Dozens of Kashmiri students enrolled in different colleges and universities in the national capital are living under fear, many of them going underground while others are hoping to return home following a controversy over an event to commemorate the 2001 Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University on 9 February.
A week after a group of students allegedly raised slogans during the cultural event, ‘A Country without a Post Office’ (the title has been borrowed from the adored Kashmiri American poet, Agha Shahid Ali’s book with the same title), organised by the ‘Democratic Students Union’, to protest against the “judicial killing” of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat, the controversy seems far from dying down.
Late on Tuesday, a group of Kashmiri students from different department gathered outside a dhaba inside the campus and discussed recent events unfolding inside and out of the university over endless cups of tea. “It is easy to blame Kashmiri students and brand them as anti-nationals. This was the only university in the country where you were allowed to hold a contrarian view, where dissent, a healthy sign of democracy, was welcomed, but now it is becoming scary,” Tariq, a student from the southern district of Anantnag in Kashmir, said.
It is telling that almost every student inside the campus gives you only his first name, fearing reprisal from the police which has launched a witch-hunt against them while right-wing elements accuse them of being "anti-nationals". The events of the week gone by have sparked fears of a fresh crackdown which is why most of the students have chosen to stay inside the four walls of the university.
“At the gate of the university, the ABVP activists are shouting slogans. They behave like goons; stop cars, harass commuters and pedestrians alike, and all under the nose of policemen posted there. We have not been able to set foot outside the university for many days now. We are scared,” another student, Ifat, told Firstpost.
Late on Tuesday evening, young students, undergraduates and graduates, marched inside the varsity raising leftist slogans and demanding immediate release of the arrested JNU Students Union president, Kanhaiya Kumar, over charges of sedition. Holding black and white posters of their arrested leader, they shouted slogans against the police for “witch-hunting.”
"The Hindu right wingers have unsuccessfully tried to paint the most admired and envied university in India with saffron colours. They have been trying this for a very long time. Now, some officials of the university are facilitating that. The BJP wants to curb dissent by using its student wings inside the university. Outside of it, the Hindu right-wing party has employed the organs of the state to witch-hunt innocent students," a scholar at the School of International Relations told Firstpost, requesting anonymity.
The atmosphere inside the university is tense. Students are refusing to go back to classrooms and now the teachers too have joined the protests. After a court extended the police remand of Kumar on Tuesday, the teachers who had waited for two days of strike, have started their own strike. It seems the protests are not going to subside soon and its impact could well affect the atmosphere outside the walls of JNU.
The fear of being persecuted at the hands of security forces in Indian states is not new to Kashmiri students. In March 2014, Swami Vivekanand Subharti University suspended 67 Kashmiri students for cheering Pakistan in an Asia cup match. The charges were later dropped, but their life changed forever after that event and a majority of them never returned back to the university.
What made matters worse for them was that several organisations from Pakistan, including the militant organisation Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a banned outfit, offered them scholarships to study in Pakistan. The politics of love and hatred was played on the career of those students.
“We never wanted it to happen. We wanted some breathing space inside the university, but it was not there. When I see JNU students today, I remember what happened to us at that time. I never went back to mainland India again after that incident,” Anees Ahmad, a student who was expelled from Swami Vivekanand Subharti University told Firstpost on the phone from Srinagar late on Tuesday.
“Imagine, we are talking about JNU, not any other university. The state and its apparatus have come to muzzle the voice of the students who are known for being fearless. How can you feel safe in such environment?” he added.
But many students say the image of JNU being a varsity which offers a healthy space for often contradictory views is not actually true, when it comes to matters of the state and its relationship with Kashmir. “A majority of the students don’t believe in the idea of independent Kashmir, but they respect the views of others. That is what makes this university a unique place to study in,” Khaleed, another student told Firstpost. “I was sitting in the canteen recently when a student of Hindi department shouted at me , 'Hey you Kashmiri, when will you arrest Hafiz Sayeed'. I felt insulted,” he added.