As Kashmir was limping to normalcy after bullets mixed with ballot during daylong by-poll, a police raid in a south Kashmir college triggered sort of a crisis forcing closure of academic spaces for a week. Even though the student union has asked for resumption of routine, state managers must sit, discuss and answer some uncomfortable questions
The student unrest that Kashmir witnessed last week was just a glimpse of the anger that gen-next has accumulated while growing up under the shadow of the gun. With tens of thousands of young men and women on roads, it was a lurking danger of getting into a frightening abyss of new chain of violence.
Situation was primarily saved by two interventions. Firstly, the paramilitary forces, currently abundantly available as they wait for the second phase of unlikely polls, were not involved at all by the state police. Secondly, almost everywhere, especially in Srinagar, the civil administration deployed magistrates to ensure the Lakashman Rekha is respected.
“We were literally shadowing the policemen,” one magistrate told Kashmir Life. When a group of boys gave police a slip and took shelter in a shopping complex, a magistrate literally stopped a police officer from chasing them. “Once you get in, either they will kill you or you will kill them and that is what I do not want.” This saved the situation.
Srinagar’s fashionable Moulana Azad Road, which started the protest, was cooled only after the police was withdrawn from the rear of the SP College to enable injured and tired boys go home.
“I gave the boys enough space and time to shout slogans and when they felt tired, I lobbed a few tear smoke shells and they went home,” one police officer said. “What was the harm in permitting them to protest?”
The unrest that seemingly could have marked the beginning of a serious crisis started with that Casper, the South African anti-mine armoured carrier, that parked inside the gate of state run Degree College in Pulwama on April 12. Only investigation would reveal if the soldier-officers in the vehicle were invited or had just come to discuss some Sadhbhavna project with principal, Abdul Hamid Sheikh. A possible investigation will also answer why the soldiers visiting the college choose a Casper and not a routine jeep. Casper is normally an operational vehicle.
Moments after the Casper got in; the students resorted to mass stone pelting. The drama continued for some time and the vehicle retreated. The next two days were normal.
Saturday afternoon when two Rakshak vehicles, this time carrying police, entered the gate, it was the slightly different scene. Fearing it was a revenge of Wednesday, the students pinned the two vehicles. Videos already on the web offer the intensity of the reaction. Soon after, tear smoking started within the premises. As the two sides fought – despite the college principal, fully known to the officer who was leading the raid, intervened, the students were injured. As they were rushed to the hospital, the cops chased them there.
“My hospital is a battle ground, I have injured around and the cops and students are fighting in the hospital premises,” one senior doctor told Kashmir Life. “Smoke from the shells is well into the hospital.” More than 65 students reached hospital, some for very minor interventions, mostly girls fainted by suffocation. But there were two serious injuries which were shifted to SMHS. Police did use pellets guns.
Why police entered into a college with almost five thousand students on rolls? Why the operation took place when both Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police were on leave? Why the raid was carried out at a time when the two videos showing soldiers marshalling youth in neighbouring Budgam were exchanged million times in last 24 hours? Why did the police get into the premises, creating a new precedence, perhaps first time after 1977? Did not the officers know that in wake of historic low poll in Srinagar in which more than eight people were killed, polling in South Kashmir was pushed to May 25? Answers to these questions are crucial to understand the system that seemingly is non-responsive.
Police has its version. SSP Pulwama told Kashmir Life that the police party had gone to see the stone pelters who threw stones on a naka that existed outside the college for years. “There was a slight misunderstanding that police had come to make arrests which it was not,” SSP said.
The senior police officer said they did not do anything illegal as no law prevents police from getting into a college! In such an explosive situation, only Singham style officers can drive two Rakhshak’s into a college?
The event is being seen by political class as “misadventure” by some “young dabang officers” who “in utter disregard of anger on ground” seemingly “wanted to conquer a territory”.
Though the government is well briefed but, at the end of the day, it seemingly is in office and “not essentially in power”, goes the public perception. In quick follow up, it attached the principal for “speaking to the media”!
After Kashmir University Students Association (KUSU), association not in news from quite some time reacted and called for protests, Kashmir was almost on the verge of a major conflagration. The government required requests from officials to close the colleges. “They are so disconnected from the ground that it is embarrassing,” a senior officer told Kashmir Life. “They live in a detached world where Kashmir seems far away.”
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah questioned government’s ability of dealing with the situation. Taking on to twitter, Omar wrote, “why could all colleges/universities not have been closed for a few days after the Pulwama clashes? Is Mehbooba Mufti not alert to situation?”
And in his second tweet he wrote, “I hope Mehbooba Mufti has thought through the implications of mass student protests across the valley. This is a deeply worrying situation.”
Taking cue possibly from requests of the officials and tweets of Omar, the educational institutions were closed.
After four days of serious crisis, despite the closure of colleges, had KUSU not announced a modus vivindi, it might have been a difficult situation to tackle. But the question remains: what happens to the youth bulge? Kashmiri students are being treated unfairly in the academic spaces of Kashmir and, if they choose to study outside, they face a different kind of atmosphere. Youth cannot be engaged by the cricket and football.
If the government cannot permit student activism in the colleges and the universities, wherefrom the policymakers expect the new leaders to come from? How the democracy debate can survive especially after a serious blow in by-elections for Lok Sabha? If the students in Kashmir universities do not work on the issues they are aware of, who will do it? Subjects related to socio-economic and politics of Kashmir on which the students are keen to research and work are being summarily rejected by the faculties across Kashmir. In contrast the same ideas are being encouraged by the universities in Delhi and elsewhere. Why should academic spaces be an extension of the security set-up?
Khelo India Khelo is ok but for any possible engagement, the first step should be permission to student activism. If the universities across J&K can have student bodies with clear ideological affinities with the Sangh Parivaar, Congress or the Left, why cannot Kashmir afford a student union? Kashmir students have not forgotten that their office in Kashmir University was bulldozed. How can this hurt heal?
Talking to BBC, a group of Kashmiri students in Delhi said that their battle is also against the double standards that Delhi exhibits within and outside Kashmir. “What is good for students in Delhi is not being seen as good for students in Kashmir and that is why we are here to avail all these benefits,” one student said. This feeling is completely shifting the threat perception that security grid normally talks about. The interesting challenges in Kashmir to the governance system are generated in mainland India and not in Rawalpandi madrassas.
In the University of Kashmir campus, there is a strong feeling that the government is willing to permit student activism as long as it has seal of approval by the government. “Why do not you get into the past and see how many times Rahul Gandhi flew to the Naseem Bagh campus?” one KUSA member said. “They recruited boys and girls, assured them travel and jobs but they eventually went to their local mosques at the peak of 2010 unrest and disclaim their associations.”
That was the era when even Sajad Lone was keen to have a student’s union. “For the last two years even the PDP is trying hard to create a union,” the member said. “We are not against the political parties not to have unions but let the government permit KUSU.” The member said KUSU wanted to register the reaction to the happenings in Pulwama. “Youth registered it by exhibiting successful display of resistance, unity and valour and that is it,” the member said. “We are responsible, one the message was conveyed, we are back to the classroom.”