We don’t want anyone to suffer like we did in 1984: Harminder Singh Ahluwalia

Shortly after the communication blackout in Jammu and Kashmir and the subsequent abrogation of Article 370, Harminder Singh Ahluwalia sent out words of support to Kashmiris living in the rest of the country, offering help. Within the next few days, his group United Sikhs, in association with another NGO Sangat, helped take 32 Kashmiri girls stranded in Pune home to their villages in the valley.

kashmiri girls

At 1:50 AM, early on the morning of August 5, 2019, just hours before Article 370 was abrogated, Ahluwalia went live on Facebook with the following message:

“My friend’s father was lynched and murdered as he stepped out of a Gurudwara during the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984. My community knows what it is like to be targeted and butchered. Many innocents had suffered then and we resolved that never again would we allow anything like this to happen again,” says Ahluwalia explaining his motivation behind reaching out. “When the attack in Pulwama took place Kashmiris were targeted across India. Then when the communication blackout happened and rumours began flying, I feared the worst. Our community believes in service to mankind and we don’t want anyone to suffer like we did in 1984. I knew social media would help me reach out to the maximum number of people,” he says.

Ahluwalia’s Facebook live video was shared widely and went viral within hours! Shortly afterwards, he started getting frantic calls from people unable to connect with their families. But his greatest fear was something else. “I saw how people were talking about Kashmiri women and girls. The words used were derogatory and offensive, and I feared there was an imminent threat to the wellbeing of such girls everywhere,” says Ahluwalia.

Just then he received a text message from Rukaya Mohiuddin, a coordinator who was working for the DDU-GKY program where 32 Kashmiri girls were undergoing a course to become Multi-purpose Health Workers. The message said, “Please help us, as I am here in Pune with 30 female trainees between 17 to 22 years old with one male and female warden and I am the coordinator, we came here for training cum placement purpose under DDU-GKY programme. All trainees are from under privileged families and are first time outside their home place. They all feel scared and panic want to go home and said want to die with our families.  Please help us. Please arrange their safe passage to their home place (sic).”

Moved by the plight of these young girls, Ahluwali and his team swung into action. They tied up with Sangat, an NGO to generate and collect funds to purchase airline tickets for the girls. “We got generous donations from Sikh community members from as far as Australia, but were still falling short. Then a local donor offered to take care of the balance and used his connections to get us tickets that were fast becoming unaffordable,” recalls Ahluwalia. But there was one hitch. The girls feared what would happen to them en route. So Sikhs United, Sangat and the rest of the team decided that they would never leave the girls unescorted. “We ensured that our team members escorted the girls to the Pune airport. Another team drove down with them to Mumbai from where we were able to arrange tickets. I personally joined the team with my friend Sam and Raukaya ji at New Delhi and flew to Sri Nagar with them. We reached at about 6:30 AM and ensured that the girls who lived in and around Sri Nagar were all dropped home by 12 noon. The second batch arrived in the afternoon and we stayed overnight in Sri Nagar before leaving to drop them home the next day,” he says.

The girls came from Baramulla, Budgam, Shopian and Kupwara and many lived in interior villages, far away from any major cities or towns. “We prioritised their safety and went with each of them and ensured they reached home. In fact at one point we were surrounded by a group of locals who were very suspicious, but when the girls explained to them that we were there to help, they gave us their local boys to escort us and ensure we were not stopped again,” says Ahluwalia. Explaining what brought the team satisfaction from undertaking such a huge task, he says, “The greatest reward was to see the relief on the faces of their parents as they were sick with worry in the absence of any information due to the communication black out. Every single time we reached someone’s home, we found the mothers deep in prayer. There were many tearful reunions.” Some images of the girls being reunited with their families may be viewed here.

Ahluwalia remains humble despite accomplishing such a difficult task. “We are all one in the eyes of God. People of all religions and castes have suffered unspeakable violence and discrimination at different points of time in history and many suffer even today. It is time we all unite; Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits and all others. We have to look beyond majority and minority and focus to preserving our humanity,” he signs off.



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