The crackdown on students during the 1960s showed its colours a few years later when an armed group of students, named Al-Fatah, was formed during the 1970s that carried out a number of activities against the government and its agencies
SRINAGAR: Starting on April 15, when government forces clashed with students of the government degree college in Pulwama after parking their vehicles outside the college gate, the students’ protests snowballed into a widespread wave during the next few days all around Kashmir and still continue.
While the incident happened in south Kashmir, on the following day students from all three regions of the Valley, north, south and central Kashmir, took to the streets and denounced the forces’ attack on students in Pulwama, where around 54 students, including girls, sustained injuries, and many others fainted due to tear-smoke canisters.
The protests and ensuing clashes have so far left more than 200 students, both boys and girls, injured in two weeks of protests after forces resorted to pellet firing and heavy teargas shelling to chase away the protesting students.
The ongoing students’ protest is believed to be one of the largest and longest agitations in decades in Kashmir. The student protesters have not restricted the uprising to protesting the forces’ action in Pulwama, but were seen chanting pro-freedom and anti-India slogans, while in some areas they engaged in pitched battles with forces on the streets.
A day after the incident in Pulwama, banned students’ organisation Kashmir University Students’ Union (KUSU) called students to protest against the forces’ excesses in Pulwama college. Responding to the call, hundreds of students in universities, colleges and higher secondary schools held massive protests. The protests at several places morphed into clashes after the police stopped students from walking out of campuses. Even outside Kashmir’s surface gateway, Jawahar Tunnel, the two km-long passage to the Valley, students held protests in Banihal town by blocking the Srinagar-Jammu highway in solidarity with their battered fellows in the region.
Prominent social worker Anwar Ashai, who was instrumental in student activism during the 1960s when he was a student at Regional Engineering College (REC), now National Institute of Technology (NIT), says student uprisings have been witnessed in Kashmir educational institutions since the day Indian troops landed in Kashmir in 1947.
“A mammoth students’ uprising erupted in the Valley when Indian troops entered here. Students and scholars carrying green flags rallied in the Valley streets, and later flags were erected at several places in Srinagar,” says Ashai.
It was amply clear that they were not demanding any security or even infrastructure for that matter, but were expressing dissent at the brutality committed on Kashmiris by the forces and were chanting only one slogan, ‘We want freedom.
On 19th of March, 1964, a huge rally comprised of thousands of students marched from Regal Chowk to the United Nations’ military observers group in Srinagar to hand over the memorandum asking the UN to hold a referendum in Kashmir.
Students have been on the forefront of every resistance all over the world. It has happened in the past, and would continue to be witnessed in the future till they achieve or are given what they have been fighting for since decades
DR SHIEKH SHOWKAT HUSSAIN
Ashai, whose father, Ghulam Ahmad Ashai, was involved in the struggle against Dogra rule from the 1930s, said that student activism gained momentum during the then chief minister late GM Sadiq’s term and rallies were held in an organized manner to press for “plebiscite in Kashmir”.
“On 19th of March, 1964, a huge rally comprised of thousands of students marched from Regal Chowk to the United Nations’ military observers group in Srinagar to hand over the memorandum asking the UN to hold a referendum in Kashmir. That was the first successful and organized rally then. Popular slogans like ‘Go India, Go back’ and ‘Indian dogs go back’ were first chanted by students in this rally,” he recalled.
Ashai, along with hundreds of other students, was subsequently arrested for participating in the anti-India protests.
“A massive crackdown was carried out following huge rallies, and hundreds or even many thousands were put behind bars. I myself was jailed for many months,” he said.
The crackdown on students during the 1960s showed its colours a few years later when an armed group of students, named Al-Fatah, was formed during the 1970s that carried out a number of activities against the government and its agencies.
A senior member of banned KUSU said that the agitation by students was not only a reaction to the attack by forces at Pulwama college but a manifestation of “systematic persecution of years” and that Pulwama incident became a triggering point.
“These (protesting) students are not aliens, but part of the same society where Indian forces have been committing excesses since decades. They have understood with clarity that only academic pursuit won’t secure their future until they are under military occupation. It was aptly clear that they (students) were not demanding any kind of academic or infrastructure facilities for that matter, but were resisting against the violence inflicted on Kashmiris by forces and chanting only one slogan ‘we want freedom’,” said the member.
Asked why the protests became widespread, the member reasons that students have also understood that “even educational institutions, just like every individual, household, mohalla, village and town in the Valley, have become vulnerable to assaults and attacks from the forces”.
Similar to what the government did in the 1960s and 1970s, when the student uprising was at its peak, the police has detained dozens of students and lodged them inside police lock-ups in Srinagar and elsewhere in the Valley, even though many of them were released later. “Choking their voices and the crackdown on students would lead students to extremes,” warned the member.
A group of female students, including one from Kothibagh Girls’ Higher Secondary School, who sustained minor injuries during the clashes, told Kashmir Reader that the day the forces attacked students inside Pulwama College, it made it clear that now had come the time to come out on the streets and express their dissent.
“When daily life is at stake, degrees and certificates hardly matter. Under occupation, neither is our future bright nor is any individual safe. Instead of classrooms, where we are groomed with distortive narratives and propaganda, we feel it better to be on the streets, fighting those who are committing brutality and violations on our fellow Kashmiris,” said a female student.
A government official had recently told Kashmir Reader that the official inquiry into the assault by government forces on students at Pulwama College held police and paramilitary forces responsible for the attack.
According to the official report, submitted on Wednesday by the divisional commissioner, Kashmir, to the office of the education minister, the police and paramilitary forces had “trespassed” their jurisdiction by entering the college.
Another group of male students from Sri Pratap higher secondary, where violent clashes, culminating even in student arrests, have erupted on many occasions during the past two weeks, echoed the similar narrative of participating in demonstrations and clashes to protest the “cruelty of Indian forces” in Kashmir.
“How civilized and organized protest rallies of students, both boys and girls, were violently intercepted by unrestrained force is enough for everyone to understand what would be their treatment of common Kashmiris. Our agitation was more against the Indian forces than a reaction to the Pulwama incident,” say the students.
Political analyst, Dr Shiekh Showkat Hussain, agreed that the widespread protests were the outcome of the “long-time alienation” of Kashmiris by New Delhi.
“Students have been on the forefront of every resistance all over the world. It has happened in the past, and would continue to be witnessed in the future till they achieve or are given what they have been fighting for since decades,” said Hussain.