Nationalism debate resurfaces: NIT Srinagar row does not bode well for J&K

On Tuesday, around five hundred non-resident students of the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Hazratbal area of Srinagar started marching towards the main gate, when the police tried to stop them. The DSP of Kashmir police was trying to persuade the agitated non-local students to desist from marching. However, according to the police, he was verbally abused and assaulted by the students. The mob, according to the police, resorted to pelting stones and attacked police officials.

“They assaulted a police officers. We repeatedly requested them to not venture out but they were adamant to go out,” Abdul Majid, the station house officer of Nigeen police station, told Firstpost.

The Jammu and Kashmir police has come under severe criticism for charging the students with baton but the police said that had they allowed the students to venture out on the streets, “it would have meant chaos on the streets.”

The protesting students, anyway, marched out of the institute's gate and the police, who were trying to control the situation, resorted to lathicharge to disperse the mob. Seven students received minor injuries, however no one was seriously hospitalised.

Late on Tuesday, the police in a statement said that the mob of students resorted to violence by assaulting the policemen including officers and started pelting stones. This resulted in damage to public property. Police have lodged a case FIR no 45 at Police Station Nigeen.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

The students, however, had a different story to tell.

“We were beaten badly by police when we were going towards the main gate to talk to the media. The policemen started hitting us. Some of us were even hit with rifle butts. We wanted to protest in Press colony in Lal Chowk and we were demanding security in campus,” Ankit, (name changed) a third year student of NIT Srinagar, told Firstpost.

Tension has been simmering for the last few years over the issue of majority versus the minority in the campus. Eighty percent students of the students on the campus are from other states while the locals comprise of a meagre twenty percent. This has led to resentment among the local Kashmiri students who said that the non-resident students have been "ruling with an iron fist" in the campus.

“This is not the first time. Clashes have taken place in the past, there have been many between Kashmiri students and students from other states. There should have been some kind of quota for the local Kashmiri students, so that a balance is maintained. Admissions for the engineering courses is held at a national level and most Kashmiri students fail to make it  because the state lacks adequate counseling and resources,” Zahoor Ahmad, who completed his PhD from the institute recently, told Firstpost.

“It is not that every non-local student is protesting or is trying to vitiate the atmosphere. These are a few students and to avoid further damage and disturbance we had to shut down the campus on 1 April,” registrar of the NIT Srinagar, F A Mir said.

A notice published by Mir on 1 April said that despite repeated requests by the institute as well as local administration to maintain discipline the students have failed to maintain peace and "in view of the prevailing indiscipline created by the students from today (the 1st of April, 2016) the Institute is closed till further orders. Students are therefore asked to vacate the hostels," the order read.

The fresh trouble began five days ago. When two groups of students clashed over Indian cricket team’s defeat at the hands of West Indies inside the dinning hall of the institute. Kashmiri students accused non-locals for abusing the separatist leadership of Kashmir and non-locals accused Kashmiri students of raising anti-national slogans and celebrating India’s defeat. But, last week, it soon turned into chaos when local students, who are in minority in the institute, burst firecrackers in the lawns after the defeat of Indian team in their semi-finals in the World T20 semi final on 31 March.

This infuriated the non-locals, who in turn, on the next day took out a procession with the National Flag when locals Kashmiri were offering Friday prayers inside the campus, and reportedly damaged the college infrastructure and clashed with the local students.

“A few teachers were harassed when they tried to intervene. They did not even a spare a courier boy. He was attacked and got injuries in his head and ended up with a broken arm," a local Kashmiri student, said.

Police registered a case against the student and filed an FIR. “Two NIT student groups attacked each other and a courier boy was attacked by miscreants,” the FIR said.

On Monday evening (4 April), violence on the campus subsided when the two groups were made to hug each other. But on Tuesday evening, the situation further deteriorated when, amid sloganeering and the demand to postpone the semester exams, students again started demonstrating.

Broken windowpanes, scattered laboratory equipment, lathies and batons snatched from the Kashmiri police dot the NIT campus.  Students have damaged the recreational hall, classrooms and other infrastructure. What transpired at the campus is visible if you enter the institute. Ironically, one of the premier institutes of the state, is now guarded by two companies of CRPF and the local police.

“They (non-locals) beat a local Kashmiri teacher and research scholar inside the campus. They misbehaved with teaching staff and this triggered the clashes,” Adil Ahmad, a student at the institute, told Firstpost.

"When they started beating us, we also retaliated and there was intense altercation between local and non-local students. They hurled abuses at us for celebrating India's defeat in the semi-finals," another student said.

Now, a two-member team of Union Human Resource Development Ministry (HRD) is inside the campus along with the chairman of the NIT, they have requested students to return to their classroom.

Sources said that the non-local students have prepared a list of demands for the visiting team of the HRD ministry, which includes, “postponement of minor exams till a week; no calls to parents of students by the university authorities; proper action against members of canteen staff who pelted stones at students; proper action against faculties involved in the clash; no action against students involved in the clashes as it would ruin their careers.”

The semester exams are scheduled to start from Monday.

It is serious challenge for the new PDP-BJP government, as non-local students studying allege that they were beaten up by the police, and it could also prove to be counter productive for Kashmiri students studying outside.

Peoples Democratic Party spokesperson, Waheed ur Rehman Para, told Firstpost that he has been assured about the safety of the non-local students by administration and police. "I assure you the safety of locals as well as non-locals. I am giving you assurance that no outside student will be harassed or beaten," he said.

When asked should the police have behaved like as alleged by the non-local students of the institute. He said, "You must appreciate the efforts of Kashmir police to quell the situation despite one of their officers being attacked by students. They have to understand the police only stopped them to avoid clashes outside the institution. It was being done for their well-being," he added.

Updated Date: Apr 07, 2016 10:46 AM

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