By DAR WASIM
Well known illustrator, Jim Benton has rightly said, “School prepares you for the real world… which also bites”.
It all started in the Hyderabad University, then reached JNU and now is spreading in Kashmir. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s failures on development and good governance fronts, the right wing and his Hindu nationalist supporters started attacking premier institutions invoking the “nationalism” card.
Rohit Vemula paid the price of being a dalit and JNU students were arrested for speaking the truth about his ‘institutional murder’. The crime of these students was they challenged the rightwing version of nationalism and stood for the facts. Kashmiri students too faced the wrath of ultra nationalism of India at regular intervals. They are the easy prey whenever controversies around Indian national anthem arise or the Indian team loses a cricket match to any other team Kashmiris may support.
The writing at the gate of NIT Srinagar stands witness that minor incidents of celebration over a cricket match can challenge the atmosphere of peace and turn an institution into a fight club. Kashmir always cheers for the Pakistan team and Kashmiris regularly pay the price for it wherever they may be across India. We have an emotional bond with the Pakistan team for a number of reasons. Kashmiri people irrespective of their personal political beliefs support the Pakistan team, but this time the controversy erupted when West Indies sealed the dreams of the Indian team and their nationalistic followers when they forced the Indians out of the World T20.
Kashmiris burst crackers and the atmosphere of joy spread to every street of Kashmir valley and beyond. Apart from cheering for Pakistan, Kashmiri people derive great pleasure in siding with any team playing against India. The attraction towards the rival teams of India attests the fact that there is a tale of deep pain to tell. This part of the world which India claims to be its integral part is held by an estimated half a million of its troops who are responsible for unspeakable crimes against humanity they are blamed of having committed on the people of Kashmir. From rapes, custodial killings, enforced disappearances, torture they have deployed all of it to retain the integral part.
Kashmiri people on the other hand have always risen against this oppression but the blackout by the Indian media adds salt to our wounds. So, Indian cricket team losing to any side brings a certain pleasure in our hearts. It is no surprise that students at NIT cheered for the West Indies and held a post-match celebration. According to reports and experiences of ex-students, until recently both local and non-local students used to watch the matches together and cheered for their respective teams. Both agreed to disagree about matters sports and fan-following. The NIT campus was a symbol of peace and harmony. The institute has a great history of hosting non-local students even when it was Regional Engineering College. Respecting the religious diversity inside the NIT, one of the canteens was advised to serve only vegetarian food.
After the institute’s ‘upgradation’ to National Institute of Technology in 2003 majority of the students are non-locals and the local students are in an absolute minority now. There has not been any report of even minor violence earlier.
But this time everything appeared motivated and planned. Cheering against the Indian team was enough spark this time, and the outstation students started to deliver according to a visible script. They assaulted the Kashmiri students and damaged property. Even a courier boy from outside the campus had to face a murderous assault after he refused to chant “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”. Fearing an escalation, the institute was closed for the weekend.
However, as if following some script, the biased Indian media and ready rightwing army rallied behind the outstation, read Indian Hindu students, which encouraged them for the worst. When the institution reopened, non-local students resumed their protests, demanded to hoist the Indian tricolor at the gate and tried to take a protest rally outside the campus. The police intervened, tried to stop the students and baton-charged them. Police should have exercised restraint and explored other means to stop the protesters from moving outside. The manner of police action may be condemnable, but stopping the students from moving outside was a good decision.
A pro-India rally and hoisting of tricolor has always been challenging and provocative at the same during volatile moments anywhere in Kashmir. Instead of focusing on their studies these students were interested in passing the nationalism test. The police action was enough for the Indian media to train their guns on the state administration and the pariah Kashmiri people.
On the mainstream Indian media, particularly TV news channels, it was made to look like a battle or a war if you may, between Kashmir and India. Indian media and mainstream commentators wasted no time in standing behind the outraged Indian students. The HRD ministry condemned the police action and rushed a team to inquire the matter to furnish every detail of what may or may not have transpired at NIT.
A hate campaign on social media by the nationalist brigade of India led to twin attacks on Kashmiri students at Jammu. They were forced to chant “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and after their refusal they were assaulted. The incident further alienated the people of Kashmir and sealed the fact that Kashmiris are not Indians. Kashmiris are regularly attacked in Indian towns and cities and on campuses of educational institutions, but no team is ever sent to inquire the matter.
Police on 25th June 2015 turned the University of Kashmir into a war zone and dragged female students by their hair. No hue and cry was observed anywhere in the Indian media. No condemnations jammed the Indian nationalist media, and of course no team rushed to look into the issue. Instead, some commentators justified the action and rallied behind the administration.
The Kashmiri students of NIT are becoming scapegoats for the Hindu nationalist campaign encouraged by the government in New Delhi. The Kashmiri students will do well to understand what is being tried on them. They should concentrate on their studies and work to feel at home again, as they always have. Kashmiris are advised to respect the state guests and behave as true hosts. The outstation students should endeavor to make it a part of education here to understand the reality of Kashmir and help transmit the same to their fellow Indians who are so constantly misled by the mainstream media.
—Dar Wasim is an author and rights activist.