years. He was at his home on the fateful night of August 4 when telecom and Internet services were suspended in a buildup to the total clampdown in the state. But before that, Khuehami and his volunteers set up a virtual control room and dropped emergency contact numbers in WhatsApp groups and social media pages asking Kashmiri students to “contact in case of emergency”.
For the next four days, Khuehami was confined to his home due to clampdown imposed on the state. He was “restless and worried about the condition of students outside Kashmir”. On August 10, he flew to Delhi from Srinagar. The same day, he travelled to Dehradun from Delhi and stayed there for a couple of days.
During his interactions with the students in Dehradun, Khuehami found they had not been able to communicate with their families and many of them were running out of cash. He came across a student who was suffering from acute dengue and was unable to get proper healthcare. Recounting the predicament of the fellow student, Khuehami said, “He had been admitted in a government hospital where his condition worsened. But he could not afford Rs 30,000 needed for his treatment in a private hospital.”
The group lacked adequate fund to pay for the ailing student and tried raise the amount locally without success. At this point, Khuehami wrote a Facebook post making an appeal for donations to help the ailing student which “generated a massive response”.
He received calls from Kashimri expats living in Dubai, Kuwait, Korea, Australia, etc. Many of them express their willingness to donate. According to Khuehami, a Kashmiri woman from Australia donated Rs 30,000 in one go. “Within a day, we were able to raise more than we needed,” he said. The student was treated at a prominent private hospital and was discharged after spending a couple of days in the hospital.
Donations continue to pour in to this day. The group has maintained a bank account and uses social media to reach out to donors. “We have so far raised fund of over 1.5 lac,” Khuehami disclosed.
The group gives Rs 1000 to each needy student apart from packs of essentials like rice, sugar and spices. “In case of an ailing student, we give up to Rs 5000 or as per his/her requirement,” he informed.
In one instance Khuehami shared with Caravan Daily the group gave Rs 8000 in cash to a Kashmiri studying in Bengaluru, Karnataka. “He was badly in need of money to foot his medical bills as he was under treatment in Intensive Care Unit (ICU).”
Besides, the group has provided money for the air tickets of many a student who had to go to their homes.
The monetary help is provided after “proper investigation” of each case. Khuehami claimed that the group sometimes gets “false calls”. He said that some students sought money but upon enquiry “it was revealed they were not in need”.
The group has volunteers spread across many cities of India but currently they are facing a “dearth of workers” to carry out the task. Most of them are currently on summer vacation at home in Kashmir.
Khuehami complained that due to communication blockade in Kashmir they have not been able to reach out to their volunteers. To overcome the obstacle, the group has teamed up with Khalsa Aid, a famous organisation run by the volunteers of Sikh community. “Khalsa people have provided us support in all possible ways and we are highly obliged to them,” said Haroon.
In the past two weeks, Nasir Khuehami has travelled to Chandigarh and some districts of Haryana. During these visits, he got apprised about the issues of students and has tried to resolve these.
Apart from providing food and cash, the group has become a voice for Kashmiri students. In Amritsar, two Kashmiri girls were being denied the permission to appear for their semester exams for not clearing off their fee. But the timely intervention of the group ensured that such an eventuality does not arise. “We contacted Punjab government and took up the matter with an official close to Chief Minister. He saw to it that the college allowed the girls to sit in the exams,” Khuehami recounted.