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Sikhs provide sanctuary to Kashmiris caught in ‘revenge’ attacks | News

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Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – When 18-year-old Kashmiri student Shadab Ahmad and his friends were attacked by a mob in the north Indian state of Haryana last week, they prepared for the worst.

The group of four – all Kashmiris – were set upon by a gang and only survived after reaching their flat and barricading themselves inside.

The mob outside moved on, but the group in the apartment decided it was wiser for them to leave for a safer place once the opportunity arose. 

Shadab and his friends were among dozens of Kashmiris targeted by mobs across India in the aftermath of the February 14 suicide bombing that killed 42 paramilitary troopers in India-administered Kashmir.

It was the deadliest attack on Indian security forces in the disputed region and immediately triggered revenge attacks against Kashmiris in mainland India

“There were around seven of us Kashmiris. Another Kashmiri friend called us and asked us to come to Mohali in Punjab. He said it was relatively safe there. We boarded a cab and got there,” Shadab, a second-year engineering student, told Al Jazeera, using an alias because of concerns he may be identified.

At Mohali, Shadab and his friends were greeted with a pleasant surprise.

They were welcomed by volunteers from the Sikh community, who fed them, gave them shelter in a Sikh temple (called “gurudwara”) and arranged transport for them to go back to their homes.

“The Sikh volunteers gave us food and accommodation and arranged 13 vehicles for more than 100 of us to go home together,” Shadab said. 

‘Our religion teaches humanity’

Thousands of Kashmiris, many of them students studying in universities and colleges across India, have found themselves the the target of hateful rhetoric.

Like Shadab, hundreds of students fled their colleges in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and other Indian states and have returned to their homes in Kashmir.

Videos of mob attacks were shared widely on social media, prompting condemnation by the Indian National Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International, who asked India to ensure the safety of common Kashmiris.

The Indian government said it was putting into place safeguards to ensure the safety of Kashmiris living outside of their home state.

But alongside accounts of mob violence, which are often associated with Hindu right-wing groups, are stories of ordinary Indians coming to the aid of Kashmiris caught up in the violence.

At the forefront were Sikh groups, such as the UK-based non-profit organisation, Khalsa Aid, which helped fleeing Kashmiri students by putting them up in temples and providing them food and accommodation.

“Our religion teaches us humanity,” Manpreet Singh, the director of Khalsa Aid in India, told Al Jazeera.

“Due to some bad elements who harassed these students, they should not feel alienated and they should believe that humanity is still alive. These young people are our future,” he added.

Khalsa Aid says its volunteers ensured the safe return of at least 300 Kashmiri Muslim students to their homes after the mob attacks.

“We continue to get distressed calls from the students and after verifying we try to help them,” Singh said.

As a token of gratitude for their help, many Kashmiri Muslims in India-administered Kashmir have offered discounts, free medical and legal consultations, and other freebies to the local Sikh community, who are a minority in the region.

In our religion, there is a strong message of humanity irrespective of religion. We promote humanity

Jagmohan Singh Raina, Kashmiri Sikh leader

Kamran Nisar, a Kashmiri in his early 20s who runs the Winterfell cafe at a tourist spot in the main city of Srinagar, has announced free meals for the Sikh community for a week.

“This is not providing meals for free but instead a small token of love, and a gesture of gratitude to the community that came to help us,” Kamran told Al Jazeera.

Jagmohan Singh Raina, a Sikh leader in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera that his community had a long history of helping those in need, no matter their background.

“In our religion, there is a strong message of humanity irrespective of religion. We promote humanity,” he said, adding: “It’s not for the first time, Sikh volunteers have also helped in Syria, Bangladesh, in Nepal.” 

Concerns for safety

At his home in south Kashmir, Shadab now debates whether he should go back to his college, and many like him are asking the same question.

They say they left the Kashmir valley to escape violence but no do not feel safe being Kashmiri in Indian cities.

Salman Shaida who worked at a university in northern India said he was forced to resign after a student screenshotted a WhatsApp conversation with him about the situation in Kashmir.

“There was nothing anti-national in it,” he told Al Jazeera. “But I was attacked by a mob and I hid until the police arrived outside my apartment.

“I approached the head of the institution but instead of providing me protection, he forced me to sign my resignation.

“This happened because I am a Kashmiri. I do not know why I was punished when I could have been lynched.”

The pressures come not only from incidences of prejudice against Kashmiris.

One Kashmiri, named Numan, told Al Jazeera his family were pressuring him to quit his job in the city of Bangalore over fears of violence.

“My family does not want me to work there any more. The situation has horrified everyone,” he said. 





Sikh aid workers and Kashmiri students in Mohali, Punjab [Khalsa Aid] 

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Ottawa announces new funding to combat online child abuse

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Ottawa has announced $22 million in funding to fight online child abuse.

Noting that police-reported incidents of child pornography in Canada increased by 288 per cent between 2010 and 2017, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale made the announcement Tuesday.

It follows a London meeting last week that focused on the exploitation of children between Goodale and his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, collectively known as the Five Eyes intelligence group.

Major internet companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were also at the meeting and agreed to a set of rules the members of the group proposed to remove child pornography from the internet quicker.

On Tuesday, Goodale warned internet companies they had to be better, faster and more open when in comes to fighting child abuse on line.

In this Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 photo, detectives use the Cellebrite system to extract information from cellphones at the State Police facility in Hamilton Township, N.J. “Operation Safety Net,” the results of which were announced in December, netted 79 people suspected of exploiting children. (Thomas P. Costello/Asbury Park Press/Canadian Press)

“If human harm is done, if a child is terrorized for the rest of their life because of what happened to them on the internet, if there are other damages and costs, then maybe the platform that made that possible should bear the financial consequences,” Goodale said.

The government plan includes $2.1 million to intensify engagement with digital industry to develop new tools online and support effective operating principles, $4.9 million for research, public engagement, awareness and collaboration with non-governmental organizations and $15.25 million to internet child exploitation units in provincial and municipal police forces across the country.

Goodale said the strategy recognizes that technology is “increasingly facilitating the easy borderless access to vast volumes of abhorrent images.”

That, he said, makes investigations increasingly complex,

“This is a race where the course is always getting longer and more complicated and advancing into brand new areas that hadn’t been anticipated five years ago or a year ago or even a week ago,” Goodale said.

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Gas prices expected to dip in Ottawa

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If you can wait an extra day to fill up the gas tank, your bank account might thank you.

Roger McKnight of Enpro is predicting a five cent dip in gas prices Wednesday night at midnight.

This comes after a four cent drop this past Friday, just ahead of the August long weekend.

McKnight said the reason for the drop, both last week and this week, is due to comments made by US President Donald Trump. 

He says after the drop, the price will be, on average, 118.9 cents/litre in the Ottawa region.

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Oka asks Ottawa to freeze Mohawk land deal, send RCMP to Kanesatake

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The town of Oka is asking the federal and provincial governments to slap a moratorium on a proposed land grant to the local Mohawk community in Kanesatake and to establish an RCMP detachment on the First Nations territory to deal with illegal cannabis sales outlets.

The requests were contained in two resolutions adopted Tuesday night by the Oka town council.

The administration of Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon held its first public meeting since the start of the controversy that pitted the town council against the Kanesatake band council over a decision by a local promoter to give local lands to the Mohawk community.

The three resolutions are addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, Quebec Premier François Legault’s government and the Kanesatake band council led by Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon.

As each resolution was read into the record, Quevillon stressed that the town of Oka was only looking to live in peaceful cohabitation with the Mohawk community.

The town also called upon Ottawa to establish a consultation process that would take into account the concerns of residents in Oka and  Kanesatake.

Quevillon’s administration also wants access to the plans detailing what lands are at the centre of negotiations between the federal government and the Mohawk community for purchase, suggesting the talks are simply a disguised form of expropriation.

“They’re giving money to (the Mohawks) to buy our land and annex it to their territory,” Quevillon said.

Despite its demands, the Oka council adopted an official statement addressed to the Kanesatake band council saying the town’s population wanted dialogue and peaceful cohabitation, with Quevillon citing the 300 years of close links between the two communities.

During the council meeting’s question period, some residents suggested that the council deal with other groups that say they are speaking for Kanesatake, including Mohawk traditionalists. Mayor Quevillon replied that the town would only deal with the band council and did so out of respect for Grand Chief Simon.

The mayor also argued that the RCMP, a federal police force, was best suited to be deployed in Kanesatake, where it would ensure the law would be respected, particularly on the issue of illegal cannabis shops.

Quevillon contended such a deployment was the only way for both communities to work together toward their mutual economic development.

Meanwhile, the apology Grand Chief Simon has said he is expecting from Quevillon for remarks he made earlier this summer about the Mohawk community in Kanesatake does not appear to be coming any time soon.

Asked by a resident if he would apologize, Quevillon left the answer to those citizens who attended the meeting, the vast majority of whom replied, “no.”

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