More than five years ago, on February 9, 2012, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Jamia Millia Islamia, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Jammu & Kashmir Government for the construction of hostels to accommodate students from the state of J&K.
The proposed hostel facility was to accommodate men and women from the state of Jammu & Kashmir studying in the central university. The project was expected to be completed within 24 months from the date of construction.
Half a decade later when the building is ready to be inaugurated, the construction and the proposed inauguration event of the hostel has started debates within the student community of Jamia Millia Islamia.
In the afternoon of November 17, 2017, dozens of students of Jamia Millia Islamia gathered in the lawn adjoining the central canteen of the varsity to protest against the university administration’s decision to invite the Union Home Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh and Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti to inaugurate the newly constructed multi-storey hostel on the campus.
At around the same time, university administration posted an ‘urgent press advisory’ on its website which stated that the inauguration event scheduled for November 18 had been postponed due to “administrative exigencies”, and the new date for the inauguration would be intimated shortly.
The reasons for the protest against the invitees were primarily two. One was against the very logic of inviting political leaders to the varsity when the university has time and again suppressed student politics and banned the students’ union elections.
The other specifically against inviting the Chief Minister of J&K and the Union Home Minister, whose political parties, according to a pamphlet distributed at the time of the protest, have been instrumental “in the killing of more than a hundred Kashmiris in 2016 alone, and the blinding of hundreds more” and “have criminalized all forms of dissent, forced University spaces into submission through administrative coercion, attempted to delegitimize political ideologies that do not adhere to their idea of nationalism, adopted anti-poor economic policies and helped the capitalist class in increasing their clout in media and business.”
In various press releases and media reports, the newly constructed hostel has been referred to as ‘J&K Hostel’ and more recently as ‘J&K Hostel for Girls.’ Even though the press release of the university administration published on February 10, 2012, clearly states that the ‘hostels’ will be constructed ‘separately for boys and girls,’ the press releases issued by the university administration in 2017 refer to the same as ‘J&K Hostel for Girls.’
A male student recently admitted to the university in BA English expressed his dismay by pointing out the preferential treatment given to a certain gender. “I was under the impression that I would also be able to secure a place in the newly constructed hostel for J&K students. In any case, it is more difficult for men from J&K to find a place in Delhi than it is for women from the state.”
A larger question that keeps coming back time and again is why the students from J&K need to be given preferential treatment at all. In a report published in The Hindu on November 17, 2017, a senior Ministry official of the Ministry of Home Affairs was quoted as saying “When it comes to addressing the youth in the state, women largely remain unaddressed. It was felt that many students from rural areas who want to pursue higher education are unable to do so due to lack of safe residential options in Delhi” and that they want “the women from the state to get adequate opportunities.”
Even though it does establish in a certain way that the youth of the state in general and the women, in particular, need special provisions but it doesn’t answer as to why that is so.
Economically, 10.35% people from the state falls below the poverty line while the national average is 21.92%. If the continuous conflict in the state is made the parameter, then there are various states in India whose students deserve the same treatment, and if any and all types of conflict is taken into consideration, then the list will only grow longer.
As per a research scholar who did not wish to be named said, “these special provisions fit and feed into the larger stereotype of people from J&K living off the taxpayers’ money of the Indian state and reduce the people of J&K to a ‘dependent child’ who needs to keep thanking the ‘generous father’ for all the help provided.”
According to a press release of Jamia Millia Islamia dated February 10, 2012, Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of J&K said that this project “will help in providing accommodation and also bringing students from J&K into the mainstream.”
If the question is about accommodation, then students from every Indian state who come to study in Delhi face almost the same problem on the same level. If one is referring to the fact that the students of J&K are not easily given rented accommodations in Delhi and elsewhere, then something needs to be done about that. The answer to such a problem should not be building separate accommodation spaces. However, if the question is of ‘bringing students from J&K into the mainstream’, then one needs to ask what exactly is this “mainstream” that Kashmiri students need to be roped into every now and then.