April 07, 2016

India - Kashmir: [Controversy involving National Institute of Technology Srinagar] Need for caution (editorial, Kashmir Times, 7 april 2016)

Kashmir Times, 7 April 2016, Editorial

Need for caution
Fragility and sensitivity of Kashmir demands that NIT not be made a battle-field of divisive and communal politicking

The timing of the controversy involving National Institute of Technology Srinagar students and the manner in which events have unfolded reveal that the hype created over the incident is not without design. Needless to point out that the row, which can easily be handled and amicably resolved at the local level, has the potential of sparking an inferno if attempts to fuel the crisis with excessive politicking continue. It may or may not be a pure coincidence that the situation in NIT flared up again, even as the matter was more or less resolved only after the swearing-in of the Jammu and Kashmir PDP-BJP government. However, it clearly is a spill-over of the crisis that many university campuses across India are presently reeling under, with government backed elements promoting a divisive polity and communal passions. Unfortunately Kashmiri students have borne the worst brunt of such aggressive divisive politics that the JNU crisis has created, impact many other college and university campuses across the country. The present NIT incident started over some Kashmiri students celebrating the defeat of Indian cricket team in T20 world cup series and an ensuing scuffle between them and the students from outside the Valley, who are in majority on the campus. This needs to be seen in a context. Such incidents have a history on campuses across India and Kashmiri students have had to pay with arrests, expulsions and suspensions in Meerut, Noida, Jaipur and Chandigarh even during the Congress led UPA regime. The present BJP government has promoted a far more aggressive agenda of divisive politics on campuses to target not just the Kashmiris but also Indian Muslims and other minorities including Dalits. In Mewar, the Kashmiris were earlier demonized and arrested on false charges of eating beef on campus and in a latest incident they have been suspended for clashes over cheering up for cricket teams. The NIT clash among the students last week, though amicably resolved by the administration with the institute re-opening on Monday, later flared up, due to non-Kashmiri students engaging in a clash with the police on campus and with unnecessary politicking from outside. With ultra-nationalism dominating the discourse, the inevitable victims would be the students community, including the Kashmiri students. This must be stopped at any cost, as this would have disastrous impact on the Valley, where youth are already seething with rage and excessive alienation. Fragility and sensitivity of Kashmir demands that NIT not be made a battle-field of divisive and communal politicking.

The prime concern of the non-Kashmiri students on the campus with respect to their security is important and must not be ignored. Whether or not this concern is exaggerated in view of there being no history of targeting students from outside the Valley, it needs tactful handling, not jackboots and certainly not ugly doses of politicking. Facts are still not ascertained as to why the students got provoked a day after the re-opening of the campus, why police was called in and how the clash with the police started. The students have alleged brutal action by the police which must indeed be probed without much fuss. It is important to bear in mind that police in Kashmir has earned notoriety for its ruthless ways of dealing with the youth and of excessive abuse as demonstrated in the 120 deaths during street protests in the summer of 2010, in most of which police was involved. If there is any guilt on part of police personnel they must be brought to task but it would be misplaced to invoke ultra-nationalism and accuse the cops of playing into the hands of anti-national sentiments without getting the facts together in the first place. Let the situation be handled with utmost caution and with the idea of helping to douse the fires instead of flaring them up with reckless politicking. Campuses in or outside Kashmir are capable enough to handle and resolve minor clashes internally through dialogue and negotiations without policing campuses and without political parties jumping in the fray to further muddy the waters. To put to rest the clashes among students, it is best to encourage the healthy practice of open debates and discussions and promoting a culture of hearing different perceptions and opinions. This should be the way forward rather than seizing the opportunity of campus politics and campus clashes for politicking by using students as pawns. The same principle should apply across the board - whether it is NIT Srinagar, JNU, Hyderabad Central University, Mewar or Jadavpur universities.