SRINAGAR (Reuters) - India has warned against rising communal tensions across the country as some Kashmiris living outside their state said they faced property evictions while others were attacked on social media after a suicide bomber killed 44 policemen in the region.
The car bomb attack on a security convoy on Thursday, claimed by Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad and carried out by a 20-year-old Kashmiri man, was the worst in decades of insurgency in the disputed area, which is claimed in full by both the nuclear-armed neighbours.
As the bodies of the paramilitary policemen who died in the attack were returned to families across India this weekend, passionate crowds waving the Indian flag gathered in the streets to honour them and shouted demands for revenge. Pakistan has denied any role in the killings.
Kashmiri Muslims, meanwhile, say they are facing a backlash in Hindu-majority India, mainly in the northern states of Haryana and Uttarakhand, forcing the federal interior ministry to issue an advisory to all states.
“The ministry has taken a stringent view and has issued an advisory to all states and union territories to ensure safety and security of Kashmiris, and to maintain communal harmony,” A. Bharat Bhushan Babu, a spokesman for the ministry, told Reuters on Sunday.
Aqib Ahmad, a Kashmiri student in Uttarakhand capital Dehradun, said the owner of the house he was staying in had asked him to move out fearing an attack on his property. Two other students in Dehradun said they also had been asked to vacate their rooms.
“Where are we supposed to go?” Waseem Akram told Reuters.
The Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) state administration late on Sunday advised students from the state to reach out to liaison officers across six regions of the country in case of any problems. It said 104 students who were staying in private accommodation in the Haryana district of Ambala had been moved to hostels of a university guarded by police.
It said some Kashmiri students from Dehradun reached New Delhi on Saturday evening and had been accommodated in J&K’s guest house in the national capital.
“The state administration assures people of J&K that due cognizance is being taken for each and every call from the students and their parents, and local administration is being apprised of the developing situation,” its statement said.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said “no incident of beating or harassment of Kashmiri students has been reported anywhere in the state”.
“I’m making it clear that law-breakers, including rumour mongers, will not be spared either,” Rawat said in a tweet.
The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), to which all the dead officers belonged, said “fake news about harassment of students from Kashmir is being propagated by various miscreants on social media”.
“CRPF helpline has enquired about complaints about harassment and found them incorrect,” it said on Twitter.
J&K police said they were providing temporary accommodation to people returning from around the country.
Fear has engulfed Kashmiri students in Ambala after a video on social media showed a village headman asking people to evict Kashmiri students in the area.
“In case it is not done, the person in whose residence such students are living will be considered as a traitor,” the man says in the video, whose authenticity Reuters has not been able to independently verify.
Police said they were investigating the matter.
The attack on India’s paramilitary police follows the deadliest year in Kashmir for security personnel since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power nearly five years ago.
Thousands of people, including militants and civilians, have died since the insurgency began in late 1980s.
Political leaders from Kashmir appealed to the government to ensure security of Kashmiris across India, while many people on Twitter said their homes were open to Kashmiris seeking shelter.
“Understand the pain and anguish,” Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of J&K, said in a tweet. “But we must not allow such mischievous elements to use this as an excuse to persecute/harass people from J&K. Why should they suffer for somebody else’s action?”
Writing and additional reporting in NEW DELHI by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Krishna N. Das, Sam Holmes and David Evans