Deoband: About 150 km away from the national capital, a 23-year-old was busy packing his bags Monday. He had to catch a bus to Chandigarh and then head to Jammu to finally catch a ride back home to Tral in Kashmir.
The young Kashmiri man had been staying in Uttar Pradesh’s Deoband for almost two years. Now, he has been asked to vacate citing “security concerns”.
“It is better to leave than to get picked up and labeled a terrorist,” said the student on condition of anonymity.
The 23-year-old is not the only one who is moving out of Deoband, following the arrest of two alleged Jaish-e-Mohammed militants from the town last week for their involvement in the Pulwama attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel. Several others have also been asked to leave for their own safety.
“We fear for our lives and our parents are concerned. My mother cries over the phone each night,” said another Kashmiri student who didn’t wish to be named.
The fears arose after Haris Saeed, the local councillor from Samajwadi Party who also heads the association of hostel owners in Deoband, recently held a meeting with all building owners who rent rooms to students and told them to not rent out to Kashmiri students.
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“Deoband is a school of thought and we do not want its name to get spoilt. Following the arrest of two Kashmiris from Naaz Manzil, no one will now give rooms to any Kashmiri students,” said Saeed.
“They have been asked to avoid renting rooms out to them,” he added.
“It is not that we have anything against the Kashmiris but no one wants to take that risk. What if the agencies start raiding other hostels as well? We do not want to be identified with someone who harbours terrorists or terrorism. The other students are also scared as they think they may also be rounded up in the process.”
‘Concerned about security’
Deoband is dotted with double-storey hostels, with 8-10 rooms on each floor. Builders usually charge between Rs 1,500 and 2,000 per month for these rooms.
Each room is usually occupied by at least three persons — mostly students or professionals. These hostels also provide occupants with water, electricity and a common kitchen to cook their meals. The washrooms too are shared.
Students staying in these hostels are mainly the ones preparing for an entrance exam for admission in Darul-Uloom, a religious educational institution in the city.
While a considerable number of students belong to Jammu and Kashmir, many come from Bihar, Assam, Azamgarh (UP) and Bangladesh too. The ones who get admission in the seminary shift to the hostel inside the campus while others stay out and prepare again for the entrance exams.
“We have been staying here studying together for the past 18 months but now the situation is such that all the Kashmiri fellows are leaving. They have been asked to vacate and also their parents are concerned about their security, so they want them back home,” said a 23-year-old from Azamgarh who didn’t wish to be named.
‘Won’t get a room in Deoband now’
A building owner who runs a hostel said that they have been instructed to ask Kashmiri students to leave to avoid “unnecessary trouble”.
“We give them all facilities like a kitchen, electricity and water for a very nominal charge. Since these occupants share the rent, it is not more than Rs 500 per person for a month,” said the owner on condition of anonymity.
“We are in this service so that these students can study and make something of themselves. We are hardly making a profit. But when something like these arrests happen, we have to be careful,” said the building owner. “Why would we want to give our space to Kashmiris now and get into unnecessary trouble?”
He added that there are clear instructions to not lend any room to any Kashmiri. “I am saying it with certainty that they will not find a room anywhere in Deoband now. It is also good for their own safety that they return home and stay there at least till the situation gets back to normal,” he added.
Most Kashmiri students are first heading to Chandigarh in groups and then taking a bus to Jammu. The buses have been arranged by members of a Gurudwara committee in Chandigarh, said the students.
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