By Zahid Rafiq
SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir
Massive billboards have appeared in the city of Meerut asking Kashmiris living in India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh to leave.
The boards purport to show a photo from Kashmir in which youths are seen throwing stones. “Boycott Kashmiris who throw stones on Indian Army. Kashmiris leave Uttar Pradesh or else…” the writing reads.
The billboards have been put up by Uttar Pradesh Navnirman Sena, a right-wing Hindu party.
The head of Uttar Pradesh Navnirman Sena, Amit Jani, told local media that the group wants to boycott Kashmiris because of the protests and stone-throwing the Indian soldiers faced in Kashmir. Jani claimed Kashmiri Hindus supported his group’s latest move.
Speaking with Anandolu Agency, Jani called the anti-Kashmiri boycott and the boards a "movement" started in support of Indian soldiers posted in Kashmir.
"These Kashmiri students study in Uttar Pradesh but they create a small Kashmir here. They do not stand up during our national anthem. They keep referring to Kashmir as an occupied territory," he said. "What should we do with them? How can we allow them to have a great time here? We will boycott them."
"We will fight against these anti-national forces who even in Uttar Pradesh keep talking of Independence for Kashmir," he added.
Local media reports, citing police, have said a case has been registered on Friday against the group for allegedly spreading hatred and they were told to remove the billboards.
According to Mohammad Ali, a journalist in the region for the Indian newspaper, Hindu, the billboards are part of the larger discourse on nationalism in India that is being pushed daily against Kashmiris.
“This organization may be a fringe one but the attempt to build an ideology out of beating up Kashmiris is not a fringe one and is becoming the center of politics across India,” Ali told Anadolu Agency.
Two days ago, a group of Kashmiri students studying at the Mewar University in Rajasthan, which borders Pakistan, were reportedly beaten by a mob that called them stone-throwers and asked them to leave the state.
“Six of our [Kashmiri] students were going through the market and they were not even together but shopping in three separate groups but they were suddenly attacked and beaten up. We know that they were pre-planned attacks,” one of the students who was beaten told Anadolu Agency on the condition of anonymity. “The attackers called the Kashmiri students terrorists and abused them. They said Kashmiris were throwing stones at their army in Kashmir and that they won’t let them study here.”
This is not the first time that Kashmiri students studying in India have been targeted.
In 2014, 67 Kashmiri students were expelled from a university in Uttar Pradesh for allegedly supporting Pakistan over India during a cricket match.
“These boys who go to study in India, rather than becoming more Indianized, return more radical and more sure that they want independence for Kashmir because they see small-town India and feel the hatred people have for them there," Khurram Parvez, a human rights activist at the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society told Anadolu Agency.
"So many young boys have told me 'you don’t know India, we know it because we have seen it in Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, and Bihar; they want to kill us all'," he added.
Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
The two countries have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – since they were partitioned in 1947, two of which were fought over Kashmir.
Kashmiri resistance groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989. India maintains more than half a million troops in the disputed region.