When Dr. Ambedkar met Gandhi for the first time, the latter questioned him on his sharp criticism of the Congress which at that time amounted to criticizing the struggle for homeland (i.e. India). Ambedkar’s heartbreaking reply was: “Gandhiji I have no homeland. No untouchable worth the name would be proud of it.”
Can Ambedkar’s response apply to the sentiments of the Kashmiri people, particularly Kashmiri students in a Meerut university who cheered Pakistan for its cricketing win over India? Or was the cheering nothing out of the ordinary, something blown out of proportion by jingoist anti-Muslim, anti-Kashmiri nationalists. Action against 67 Kashmiri Muslim students of the Swami Vivekananda Subharti University (SVSU) is very significant. They were pounced upon not only by the varsity’s right-wing, but also by its administration which got them charged with sedition after getting them evicted from the campus.
I must confess that if I had to offer some advice to students studying outside the state, it would be: desist from acts that invite the wrath of right-wing fellow students or pro-Hindutva administrations.
Certainly, Ambedkar’s feelings of “no homeland” resonate in Kashmiris too because they are unsafe in Kashmir and hounded outside. The label of patriotism has been reserved for a particular class of Kashmiris. But Kashmiri students must understand that even harmless acts can invite violence from the ever-ready chauvinistic brigades for whom every Kashmiri Muslim embodies the opposite of Indianness. Discretion must be the better part of valour for our young students whose parents sell their valuables for their education because they are not Kashmiri Pandits for whom the doors of reservation are open all across India.
The ugly part of the story is that long before the Kashmiris cheered for the Pakistani team, the non-Kashmiri Hindutva brigade had been persistently kicking, abusing and humiliating them because they were “Pakistanis.” The Kashmiri students would swallow this humiliation because reacting, and its consequences, would be a betrayal of the parents who had sent them to the university at an unaffordable cost.
What makes students from the majority community, always backed by administrations and the police, to humiliate and denigrate Kashmiri Muslim students across the campuses? What makes a so-called nationalist party like the BJP to turn it into an all-India election issue? Just because the boys cheered at some good cricket which could have won applause from lovers of the game anywhere? Indian-born citizens in South Africa or England celebrate Indian victories against their host countries, but they are not charged with sedition.
Something has gone very wrong with the idea of India. It’s inclusiveness and pluralistic culture has been swamped by Vikas Moditva which has demonstrated that prosperity in Gujarat and elsewhere includes pogroms against Muslims The Akhilesh Yadav government in UP is no different from Gujarat. Muslims have been thrown out of the twin districts of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, and instead of rehabilitating them in their native villages, the UP government has offered them Rs 5 lakh per family for never returning to their homes and hearths.
On a wider perspective, the Meerut episode is an affront to the teachings of Swami Vivekananda on whose name the University has been established. And more so when India claims a leadership role in the world, particularly in Asia. And most because all countries within its sphere of influence are Muslim – from Bangladesh to Tajikistan.
Another angle of the episode was revealed by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq who, in a statement condemning the expulsion, said that he had given a proposal to the OIC in 2007 to open its doors for Kashmiri students. He urged the OIC to do it now in the face of severe threats and discrimination faced by Kashmiri Muslims in India. Read this with the statement of the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson, Tasneem Aslam, that the hearts and educational institutions of her country were open for Kashmiris. Maybe the discrimination against Kashmiris in Indian institutions leads Muslims countries to initiate a special policy of admissions for them. It must be remembered that Pakistan, Malaysia and some other Muslim countries reportedly already do so to some extent. It would be the onerous responsibility of the Mirwaiz to inform common Kashmiris about such policies already in vogue so that students here could benefit. Behind-the-scenes admissions for chosen and select people are most probably already in progress. Maybe the SVSU expulsions presage avenues for Kashmiri students at the world or OIC level.