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Safe stop: Chandigarh tricity preferred study destination for Kashmiri students

Chandigarh, Mohali and Kharar are perceived to be more welcoming than cities such as Chittorgarh, Mahendragarh and Meerut, where over the last year students from the Valley have been assaulted and called ‘stone-pelting Kashmiris’ or ‘terrorists’, and asked to go back home.

punjab Updated: Apr 16, 2018 12:22 IST
Marila Latif
Kashmiri students in a jubilant mood at Chandigarh University, Gharuan, in Mohali on Thursday.
Kashmiri students in a jubilant mood at Chandigarh University, Gharuan, in Mohali on Thursday.(Sikander/HT)

It was a trickle that has now gathered force and turned into a flow. The number of students from Kashmir moving to the tricity to pursue higher studies has multiplied manifold over the last seven years as they feel it’s a safe haven for them.

Chandigarh, Mohali and Kharar are perceived to be more welcoming than cities such as Chittorgarh, Mahendragarh and Meerut, where over the last year students from the Valley have been assaulted and called ‘stone-pelting Kashmiris’ or ‘terrorists’, and asked to go back home.

Many private institutes have opened their doors to the Kashmiris. At Aryan’s Group of Colleges in Rajpura, the number of such students has gone up to 1,800 now from just six to seven in 2011. From eight students who joined Swami Vivekanand Institute of Engineering and Technology (SVIET), Rajpura, in the same year, 1,600 are on the rolls now. About 900 students study in Desh Bhagat University, Gobindgarh, and 750 in Chandigarh University, Mohali .

Gurmeet Kaur, admission head of the Doaba Group of Colleges, Kurali Road, Kharar, says that from just five in 2011, the number of students from the Valley at her institute has gone up to 150.

Authorities also remain mindful of the students’ safety. Dr Anshu Kataria, chairman of Aryans Group of Colleges, says “there hasn’t been a single incident on campus in which these students have faced any kind of discrimination.”

A visitor enjoying Kashmiri food in a restaurant at Kharar on Friday. (Ravi Kumar/HT)

Life in troubled Valley ‘not easy’

Violence in the strife-torn Valley is one of the main reasons why people want their children to move to relatively peaceful places where they can concentrate on studies.

“I feel safe here,” says Tawfeeq Parveez, aged 21, an airlines crew and ground staff trainee at the Chandigarh Group of Colleges, Landran. Life in the troubled Valley is not easy and on top if it “we don’t have any private institutes in Kashmir as privatisation is just limited to schools. There are only eight government universities catering to the whole populace of 12.55 million and nobody thinks about the budding generation. Youth of Kashmir have started accepting Chandigarh and Punjab completely,” he adds.

Aadil Bhatt, a BTech civil student in Doaba College and a former member of Panjab University Students’ Union (PUSU), agrees. Founder of the Kashmir Student Union, that looks after the wants and needs of people from his state, Bhatt believes that the students are quite safe in Chandigarh, “after you see what’s happening in places like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Faridabad.”

Interestingly, another group, the J&K Student Organisation, formed by Faheem-u-Din, a postgraduate student of neurophilosophy in Panjab University’s department of philosophy, says his organisation is “not only meant to serve the Muslim cohort but also the Kashmiri Pandits and Sikhs.”

Next door neighbour

The fact that Punjab borders Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) too attracts students from the neighbouring state. “It’s obvious as Punjab shares borders with J&K, so the number of students will be higher over here than in other states,” says Prabhdeep Singh, head of the media centre of Chandigarh University.

Maisham Ali, 21, pursuing BBA in SVIET, feels many students like him can go home easily for festivals and to be with their families because of easy connectivity from Chandigarh to Srinagar.

With more students coming in from the Valley, eateries run by Kashmiris in Chandigarh make sure youngsters don’t yearn too much for their local cuisine.

Two flights from Chandigarh Airport take about 45 minutes to reach Srinagar and numerous others go via Delhi. Trains and buses go up to Jammu or Udhampur, from where students take taxis and buses to other towns. Kashmir is a place where students “cannot study normally and we need to move out in order to complete our educational goals, so here we are,” Ali adds.

He also likes living here as the Sikhs, he says, are “humble” people.

Word-of-mouth recommendations from other Kashmiris are also reassuring for students. Mir, marketing head at SVIET, says that the fact that he is from Budgam in J&K, helps him communicate better with the institute’s 1,600 Kashmiri students, most of them males.

According to Amit Sachdeva, J&K divisional admission head, Desh Bhagat University, most of the Kashmiri students have opted for BTech and MBA.

A taste of ghar ka khaana

As more and more students come in from the Valley, eateries run by Kashmiris – both Pandits and Muslims - such as Tauseef Ahmed’s Grand Mughal Darbar in Kharar, Shujata Koul’s Wazwan – the Kashmiri Cuisine in Landran and Faisal Salim’s Kashmir for You at Aroma Food Court in Chandigarh make sure the youngsters don’t yearn too much for their local cuisine. Food and (beverages) in demand include authentic kahwa(traditional Kashmiri tea) and delicacies such as waza kokor (chicken roasted on coal and fire with different traditional spices and dry fruits such as walnuts and cashew) or tabak maaz (lamb ribs with ghee).

Ahmed, 31, was pursuing an MBA at Doaba College when he decided to start his restaurant as he “yearned for home-cooked food.”

Koul, 39, who moved from J&K to Landran after marriage sticks to tried and tested recipes from her state. “Outside the Valley every Kashmiri is a Kashmiri, no matter who you are, a Pandit, Sikh or Muslim. We are used to eating halal so I serve halal meat. It’s all about our culture and preserving Kashmiri tradition,” she says.

For Salim, 27, Kashmir For You was a chance to make something out of his life after his handicrafts business in the strife-torn Valley ran into losses. “Back in 2010 when Kashmir was on the boil, I had started a business but due to the conflict I suffered major losses. Soon I moved to Chandigarh with new dreams and hopes. My love for Kashmir was alive and so I thought of promoting the state – and what better way to attract attention than by food?”

So, Kashmir For You means publicity for Salim’s beloved state, in the aroma of its rista (meat balls in gravy) or rogan josh (lamb or goat meat dish) “and it helps me stay connected to my roots too,” he says with tears in his eyes.