Pulwama attack and aftermath: Targeting of Kashmiri students has created air of fear, otherness

The death of more than 40 members of CRPF personnel in the Pulwama attack on 14 February has troubled every being who despises violence and war. For Kashmir and its people, the last three decades have been the bloodiest in memory. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that there is hardly any individual in Kashmir who hasn't lost a friend, family member or relative in this conflict over all these years.

Following the attack, Kashmiri students in educational institutions across the country have borne the brunt of public anger. There are subtle forms of discrimination in which the predominant stereotyping of Kashmiris as the 'other' usually come across, and its worth looking at these in the context of what happened after Pulwama. The 'other' here typifies as one who not only opposes the institutionalisation of repression in his/her homeland but because his/her identity (Muslim), by default, stands in opposition to the identity of the controlling power.

Being Muslim and Kashmiri, and then opposing the violence of the State is to ask for trouble. Kashmiri opposition to instruments like AFSPA, Public Safety Act, mass rapes, extra-judicial killings, fabricated cases, custodial deaths and torture translates into 'anti-national' or 'seditious' behaviour, since the Muslim identity is used to create a false binary of Hindu versus Muslim, and India versus Pakistan. The denotation of a Kashmiri as an anti-national is so pervasive that any issue on which this set of people takes a stand — whether Dalit or Adivasi oppression, farmer suicides etc — necessarily puts them in the ambit of anti-nationalism in the mainstream narrative of Indian nationalism.

Pulwama attack and aftermath: Targeting of Kashmiri students has created air of fear, otherness

The site of the blast in Pulwama last week. Reuters

The Pulwama attack led to a strong wave of anger that was further exacerbated by the media. This rhetoric of war and vengeance created an atmosphere of hate and spite for Pakistan, which later boiled downed to Kashmiris (students, employees and businessman) who were severely harassed and in some instances, attacked across the country, creating the sense that they are living in foreign territory. The separation and alienation only reduces this community to its basic identity, which has inspired their resistance movement.

The ostracism of Kashmiri students is not a recent phenomenon. There are numerous instances over the past 30 years when Kashmiri students suffered from "a deep sense of insecurity and vulnerability" and were always the victims of police harassment, humiliating searches, intimidation, arbitrary detentions and demands for money by local policemen and locals, all under the pretext of countering terrorism.

However, the campaign against Kashmiri students after the Pulwama attack was unrivalled in its magnitude of hate and contempt. Mirza Waheed, a London-based Kashmiri journalist and acclaimed writer, in his Facebook post, echoed the same apprehension. He wrote, "I’ve been thinking, writing, about Kashmir, India, and Pakistan for 20 years, and I don’t remember a time when there existed such unbridled hostility towards ordinary Kashmiris." Numerous incidents were recorded across India.

In Ambala, a village headman was shown on a mobile phone recording openly calling for the banishment of Kashmiri students while urging his villagers to expel students from their rented rooms. In an Uttarakhand college, the principal was forced by jingoistic fanatics to expel Kashmiri students. Many women students from the Valley locked themselves up inside their hostel rooms when a frenzied mob tried to assault them. The timely intervention of the local officials however, averted the persecution of these students.

The climate of hate and disdain that had been created by fanatical politicians and some journalists was such that for students in Uttarakhand, the only way to avert persecution and death was to call off their studies and return home. While this may prove to be harmful to their careers in the long run, this is what Kashmiri students in Uttarakhand did. At the time of writing, there are thousands of Kashmiri students, employees and businessmen concerned about their safety. Many students are stranded in places like in Chandigarh en route Kashmir after being ousted from their educational institutions. But they are safe for now thanks to some humane souls (Khalisa Aid) who provided these students with some means (vehicles) to drive away from the persecution.

There are still many Kashmiri students across India who have found it unsafe to come out of their rooms and the premises of their university campuses, having locked themselves in their rooms. The severe harassment, bullying, contempt and abuse has created a fear psychosis among these students. Universities like AMU have issued an advisory to Kashmiri students not to venture beyond the walls of their hostels as roads, markets and even the places where they stay and study are unsafe.

There was a time when universities and educational institutions were in the news for their growth, inclusion and scientific advancement. But these spaces are shrinking. Universities are becoming reactionary and exclusionary for Kashmiri students. Educational institutions are turning into haunting grounds for them. The campus where conscience should be cradled is constricted; truth is choked; thoughts are deformed; fear is brewed, and where peace and compassion should be illuminated, a Colosseum of hate and hectoring rises.

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Updated Date: Feb 19, 2019 20:01:52 IST

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