The crisis that unfolded at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar after the West Indies defeated India in the T20 World Cup semi-final has not only refused to die down but has snowballed into a major challenge for the government. The demands put forth by non-local students — who heavily outnumber the locals — are not of the usual sort that would come from an academic campus. When the semi-final ended in India’s defeat, the reaction from both sides was on expected lines, but no one knew that it would lead to the drawing of battle lines of this scale.
At a time when the debate on nationalism in India has assumed a new dimension and the harassment of Kashmiri students in the rest of India has become a routine, local students cheering for a team playing against India should not come as a surprise.
Kashmir has been witnessing a conflict since 1989 and the Government of India has been fighting a two-fold battle of containing armed rebellion and political alienation. The latter has increased in the past few years with public unrest taking centre-stage. Giving vent to this sense of political dissatisfaction is not new in Kashmir.
When India played against the West Indies and Australia in 1983 and 1987, Kashmiris did not cheer for India and back then there was no political uprising or militancy in Kashmir. Much has changed since then and politically, the distance between Srinagar and Delhi has increased. However, whatever happened on the NIT campus two days ago cannot be condoned. The police could have avoided the alleged brutality against the students, but to follow it up by handing over the campus to Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) did not help to bring the situation under control.
And in the wake of the incident, there have been various demands made.
The non-locals have levelled serious charges against local students, who comprise just 25 percent of the total strength of NIT and charges of brutality against the police. Additionally, they contend that they are not allowed to exhibit patriotism on campus and their tricolour has been confiscated. These charges could be investigated and the “culprits” could be booked but it looks like that the latest demand put by them has dangerous dimensions. They have asked the team rushed by Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) to shut the college and shift it outside Kashmir. Not only is it not possible for the GoI to concede to this demand, but it would also mean pushing Kashmir to the wall.
Under the garb of a “security issue” the students cannot demand migration when thousands of them have been enjoying their time in the college since 2004 when it was rechristened NIT from Regional Engineering College. As of now there are nearly 3,000 students pursuing Bachelor’s, Masters and PhD courses. Of them, just 25 percent are locals. One of the faculty members who spoke on condition of anonymity said that for the past 16 years, non-local students have been studying here and not a single one has been harmed.
“The incident on the day of the semi-finals was an unfortunate one and could have settled down on its own,” he said.
Unfortunately the students fell in the trap of demonstrating patriotism on the campus and the crises that were seen in JNU and Hyderabad reverberated through Srinagar, albeit in reverse.
So far one could see the non-locals mixing with the locals not only on campus but also in markets, in cafés and in the neighbouring Kashmir University. But the way the government tried to settle it by making it a “Central subject” through handing over the campus to the CRPF, stamping the version of Jammu and Kashmir Police’s alleged brutality and not leaving it to the wisdom of local administration to sort out the issue, the future of thousands of students has been jeopardised as they have been isolated and will take a long time to recover.
The Centre should have reposed its faith in the local government — of which the BJP is a part — and allowed it to negotiate with the students. Ironically, the media was banned from entry. So too were representatives of seven local trade bodies who wanted to go in and talk to agitating students and assure them of safety. As a result, all doors of reconciliation through locals were shut.
The Centre must involve the state government, assure security and bring both sides to the table. Conceding to a demand like shifting the NIT is fraught with danger and will be tantamount to a surrender by the government to a situation that did not exist at all.
The author is editor of Rising Kashmir and a political commentator. He tweets at @bukharishujaat