As the last batch of Kashmiri students left from Chandigarh to Jammu on Thursday, Khalsa Aid brave-hearts lined up to bid adieu to the distressed lots with smiling faces. This past week saw the international humanitarian Sikh NGO—providing aid in disaster areas and civil conflict zones around the world—to attend yet another crisis cornering Kashmiris in different parts of India after the Pulwama attack.
As Dehradun became a bashing ground for Kashmiris following the Pulwama attack, many of them had to go underground. The heightened hate campaign stemmed from the likes of Bajrang Dal’s inexorable threats: “Dogs are allowed but Kashmiri Muslims are not allowed in this state.”
In this situation, where mobs were showing their revenge by coming after innocent Kashmiri students, one of them from Doda found himself caught in crisis. “We never thought situation would turn this violent in Dehradun,” Shaheen, a Kashmiri student from Doda, says. “We got a call from our college administration telling us that if possible, leave for home until the situation gets back to normal.”
The college administration had apparently given an impression that all students from Jammu and Kashmir had been asked to go home for a while. But through his Hindu friend from Jammu, Shaheen came to know that she was not asked to move. “It was meant for Muslims only,” he says.
In that alarming situation, when Muslim identity had itself become a ‘treacherous sign’ and a soft target for frenzied mobs, many landlords across Dehradun received clear instructions from the rightwing foot soldiers: “Throw Kashmiris out!”
“We wanted to move back home, but weren’t feeling safe to travel on our own,” Shaheen says.
This is where Khalsa Aid came to their rescue.
As a UK-based humanitarian relief charity, the Sikh NGO is known to support victims of natural and man-made disasters. The hate campaign against Kashmiri students had provided yet another opportunity for the welfare body to act as crisis manager. And, as Kashmiri students tell, “Khalsa didn’t disappoint.”
As Pulwama suicide attack left 49 CRPF men dead, Kashmiri students had started feeling the heat. The deadliest attack on Indian forces in Kashmir mobilised rightwing rabble rousers who made innocent Kashmiris soft targets of their ire.
Amid mob attacks, Khalsa Aid began activating its rank and file to attend Kashmiri students caught in crisis situation, which is conveniently being denied by the HRD ministry.
“Somehow we contacted Khalsa Aid from underground,” Shaheen recalls. “The Sikh NGO arranged our travel to Jammu.” And now, after twists and turns, Shaheen is now taking shelter in Jammu’s Gujjar Nagar before heading home in Doda.
“The moment we saw students tweeting and requesting for food and shelter we decided to open Gurudwaras in Chandigarh for them and coordinated with Jammu and Kashmir Students’ Organisation to reach out to many other students,” says Amarpreet Singh, managing director, Khalsa Aid. “The students were mentally disturbed; a few of them were crying and the news of Kashmiri students being attacked was only making them tense.”
Among others, the NGO’s well-known volunteer, Jeevanjyot Singh, had reached Chandigarh as soon as he got various SOS calls from students studying in different colleges in Dehradun.
“As good humans we should contemplate the situation and then act, because humanity comes first and by being aggressive and targeting innocents we’re only sending a wrong message as a nation,” says Jeevanjyot, who had earlier worked in Kashmir during different natural calamities.
So far, Khalsa Aid has evacuated around 300 students from different colleges in north India and brought them home safely.
Even today, the NGO is getting calls from Kashmiri students enrolled in different colleges across India. Although no violent incidents have been reported, the fear in the air is making them feel insecure.
Amid all this, Khalsa Aid has become the much-talked about welfare body in Kashmir at the moment. The body is being showered with immense gratitude and respect for saving and serving Kashmiris amid the ongoing hate attacks. Besides, as a token of love, Kashmiris are expressing an overwhelming response by announcing different packages, discounts and benefits for their Sikh brethren.
Somewhat similar situation, twenty years ago, had led to its foundation.
It was the 1999 Kosovan refugees crisis that had led to the foundation of Khalsa Aid. Eventually, it became the first ever cross-border international humanitarian aid organisation based on Sikh principles.
Though inspired from a strong Sikh belief, Khalsa Aid’s work is by no means restricted to the Sikh community. Since 1999, it has been able to provide crucial aid to millions of people around the world: “from victims of the Yemen Civil War to refugees landing on the shores of Greece from the Middle East and, more recently, the Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar seeking refuge in Bangladesh; to earthquake, flood and hurricane-stricken areas in Nepal, Australia, and the Caribbean.”
Back home, many Kashmiri students are now recounting the lifesaving role of Khalsa Aid with a sense of great gratitude.
Many turned to social media to appreciate the NGO’s efforts to keep the spirit of humanity and communal harmony alive amid fringe hate.
“We just took one single step to restore faith in humanity but the response from Kashmir was 100 times bigger,” Amarpreet Singh expresses happiness and feels overwhelmed after Kashmiris showered love and respect for their Sikh community.