Image Courtesy: Indian Express
Two things will be remembered about the dark Tuesday, July 11 that saw countrywide outrage at Monday night's cowardly attack on a bus (bearing the registration number of Gujarat) full of Amarnath yatris, was on its way from Baltal to Jammu when the militants opened fire and seven unfortunately even lost their lives. One is the exemplary courage shown by Salim Mirza Shaikh, the driver of the bus, who drove the yatris, and the bus to safety even as terrorists in uniform showered bullets in the dark, dark night. It could have been the scene of a ghastly action movie, the dangerous mountainous roads, the bus riding past in the night (as pilgrim buses are normally prohibited from doing) and then, the dastardly attack clearly meant to fuel the communal poison and polarisation that has overtaken us all. But no, egged on by his colleagues who also took bullets, Salim drove for nearly two kilometres on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway before he reached an army camp. “It was about 8 pm when the bus was surrounded by terrorists. They first fired from the front with the intention to eliminate the driver. I ducked sideways to escape the bullets and drove ahead. I do not know how I got the strength to go on at that time. Maybe Allah helped me and gave me strength,” Salim told The Indian Express as he stepped out of an IAF plane that brought the deceased as well as those injured in the attack to Surat, Gujarat, Tuesday afternoon.
Salim, who also belongs to Gujarat, said he escaped unharmed in the incident while another passenger seated beside him was injured. As a result 50 others who potentially could have lost lives remained unharmed. The families of those lost to us will forever mourn the day but the rest, will remember with horror for what might have been, and then, gratitude the role that Salim played. There are indeed sometimes silver linings when dark clouds threaten us, on our horizons. By early afternoon Tuesday, Salim was our hero and the social media had, for once done an exemplary job, silencing bitterness and hatred expressed through paid trolls.The victims came under the attack late Monday after they were travelling in a Gujarat vehicle, bearing the registration number GJ09Z 9976, on National Highway 1A, the only route connecting the valley to rest of the country, to Jammu after completing Amarnath Yatra.
According to Jammu and Kashmir police, the attack was aimed at the police post. The police said the terrorists had initially attacked a police Bullet Proof bunker near Botengoo locality in the area. “The fire was retaliated and there was no report of injuries,” a police official said. The official added thereafter the terrorists fired on a police post near Khanabal locality in District Anantnag. “The fire was retaliated and a tourist bus was hit by bullets,” he said.
As the day wore on and condemnations on the attack poured in, the high office of India's home minister, Rajnath Singh provided another such dignified silver lining. ‘All Kashmiris are not terrorists’ Rajnath Singh tweeted shutting down one such troll. Singh saluted the people of Jammu and Kashmir who had condemned the attack on Amarnath pilgrims and kept the spirit of Kashmiriyat alive.Describing the terror attack on that killed seven pilgrims returning from Amarnath as a “cowardly act of terror”, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said Tuesday that all sections in Kashmir had condemned the attack, which “shows the spirit of Kashmiriyat is also very much alive”.
The Home Minister then took to Twitter to react strongly to a tweet from @shuchikalra, who responded to his remark on Kashmiriyat by posting: “Who gives a f*** about the spirit of Kashmiriyat at this moment? It is not your job to placate. Just drag those cowards out and cull them.”
Singh, whose official handle was tagged in that tweet, posted: “Ms Kalra I certainly do. It is absolutely my job to ensure peace and tranquility in all parts of the country. All Kashmiris are not terrorists.” Following this, the Twitter account, listed under the name Shuchi Singh Kalra, was found deleted.
After a very very long time, the office of the Home Minister of India was restored to the dignity of its office.
The J&K Government has announced an award of Rs 3 lakhs to Salim for his exemplary bravery and chief minister, Gujarat, Vikay Rupani even said that he would recommend Salim Shaik's name for a special award for bravery.
Bomb terror has the ugly potential of polarising neighbourhoods and evoking stark reactions from persons affected by grief. When this fuelled by a cynical politics, that thrives --bread and butter--on hatred and communal polarisation, India, through Salim and Rajnath Singh rose above this. Hopefully and decisively.The #Not in My Name Protests organised in Delhi at India Gate last night, the Mumbai protests at Mira Road --another protest by Muslim and other civil rights organisations has been organised at 4 p.m. at Azad Maidan today, Wednesday July 12, again united Indians in their grief and outrage. This time against bomb terror.
Condemnations poured in from all quarters against the deadly terror attack in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district in which seven persons died and nineteen others were injured. The J & K government had to, unfortunately resort to shutting down the internet services in the state to avoid any flaring up of the communal situation; traders are now observing a protest shut down in Jammu, the state's winter capital, against the attack on Yatris in the Valley. The authorities also closed all educational institution in Jammu region as a precautionary measure.
Mainstream and separatist politicians have condemned the militant attack on Yatris calling and expressed sorrow over the killings. Expressing deep shock over the killings, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said, “Yatris were esteemed guests of Kashmir and perpetrators of this crime have done a death blow to the ethos and culture of the state.”
The Communist Party of India Marxist issued a press statement condemning the attack. “The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) denounces the dastardly attack on Amarnath pilgrims in Anantnag district in Jammu & Kashmir. 7 people, mostly women, were killed and 19 injured in a terrorist attack while returning from the pilgrimage,” the statement read. The general secretary of the party, Sitaram Yechury had earlier in the day, tweeted a query, "How come the last time that the Amarnath yatris were attacked it was during the BJP-led NDA rule in 2000?'
The terror attack was equally strongly condemned by others as well including former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah of National Conference and Ghulam Nabi Azad of the INC. Prominent citizens and bureaucrats also issued a statement strongly condemning the killing.
The only discordant notes, predictably came from one the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) --Pravin Togadia called for a boycott of Kashmiri products and Muslims --including 'urging the Indian government not to give 'them' jobs in the Army and security forces and Shiv Sena chief in Mumbai asked 'for gau rakshaks' (cow vigilantes) to be sent to fight terrroists. But then, that is probablt to be expected, given that their political 'USP' or 'currency' is a barter of division and hatred.
There are some other interesting details to the entire story, including why an Amarnath Yatra, ill advised due to the severe situation in the Valley was allowed at the last minute and the fact, also that, as reported by The Hindustan Times, the Jammu and Kashmir police on Monday had arrested an Uttar Pradesh man who allegedly helped Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) attack army convoys, snatch weapons and loot lakhs of rupees. The man named Sandeep Kumar Sharma moved to Kashmir in 2012 for work and would travel to Punjab during the winter for alternative employment.
But, for now, before we ask the usual questions and return to cynical mode, let is savour the day and the victory of the sheer power of decency--displayed in the actions of Salim Mirza and India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
Screengrab of Kalra’s tweet which has now been deleted.
The controversial tweet deleted after the Home Minister's response is reproduced here for the benefit of our readers