Above: A representative image of Punjab Police with criminals caught by them
By Vipin Pubby
Attacks on Kashmiri students enrolled in private universities in Punjab and Haryana or clashes involving them have thus far been few and far between but the arrest of three students of a private institution in Jalandhar for alleged terrorist activities, and attempts to profile all Kashmiri students, has raised serious concerns in the region.
Police identified the arrested students as Zahid Gulzar, a BTech (Civil) student and resident of Rajpora, under Police station Awantipur, Mohd. Idriss Shah alias Nadeem, resident of Pulwama and Yusuf Rafiq Bhatt, resident of Noorpura, Pulwama. All students of CT Institute of Engineering, Management and Technology located on the outskirts of Jalandhar. Police claimed that the three students were arrested and two weapons, including an assault rifle and an explosive device, was seized from them. It was stated that the joint operation was conducted by the Punjab Police and the Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police which busted a module of Kashmiri terror outfit Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH) which has links with Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
A case under sections 121, 121-A and 120-B of the Indian Penal Code, the Arms Act and the Explosive Act was registered at Police Station, Sadar, Jalandhar, a police statement said.
Incidentally, Punjab Police has recently picked up a student of Aryans Polytechnic College Gazi Ahmad Malik, a resident of Shopian from Banur near Patiala. It was reported that Gazi was closely related to Adil Bashir Sheikh, a Jammu and Kashmir Police special police officer who had fled with seven rifles from the residence of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) MLA in Srinagar and was suspected to have joined Hizbul Mujahideen. He was subsequently handed over to the J&K Police for further investigations. Sources suspect a relation between Gazi’s interrogation and the raid at the institute near Jalandhar.
Punjab Director General of Police, Suresh Arora, who rushed to the spot, said the arrests followed the development and corroboration of various leads and inputs about the presence and activities of certain militant organisations and individuals operating in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab.
He said that the boys were planning to set off a blast near the generally crowded old courts complex area in the heart of Jalandhar. It was suspected that the blast was planned during the festive season.
What followed was hyper reaction from the state police which went into an overdrive.
It started collecting personal details about all the Kashmiri students studying in various educational institutions in the state. An estimated 10,000 students are enrolled in various institutions across Punjab.
It circulated a form seeking various details, including Aadhaar card and other documents and singled out Kashmiri students for the exercise. This caused much resentment among the students.
Worse was to follow when the police came out with a form to all the educational institutions in the state seeking details of students from other other states. The form sought basic information like name, age, date of birth and permanent address. The details were sought in a form titled ‘Other State Students Database’. It also asked them to submit a document certifying that they were not involved in any criminal and anti national activities. Government sources also indicated that in future all students from Kashmir would be required to submit a certificate issued by Jammu and Kashmir government that they were not involved in such activities.
This raised heckles from Kashmiri students as well as a section of local students and human rights activists. They said the singling put Kashmiri students are racial profiling.
Even as the controversy was brewing in Punjab, the Chandigarh Police too issued a circular to its CID wing seeking information on Kashmiris, including students, in the city. It said “…. due to their poor economic/social condition and lack of gainful employment for their livelihood, there is strong apprehension that they can be trapped or lured by some anti-national groups like terrorists, separatists, extremists and secessionists etc. They can easily be targeted by these terrorist groups for executing their nefarious designs.”
The notice led to protests from various groups including student leaders. Students for Society (SFS) condemned the police profiling and demanded immediate withdrawal of the notice. A press release said, “The Panjab University authorities are creating an environment of suspicion and constant surveillance. Collecting information on the pretext that Kashmir is a disturbed area is bogus.” It said that “showing intellectual bankruptcy” the authorities “have failed to understand that political problems cannot be handled by such mean measures which instead of solving the problem, aggravates it”.
Punjab DGP also climbed down from the earlier stance and said that he has asked the SSPs to meet Kashmiri students across the state and allay their fears. He said a special cell had been set up where these students can contact senior police officers in case of any problem. He said there are no question of profiling “our own children”.
While the assurance given by him may soothe ruffled feathers, must would depend on the subordinate staff on how they deal with the students from Kashmir. Even fellow students in various educational institutions must be sensitised over the issue.