By Daanish Bin Nabi for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Cheering for any side that defeated India in cricket was a routine at National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, like in the rest of the valley, till the Hindutva wave gripped India and issues related to nationalism occupied centre-stage. For Kashmiris, cheering any team that defeats India is a mode of resistance to what they consider an unfair occupation of their land by India.
A Kashmiri student, Mohammad Harris (name changed), studying in final year of his course says, “Cheering for a team that defeated India was a routine affair here and within a few hours, everything would be back to normal as if nothing had happened. But what we are seeing now is unprecedented.”
When India won its match in Mohali against Pakistan on 19th March 2016, in the recently concluded T20 World Cup, a section of the non-Kashmiri students studying at National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar celebrated India’s win by bursting firecrackers. They also shouted slogans which were not received well by local students.
An agitated Rafiq Ahmed (name changed), a third year Kashmiri student alleged, “They shouted slogans like ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, ‘Vande Mataram’, and abused (Syed Ali Shah) Geelani Sahab, along with students and people of Kashmir.”
According to Ahmed and other Kashmiri students, this was the beginning of the dispute.
When India lost to West Indies in the semi-finals of the tournament on 31st March at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, according to writer Javeed Nabi, entire Kashmir was celebrating. And that Kashmiris started dancing and burst firecrackers on the streets in several parts of Kashmir like Anantnag, Awantipora, Pulwama, Tral, Bandipora, Sopore and Palhallan.
Ahmed says, “Scenes inside NIT Srinagar were no different. Although we celebrated, we did not raise any slogans.” The incident took an ugly turn in the morning after clashes broke out between groups of non-Kashmiri and Kashmiri students.
The very next morning, the non-Kashmiri students went to the Director of the institute Rajat Gupta and asked for security from him, which as per non-Kashmiri students, he didn’t offer.
Umar Mohammad (name changed), a Kashmiri student, says, “April 1, 2016 was Friday and many Kashmiri students went outside campus to offer Friday congregation prayers. After coming back to campus, we saw that around 1600 to 1700 non-Kashmiri students had gathered with lathis, and iron rods. They damaged the infrastructure and beat up around 20 Kashmiris students. They also beat up a courier man.”
In an interview with Rising Kashmir after the incident, Imtiyaz Sheikh, the courier person working in E.com express, a private courier firm, said that he entered the NIT campus on Friday afternoon, but was stopped by the non-local students and thrashed.
Non-Kashmiri students allege that the police, without any provocation, beat up many of them. They also allege that the police gave them no prior warning before that.
Vinay Mehta (name changed), a Physics student says, “Jammu Kashmir Police fired tear gas shells and lathi-charged us when we were protesting in the institute. Around 115 non-Kashmiri students are injured in police action. Five students have a fracture. All the injured students are non-Kashmiri.”
Mehta also alleged that the police barged into the campus. “They (police) barged into the campus without any provocation. We only wanted the media to show our placards. But they did not listen to us and started beating us, on the call of the on-duty DySP,” he said.
It should be noted that mainstream Indian TV channels appear not to trust their local correspondents to cover the issue with impartiality. Many of the local correspondents working with the national news channels were seen playing games on mobile phones for the entire day. When this correspondent asked a senior journalist working with one of the most reputed news channels, he said, “They don’t believe us. They want their own people to report this controversy.”
Meanwhile, the police on April 5 in a press statement said, “Around 500 students of NIT in the shape of a mob carrying banners displaying their demands tried to take out a march and tried to come out on the main road. The Police deployment stopped them from doing so and told them to move back. The mob of students resorted to violence by assaulting the policemen including officers and started stone pelting. This resulted in damage to public property. The deployment chased the mob and in this melee some of the students got injured who were given first aid.”
The Jammu Kashmir Police has also lodged a case, FIR no. 45 at Police Station Nigeen.
Chairman of Board of Governors of NIT M J Zarabi, one of the members of the Ministry of Human Resource Development team told media that, “Action taken by police was necessary as they had to stop students from becoming violent. If the police would have allowed the students to move outside the campus the situation would have taken an ugly turn,” he said.
Although students (Kashmir and non-Kashmiris) are still on campus, both groups have apprehensions regarding their safety.
Naveed Ali (name changed), a Computer Science student says, “After the controversy started in the campus, whenever we come back from the mosque or any other place, we are frisked and checked which was not the practice earlier. It is not good for the psyche of the students.”
Sandeep Choudhary (name changed), a non-Kashmiri student says, “We are a bit afraid to go out of the campus. Kashmir University students were also protesting against us. Although we are in the majority in the institute, we are still afraid.”
Although classes resumed on Saturday last week and “normalcy” was partially restored, the lectures were only attended by senior non-Kashmiri and Kashmiri students. First-year and second-year non-Kashmiri students did not attend the classes.
Ajay Kulkarni (name changed), a third-year student of Department of Electronics & Communication Engineering said, “Mostly students from the first and second year are agitating as they do not know the ground realities of Kashmir. Some non-local students also want to go to Delhi and protest at Jantar Mantar.”
On 6th April, a three-member team of Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) held talks with the agitating students to defuse the tension. The team included Sanjeev Sharma, Director (Technical Education), Deputy Director (Finance) Fazal Mehmood, and Chairman of Board of Governors of NIT, M. J. Zarabi.
The demands proposed by non-Kashmiri students are as follows: (I) Immediate evacuation of the non-local students from the campus; (II) Shifting of the NIT campus from Srinagar, wherever feasible, as the students don’t want to come back to the city where they do not feel safe; and (III) Immediate action against the police officials who had allegedly lathi-charged and brutally beaten them up. They also want action against the college administration in whose alleged presence the whole incident took place.
Dean of the School of Legal Studies, Central University of Kashmir, Dr Sheikh Showkat said, “There is nothing new in it. In the early 1970s, a Kashmiri student was stabbed to death inside NIT Srinagar by the non-Kashmiri students. When there is such a media hype showing their own students (non-Kashmiri) as sufferers, then is every possibility of repercussions. Indian media is showing a wrong picture of NIT and trying to present Kashmiris as communal which is not the case in reality.”
Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani has vouched for the safety of non-Kashmiri students in NIT campus and criticised New Delhi over harassment of Kashmiri students studying outside Jammu and Kashmir. “If non-state subjects are studying here, there should be no hurdle in their study on our part,” he said in a public statement. “If outside students are studying here, we should ensure that there is no harm done to them or any obstacle created in their pursuit of education.” Geelani also appealed to non-Kashmiri students not to resort to violence against their local friends and classmates.
The NIT Srinagar Teacher’s Society said in a statement Thursday that a minor issue had been blown up to huge proportions. Refuting charges of any partiality, they appealed to the students to resume academic activities.
The National Conference said that by deploying the CRPF instead of the local police to deal with the issue, the Centre had undermined the authority of the new C.M. Mehbooba Mufti.
The state government has initiated an enquiry into the entire affair.
In a memorandum submitted to the MHRD team, the Kashmiri students said that they were against the deployment of any security forces on campus. They also rejected demands for 50% non-local teachers.
Images posted by Save The Students Of NIT Srinagar on Facebook.
UPDATE: Author Javeed Nabi’s name was later added to the article.
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