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Protests turn violent at Kashmir colleges, but principals display deft wisdom to defuse crisis

On the morning of Monday, 17 April, those in charge of the Anantnag Degree College asked district authorities to ensure no police or CRPF personnel are present on the road outside their college that day. The excellent set of police officers there agreed. Then, with great difficulty but quite effectively, the teachers handled their agitated students. Keeping the main gates shut, they let students protest on campus, then ushered them out in small groups through various exits, until only about 60 of the more agitated students were left by around 1 pm.

Even at Srinagar's equally excellent Amar Singh College, the principal and teachers patiently handled their students all morning. Despite an agitated situation, they did not call the police. As at Anantnag, they kept the main gates shut. The agitations did not spill on to the streets.

Police resorted to tear-gas at the slightest sign of protest. PTI file image

Security agencies have resorted to tear-gas at the slightest sign of protest in Kashmir. PTI file image

The gates also remained shut at the Bemina Degree College a little further away in Srinagar. But again, the principal handled the situation very competently. The difference here was in the police's response. When police turned up outside the gate and used tear-gas, the students got predictably agitated. Some even responded with stones from within the campus.

But the principal still insisted that the gates would remain shut and that no student would leave the campus. She was able to thus maintain control.

Street skirmishes

No doubt teachers tried elsewhere too, but clearly were less successful. The police did not help, for they turned up with their favourite stock in trade — tear-gas shells, a large numbers of tear-gas shells in some places. From classrooms to the roads behind SP College in the heart of Srinagar, the entire area was filled with fumes.

According to one student, a senior police officer initially asked students to protest at the press colony, so that their protest would be recorded, but not to block the roads. The students did not agree. Other students say they were protesting on the side of the road, not obstructing traffic, but the appearance of the police led to trouble. Students pelted the police, who responded with tear-gas. Students would not back down, so a vast cloud of gas spread over a hail, and then a carpet, of stones.

Tear-gas was also used at the prestigious Women's College, just up the main Maulana Azad Road from SP College. What happened is not entirely clear. But it seems that protesting students came out on to the road throwing stones, but were pushed back into the campus by security forces. They then continued to lob stones from within. In response, the police fired tear-gas into the campus, from under the shut gate.

During agitations at the Baramulla Degree College, two policemen initially came to ask what was going on, but college authorities told them they did not need help. When students emerged to protest on the highway, which runs right by the college gate, police returned in force, and ugly skirmishes ensued.

Uglier skirmishes took place at the Kulgam Degree College and at the Nawa Kadal Women's College in the heart of downtown Srinagar. Some students were injured, and one Nawa Kadal student was said to be in critical condition after a stone hit her skull. Students said the stone came from a bunker.

Dangerous trends

It is extremely sad that colleges across the Valley have been driven to protest. Various videos of excesses by the armed forces added to the main spark from Pulwama, where the police beat students on the degree college campus on Saturday, after some students stoned their barricade on the highway that runs by the college.

Protests were only to be expected — although, generally speaking, college students have hitherto been more focused on academics and careers. Monday's protests plugged into the increasingly disturbed situation in the Valley. Some of the slogans at colleges focused on the option of dropping the pen for a gun.

Events of the past few days have added to the widespread perception among Kashmiri youth that they are victims of a malevolently disposed security set-up. Social media posts of some college students on Tuesday morning complained that security forces had behaved like "terrorists" rather than guardians.

These are dangerous trends. It is vital to respond with the sensitivity, patience and wisdom that several principals and teachers demonstrated on Monday. They deserve high praise.

Updated Date: Apr 19, 2017 09:14 AM

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