Kashmir: Owner’s Nuisance, Neighbour’s Pride

The furore sparked off by the summary suspension of 67 Kashmiri students from a Meerut-based university over some sloganeering was a long-awaited call for those who want to wake up and take notice. The controversy threatened to erupt into a major confrontation in the ‘communally sensitive’ Meerut, which has a history of communal violence. Two Chief Ministers, a Chief Secretary and a Foreign Office Spokesperson were pressed into releasing statements. The Vice-Chancellor of the university (a Muslim), defiantly said that the ‘students had been asked to name those responsible for the ruckus, but had refused to do so. Hence we suspended all Kashmiri students living in the hostel.’

Excuse me, ‘Kashmiris?’ Isn’t that racist, communal, and intolerant? If a group of ‘Bihari’ students picked up a fight at the NIT in Srinagar, would the Director suspend ‘all Biharis,’ and still keep his job?  What about ‘Bengalis’ supporting Bangladesh in a cricket match?

First, the facts. Over 100,000 Kashmiri – is there anything like ‘Kashmiri’ in the Indian Constitution, other than the language? Are Kashmiris an ethnicity? A minority? – students study at various colleges and universities in India. Many of them are toppers in their streams, as borne out by some students of the university in question, who said that there was an undercurrent of hostility against Kashmiris because of their high performance. Having studied outside Kashmir myself, I fully agree with this view. I studied at a Central University where admission was open for all from every corner of India. In over ten batches enrolled there while I was a student, I cannot remember a single where a Kashmiri was not a topper. All batches from 1993 till 2013, have a Kashmiri presence, and in each of the batches from 1995 – 2005, a Kashmiri has won a gold medal, or figured among the top three, or secured a top rank in the post-graduate medical entrance of the University, or in the All-India examination. One of my seniors, currently in Australia, had over 14 medals, a colleague of mine had 6 medals, and two juniors, together, had topped every exam in all years. One of them works at the SKIMS now, and the other was an All-India topper at the AIIMS, New Delhi, in 2006. Kashmiris had a disproportionately large presence in other branches of the university where I studied, and were also able to pass prestigious All-India level exams.

Some of the ‘suspended’ students at the Meerut-based University were beneficiaries of the Prime Minister’s scholarship scheme for Kashmiri students, which lead the Chief Minister to comment that ‘they should introspect.’ Yes, they should introspect. But so should the authorities holding power over Kashmir, who offered such scholarships.

The PM Scholarship, launched with much fanfare after the 2010 agitation, was meant to give Kashmiri students an opportunity to study outside Kashmir, and ‘see India,’ much like the ‘sadbhavna’ tours organised by the Army and the BSF in Kashmir. If the students who ostensibly benefited from an ‘Indian’ scholarship tailor-made for them to begin to accept, love and praise India, and wax eloquent about Indian virtues, have found themselves at the receiving end of the long-arm of the law for supporting a neighbouring country during a cricket match, then what is this whole gimmick about Kashmiri youth and opportunities for? If the administration is going the extra mile to see that Kashmiri youth get ‘settled’ in life, and yet finds the same kids rooting for an opposing cricket team, should not the administration reconsider its entire policy? Is it a success by any standards in terms of endearing India to the Kashmiri public? Probably not. If it was a success, then you’d have had Kashmiri kids readying to cry hoarse when India would lose a match.

The underlying statement that has been made is: you can take the ‘kids of the streets,’ but you cannot ‘take the emotions out of the kids.’ The lens through which authorities look at Kashmir needs cleaning. The view that Kashmir is mainly a ‘law-and-order’ problem that can be tackled through education, jobs, development and opportunities is fundamentally flawed. As the recent episode in Meerut and a similar incident in Punjab have amply demonstrated, the alienation is deep. It is now part of the fundamental nature of most Kashmiris, and cannot be wished away with an ‘education’ and a Bharat-Darshan Yatra. The more India tries to sweep it under the carpet with dole-outs and dependence, the more the matter comes to a head.

One cannot but sit-up and take notice of the statement from Pakistan, where the Foreign Office said, with a lot of emotion: ‘Our hearts and educational institutions remain open for Kashmiris.’ That leaves one to ponder – what exactly has Pakistan done to Kashmiris that Kashmiris are so defiant in their continued pro-Pakistan feelings? A quick glance of history reveals little by way of roads, electricity, education, democracy, or anything visible and worth noting. One is drawn to a statement made in 1998, by a Kashmiri driver, to an international news channel. ‘India can pave the streets with gold. We will still not be Indians.’
Amidst the recent din, Kashmiris failed the Tebbit Test, again. Is there no one listening?