In Depth

How Bathindi’s Mecca Masjid became a safe haven for distressed Kashmiris in Jammu

After recent arson attacks in Jammu, Kashmiris had found shelter and solace in the Bathindi area of Jammu, where the local mosque committee with the support of local Hindus and Sikhs helped thousands of Kashmiris amid the current crisis.

Suddenly as Jammu became a “cauldron of chaos” following the February 14 Pulwama attack, that left 49 CRPF men dead on the highway, extremist Hindu elements began sprouting their heads fast to shatter the winter capital’s calm face. At the receiving end of the revenge driven rage, Kashmiris found themselves almost napping in Jammu.

With the dawn of February 15, arson attacks had begun. On the call of Jammu trade chamber, supported by National Conference, life came to a standstill for the day in protest against the deadliest suicide attack on Indian forces in Kashmir since 1989 when insurgency started in the valley.

Amid seething shutdown, attacks on Kashmiris—working and studying across Jammu—started surfacing. Even as curfew was imposed as a ‘preventive measure’ in the province, the number of attacks on students, traders, government employees and other Kashmiris only mounted.

Soon Kashmiris living in Janipur, Top Sherkhan and other areas conveyed threats back home. With sundown, many of them eventually started moving towards the Muslim majority Bathindi area in Jammu, where they found hope amid despair.

People inside the Mecca Masjid in Bathindi area of Jammu. (FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid).

At Bathindi, the current situation is the post-2014 flood redux: anxious faces, active volunteers and community kitchens. The overwhelming sight offers the glimpse of the collective societal semblance put up to brave the trying times.

Many Kashmiris are currently staying inside a local mosque Mecca Masjid — the “god’s home”, which sheltered thousands of distressed Kashmiris since February 15.

These days, apart from the regular prayers, people pray for peace in Jammu at Mecca Masjid. Moist eyes and cupped hands beseech for a divine intervention in restoring calm. In small groups, Kashmiri women sit to talk. Men walk, accessing the prevailing situation. It’s a different Kashmiri gathering — neither like the sad funeral assemblies back home, nor like happy wedding occasions.

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These men and women along with their weeping children arrived here amid attacks. Once the footfall grew, the mosque committee held an emergency meeting and decided to provide space and food for the stranded Kashmiris.

“Upon their arrival, many of these family members broke down over the terrible circumstances they faced,” says Mohammad Yaseen, a Jammu-based Physiotherapy student.

Many of them had come from Trikuta Nagar area and Greater Kailash—where, they “were attacked with stones”. Scores of them had moved from one place to another, hungry and troubled, before taking a refuge in the mosque.

Community kitchen of Mecca Masjid. (FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid).

Yaseen, speaking as Mecca Masjid’s spokesperson, recalls an extremely volatile situation when Kashmiris started taking shelter inside the mosque premises. “Our immediate priority was to provide them with food, blankets, tea, medicine and anything we could afford,” he says. “Later, we arranged bus services to send them home.”

Since then, the community has arranged hundreds of vehicles for ferrying Kashmiris back home, Yaseen says. “Many of them would leave at night with police protection, till they reached safer spots.”

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To help the Mecca Masjid community deal with the crisis situation, many local Hindus and Sikhs had also chipped in with their timely contributions. “Even their women had come to help my team,” Yaseen asserts.

But while Jammu is still grappling with curfew, the committee has already served at least twenty thousand Kashmiris including those who had come from an Ajmer Sharief trip.

“They were coming back from Ajmer Dargah when at Kathua they were stopped and pushed back,” Yaseen says. “The students rusticated from the colleges also come via the same roads. They also came here, before they were sent home.”

Presently, more than three thousand Kashmiri are staying in and around Bathindi’s Mecca Masjid.

A scene inside the Mecca Masjid. (FPK Photo/Afshan Rashid)

“We’re extremely thankful to the mosque committee,” says Mushtaq, a Srinagar-based trader, whose daughter and granddaughter are presently staying inside the mosque. “The way they’ve arranged Langars and the way they’re taking care of them is the sign that humanity is still alive there.”

Some miscreants, Yaseen continues, want to create communal tension in Jammu before elections. “It was a militant attack, for which Kashmiris should not be targeted. Not all people are the same. Likewise, some non-Muslims attacked Kashmiris but majority of them are helping.”

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But the recent mob created situation in Jammu was indeed menacing, says the president of Mecca Masjid.

“It’s good that better sense has prevailed,” he says. “We as a Muslim minority community of Jammu condemn what happens in Lethapora Pulwama because at the end we’re losing human lives. We also express deep sorrow to those Kashmiris who suffered losses in Jammu. But we are happy that Bathindi lived by the example of communal harmony during these trying times.”

 

 Afshan Rashid contributed to this story.

 

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