Institutions of higher learning are also inherently supposed to be sites of cultural freedoms. But colleges, universities and technical education institutions in Kashmir have over the decades been steadily transformed into intellectually and culturally barren enclaves. A dumbing-down of these spaces has actually been quite a phenomenon. A politically repressive culture of administering these institutions has surely imposed itself on the student community in Kashmir which has been for years now manifesting as a form of student angst. During the early 1990s when death and much higher levels of violence reigned Kashmir, parents who could afford to sent their wards to the safety of Indian cities for getting an education without risking to die in the process. But slowly, as India began getting engulfed in a climate of fear and Hindu right wing ascendency, that choice is becoming more and more difficult. Kashmiris are now caught between being subjects of state violence at home and identity violence outside. Incidents of Kashmiri students being hounded and attacked are becoming too frequent; be it because of allegations that they eat beef, support sports teams that play against India, or just for being Kashmiris or Muslim.
The National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar has become the latest of higher education institutions where Kashmiri students are having to face the same conditions those studying outside have been of late. NIT Srinagar was a regional engineering college up to 2003 almost exclusively meant for students from Jammu and Kashmir. There used to some reserved seats for students from outside. Since India was not as close an ally of Israel as it has become after the BJP’s ascendance to being rulers in New Delhi, Palestinians used to be a good presence in the institute. The REC, as it was known then, was a refuge for the victims of Israeli occupation. But since the institute was ‘upgraded’ to the status of an Indian national institute, students from Jammu and Kashmir can have only 20 percent places. They have become like Palestinians in NIT now. When they cheered for the West Indians during the T20 finals, Indian students behaved with them like they have with Kashmiris in universities in India. ‘National level’ institutions set up in Kashmir are now beginning to look like Trojans transporting fascism. The state’s education minister will do well to see it for what it is instead of trying to paper over it by simplistically calling it an administrative issue.