In Depth

Running from the mob towards the deadly highway: ‘The most difficult journey of our lives’

Hours after the Pulwama blast left 49 CRPF men dead, Kashmiris in Jammu began facing the mob frenzy and hate. To escape the tricky situation, eight Kashmiri students had decided to ride back home. Four eventually returned to Jammu, and the rest undertook the ‘most difficult’ journey of their lives.

When two shadowy figures appeared in a rented accommodation of Kashmiri students in Jammu’s RS Pora, an “ill intent” surfaced at once. By daybreak, eight Kashmiri students had kick-started their bikes to return home amid curfew and mob.

Even as their college administration assured them of safety, they didn’t want to take any chances—given how the winter capital had fared for snowbirds of the valley, most of whom know Jammu as their winter home.

The boys first approached a local petrol pump to fill their tanks. “Sorry, Army has barred us from providing petrol to anyone,” they were told.

Then, one of them dialled a number of their Muslim friend in Jammu. He shortly brought petrol in a plastic can. They distributed it among their four bikes, before embarking on the most difficult journey of their lives.

“We were paranoid of making it to home,” Tajamul Ahmad, one of the eight students, hailing from Awantipora, now recalls the nerve-jangled time. “We knew we were up against a multi-pronged threat — mob, the landslides, the slippery road, the cold, or anything else that the deadly highway had to offer.”

Tajamul with his friend while on their way back home.

The four bikes ferrying eight students maintained a swift speed on the road. It was one of those times when being extra careful was the need of the hour and a little hope of survival, too.

The boys mainly avoided the main road, where irked protesters—armed with sticks and hockey—were standing guard. To avoid confrontation and possible lynching, the boy bikers chose by-lanes and maintained unassuming stances throughout.

The journey, however, never ceased to be niggling. The mob had left a trail of anger on many parts of the tense thoroughfare.

“There were burning tyres on roads,” Tajamul recalls. “At many places, the routes had been blocked. We had to often follow the alternate routes to move head.”

ALSO READ: ‘We’re alive today because of our Sikh brothers’: Kashmiri drivers back home from Jammu tell tales of agony and hope

But at Kujwani, there seemed no escape route for the boys, who were running home for their lives.

As Tajamaul recalls it, the frenzied mob had gathered inside a roadside park, hawking the highway, with their vitriolic faces. A footfall from Kashmir was seemingly on high scrutiny.

“Some of us got so petrified that they decided to go back,” Tajamul continues. “It felt like they could kill us.”

Eventually, the four among them returned to Jammu. The rest stood there, staring at the mob and the uncertain journey spanning over 250 kilometres ahead of them.

Few days before their run to home, some vehicles bearing number-plates of Kashmir went up in flames in Jammu. The mood at once turned frenzied. And in this madness, Kashmiris became soft-targets. As the fringe rose, Tajamul’s one-and-a-half-year ‘safe’ perceived image of the winter capital changed forever.

ALSO READ: Sikh Samaritans of Jammu: ‘We won’t let anyone harass our Kashmiri brethren’

Then, as tempers escalated against Kashmiris in the backdrop of Pulwama car bombing—leaving 49 CRPF men dead, this BSc. Nursing student understood the grave mood and decided to plan a desperate homecoming.

“Some people would tell us it would be alright,” Tajamul recalls the tense moment in Jammu. “But we could see it coming.”

During those trying times, Kashmiris studying and working outside the valley had faced frenzied mobs. Many students were sending disturbing dispatches back home. Videos showing the ruthless beating of innocent Kashmiris by mobsters added to the distress. One analyst called it the ‘sadistic moment’ for Indian ultra-nationalists, who turned Kashmiris into punching bags.

Meanwhile in Jammu, Tajamul was witnessing the fast emerging fault-lines.

A view of the tunnel as clicked by Tajamul on his way back home.

“A non-Kashmiri friend would always hang out with us before the attack,” Tajamul shares the treachery of times. “For one and a half year, we would be together. After the attack, we spoke to him and he did not respond. We were so scared that we could not even clarify our stand.”

It wasn’t only his friend that changed.

Tajamul and his 14 Kashmiri college-mates experienced the “changed” behaviour of their neighbours, shopkeepers or other associates.

“They did not say anything,” the Awantipora boy recalls. “They know us. But they had stopped talking to us. They would stare at us and it was becoming terrifying given the way attacks were taking place again and again.”

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

Amid those attacks, Kashmiri students had started staying together in their rented accommodation near their college in R.S Pora. Kashmiri girls were staying in the hostel. They were so terrified that they would stay up all night, keeping a check, if anyone was going to throw stones or burn the place down.

It was during this period that the two masked men had shown up, thus drawing the eight Kashmiri students on their bikes out of Jammu.

Tajamul was among the four students who decided to face the mob and complete the journey back home.

To avert the possible perilous situation at Kujwani, he contacted his cop cousin, who was luckily posted around. The cop helped them reach Harmuli where they had finally felt safe.

Even as the harsh weather and deadly highway stretch was still in front of them, they had overcome the mobsters.

“We offered prayers and thanked God for helping us,” Tajamul says. Next, they stopped at Banihal where they stayed at a friend’s place for the night.

“In the morning, we left at 8. It was snowing and getting more difficult to ride. There were no vehicles in the tunnel. It was too foggy,” he recalls, saying they reached home at around 12 in the day with their clothes covered with mud.

“It was the most difficult journey of our lives.”


Like this story? Producing quality journalism costs. Make a Donation & help keep our work going.

Click to comment
To Top