NEW DELHI — Four young women have gone into hiding after their college suspended them for allegedly sending an “anti-national” message over group chat on WhatsApp.
The Kashmiri women, who were studying pharmacology and science in Western India, have received death and rape threats since their names were leaked online. They also face potentially being arrested.
The message allegedly shared by the young women was an image of three desserts, with the caption, “Our reply to the outrage outside, #pulwama attack.”
Multiple calls to NIMS University to determine how the women’s names were leaked went unanswered. BuzzFeed News has learned that the college will now be exempting children of Indian soldiers from paying fees at the institution.
The young women received a suspension notice from authorities at the college in Jaipur, Rajasthan on Feb. 16, two days after a terrorist attack in Pulwama, part of India’s disputed Kashmir region, killed 42 Indian soldiers.
It was one of the largest and deadliest attacks in the region since 1989. The soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber drove into a convoy carrying paramilitary troopers.
The conflict in Kashmir has been several decades in the making, as the territory is claimed by both India and Pakistan. The state is 60% Muslim, making it the only state in India where Muslims are in the majority. Indian armed forces in the region have a long history of violence against Kashmiri Muslims.
Since Pakistan-based jihadist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility after the attack in Pulwama, right-wing Indian Twitter accounts have called for revenge against Kashmiri Muslims. Kashmiri businesses and students have been attacked across the country, while people are also being forced to flee their homes.
The college’s suspension notice was leaked online almost immediately after it was issued. News channels subsequently found photographs of the women on social media and began broadcasting them.
BuzzFeed News spoke to a social worker who confirmed that the young medical students who were suspended are being held in a safe house in North India, on account of receiving threats of rape and murder. One of the young women has a heart condition and has been under severe distress.
“Our primary motive is to take them back to Kashmir, but it’s made almost impossible because of the fact that their faces and names are all over social media,” the social worker said. “The girls are afraid that they will be lynched.”
Following the attack in Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the Indian army to “strike back with equal force.” On Monday, Indian forces claimed to have killed the alleged chief operational commander behind the attack following a 12-hour gunfight. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India has also been recalled.