Behind the tall iron gate of the NIT Srinagar, three CRPF and J&K Police vehicles block the view of the beautiful campus from the main road. Section 144 has been imposed on the campus, yet a steady trickle of students walk out, in twos and threes. A reporter parachuted by a national TV channel from New Delhi to cover the crises, walks towards the gate, peeping anxiously through the iron grills, only to return with a face of disappointment.
On Thursday, I managed to cross the barrier which has sparked a nation-wide uproar. The road leading to the white washed building, which houses the main administrative block, is almost deserted until one reaches the main crossing inside the campus.
A group of girl students, all of them non-locals, are sitting silently on the outer wall of a non-functional fountain, holding placards in their hands with slogans like “Justice for victims of police brutality". All of them have covered their faces.
An eerie silence prevails on the campus. Three stray dogs roamed freely in a narrow corridor around a lecture hall where a professor is engaged with seven aspiring engineers in a class. The professor's utterance echoed in the empty corridor which connects different sections of the building. The usual clutter and noise of students is missing even as labourers, most of them from outside the state, busied themselves at an under-construction building.
There is a fragile peace on the campus. No one is shouting slogans. Classes are going on normally, although one class had only three students and the professor teaching this small group of students seemed undeterred by the happening around him.
The canteen too is abuzz with students, both locals and non-locals, but three CRPF personnel under a small Chinar tree holding bamboo sticks and automatic rifles, are a stark reminder of the crisis that still exists in the minds of the student which has turned NIT Srinagar into a fortress.
Anuprana (name changed), a student at the institute, hails from Bihar. She says there has been a positive movement on the local versus non-local issues and things have been sorted out. She spoke in a sullen voice; her face covered with a white sari.
"There was a comment by a miscreants threatening 'rape’ but there are miscreants within us too who indulged in violence. It is not that someone wanted to kill us, but there was an ideological difference. We have no issue with the local students now,” she says.
“We just want go home for now,” she adds.
A crucial meeting of the students with the MHRD team and J&K government led by deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh on Friday evening managed to break the ice. Non-local students asked the MHRD team, which is camping in Srinagar, that they wanted to go home. The MHRD officials have agreed, but have asked students to give them in writing along with contact numbers of their parents so that they are informed. On its part, the J&K government has promised to take "sympathetic view" of the FIRs filed against students by the police.
On Friday afternoon, four students, all of them non-locals, sat inside a corridor with their heads buried into their laptop. I asked them if they feel threatened by the presence of locals or whether they were threatened at all in the last six days of crisis.
“Never,” replied Anuj, “even my brother studied here in 2001 when Kashmir was in deep trouble. No one touched us, not even when the situation in Kashmir was worse. When I told my brother about the violence, he was shocked and did not believe me until it came on TV,” he said.
The students are negotiating a "safe exit" from the crisis with the MHRD team who have made extra efforts by listening to every individual who wanted to be heard about the events that led to such a major controversy.
“The only thing we are looking forward to now is justice for students who were injured in clashes. But we also maintain that the state brutality though its police is unacceptable,” another student said.
“Punishing the police officer is the main agenda now. It was simple clash of ideologies between local and non-local students. How can police come down heavily on us and beat students? We are seeking justice for that,” another student said inside the canteen.
For the moment, the exams are secluded to begin from 11 April and all the students have been asked to prepare for that, but for those students who want to go home, the MHRD officials have told them that their exams will be conducted at a convenient date later.
“We are looking forward for MHRD officials to postpone our exams because many of us are not mentally prepared to appear in the exams,” said Manjula (name changed), another student.
Despite the opening provided by the MHRD as well as the state government, a rift has grown within the protesting students who are talking in different tones about the future strategy of their agitation. While one set of protesting students want to go back to their classes, the other is adamant on protesting unless "all demands are not met".
“Our career will be ruined if we continue protesting. Even if we go home for now and exams are postponed, we have to come back for exams,” Akash, a student of the civil engineering, said.
It is quite likely that many students may leave the campus on Saturday and go back to their homes. According to officials, six non-local students have already left for their homes states. The protests have subsided after the police identified 20 “miscreants behind the violence”.
According to one student, it was a verbal abuse hurled at a senior scholar by his juniors inside the college’s Tawi mess which sparked the ensuing chaos. When a scholar from electrical department advised these non-local junior students to mind their language in a public place, they became infuriated, sparking the row which has caused a nation-wide uproar.
"We are tired now. We just want to go back to our home and return to start afresh,” Ravi Sharma, another student said