Kashmiri students and Indian universities

The possibility of a genuine research has become almost closed at these sites of persecution

Flouting even the typical liberal claim of a university as a site of “free” debate and discussion, the educational institutes of “the largest democracy” are increasingly crushing any dissenting voice. Among the worse victims of state’s persecution at universities are the Kashmiri students.

The latest case of a persecution came up in the historical Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), founded by the nineteenth-century social reformer Sir Syed Ahmed Khan for removing educational and social backwardness of the Muslim community. The AMU Vice-Chancellor Lt. Gen. Zameer Uddin Shah, contrary to Sir Syed’s vision, denied a Kashmiri student his right to education. Shah on Monday expelled Mudassar Yusuf, a resident of Srinagar who has been pursuing his masters (organic chemistry) from AMU.

The expulsion and eviction of Yusuf from hostel was executed by the AMU administration soon after he wrote a Facebook post about the Uri attack. Unlike the Government’s position that the Uri attack on the military base was the design of Pakistan-based terrorists, Yusuf’s post saw it as the fallout of the process of militarisation in the Kashmir.

“17 Indian army men have been killed by those who have been made terrorists by the (Indian) army itself”, The Hindustan Times (September 20, 2016) quoted his post as saying.

What Yusuf contended was a critique of the militarisation in Kashmir. Several human rights activists, academicians, politicians, too, have spoken, written and documented this. Kashmir, they would broadly say, remains one of the most militarised zones in the world where people are stopped, frisked, interrogated and asked on a daily basis to prove that they are not a “threat” to security.

As a result, the whole region has been brought under a state of permanent surveillance and emergency.

The university administration, instead of providing a space for dissenting voices against the state chose to gag the voices of the oppressed. That a person has been expelled for expressing an opinion on social media is a clear indication that the possibility of a free inquiry is almost not available at the Indian universities.

Going by the Indian laws, the limit to freedom of expression is permissible only when such an expression poses a threat to “sovereignty” and “integrity” of the state.  But as the case of Yusuf appears so far, no logical mind can buy the argument that the security, integrity and sovereignty of the “mighty” Indian state is threatened by a mere Facebook post.

However, the AMU VC unabashedly justified his dictatorial decision. The VC, as the AMU spokesperson Rahat Abrar told the media, took “a serious view of the issue” and “expelled” him “after personally probing the matter”.Further, Shah also described the post as “objectionable”, creating feelings of “resentment” and “anti-national sentiments”.

The VC’s zeal to check “anti-nationalism” seemed to be the result of “external pressure” from the government. Since the Modi-BJP Government came to power with a clear majority of its own, the state machinery, in collusion with the Hindutva, is trying to do what they have not been able to do in last sixty years.

One of their primary targets is the dissenters and those who question the power. Thus, the Hindutva government’s prime targets are universities, particularly those perceived to be breeding “anti-national sentiments”. The Government, thus, has primarily identified Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and University of Hyderabad (UoH) and Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) as the “dens” of breeding “anti-nationalism”.

When the state-crackdown followed in the wake the February 9 incident at JNU, the Kashmiri students were similarly the prime target of the police and the university administration. Even the right-wingers and a section of so-called progressive section, without any substantive evidence, began to look at the Kashmiri students suspiciously.

Two months later when an inquiry committee, set by JNU, completed its report, the target, among others, was a Kashmiri PhD student. Mujeeb Gattoo, a Kashmiri studying in JNU, was rusticated from the university for two semesters. Months later, the harassment of the Kashmiri students in JNU have not stopped. Many Kashmiri students of JNU are still being interrogated by the police and the administration.

Several other universities across the country also saw persecution of Kashmiri students. For example, a recent incident of attack on Kashmiri students was reported from Barakatullah University of Bhopal.

According to The Hindustan Times report (July 18, 2016), the doctoral scholar Omar Rashid, hailing from Pampore (Kashmir) was thrashed. To save his life, he “held” his ears and sought “forgiveness” after he was brutally thrashed in front of security guards.

Note that this attack occurred at a time when the Kashmiris were out in the streets against the sate repression. As this incident showed, the life of a Kashmir is not safe either in the “troubled” zone of the Kashmir or outside it.

Not to talk of the anti-social elements, even the government nourished suspicion towards the Kashmiri students. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is said to have been compiling data about them, bringing them under massive surveillance.

Sometime back former Chief Minister of Jammu Kashmir Omar Abdullah, too, expressed concern about such moves. In his Tweet, he asked, “Why is MHA ordering states to compile dossiers/data of J&K student like this?”Further, he wrote to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, asking her to look into the cases of harassment of Kashmiri students by the West Bengal police.

During a cricket match too, the Kashmiri students are under scanner. In May 2014 Swami Vivekanand Subharti University, a private university in Meerut, expelled 10 Kashmiri students for allegedly cheering for Pakistan. The city police went on to slap sedition charges on them, which could only be revoked by the intervention of the then Jammu Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

As communal press and rumour-mongers often allege, Muslims distribute sweets and light up fire crackers when the India team loses a match to Pakistan.

Why are many of Muslims, including the Kashmiri Muslims, assumed to be “supporters” of Pakistan?

Noted subaltern historian Gyanendra Pandey’s essay (Can a Muslim be an Indian?) helps us understand the persisting “suspicion” towards the Muslim minority.

As Pandey argues, “nations are established by constructing core or mainstream-the essential, natural, soul of the nation”, the minorities are therefore reduced to being the “other” of the nation. Thus, the core of Indian nations are male, upper castes/classes living in the Hindi heartland while Muslims, Christians and other marginalised sections are pushed to the margin. This explains why Muslims are perpetually asked to prove their loyalty to nation.

Since the coming of the Modi-government, the patriotism of a large number of people is also being questioned. The charges of seditions are being indiscriminately slapped. The Modi-Government, which otherwise claims to be a “nationalist” government, has no qualm about keeping and invoking British-made seditious laws. For example, Kannada movie star Ramya has been recently charged with sedition for disagreeing with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s views about Pakistan being “hell”.  By contrast, she said “I respectfully disagree, but Pakistan is not hell.” 

Apart from the issue of anti-nationalism, the beef politics is being played against Kashmiri students. In March 2016, four Kashmiri students were allegedly beaten at Mewar University of Chittorgarh, a private university in Rajasthan, over rumours that they were cooking beef.

The police, instead of giving justice to them, arrested the victims for “disturbing peace”.

Such incidents of attacks in the name of protecting cow and banning beef are being organised all over the country in a planned way. Last year too, 50-year old Akhalaq, a Muslim from the Dadri district of UP, was lynched by a mob on the charges that he was eating beef. The main purpose behind raking up the issue of banning beef is to polarise society on religion line and then tap into communal sentiments for votes.

Note that the ground of such hate politics is being prepared by a large section of “mainstream” media which are deliberately demonising the Kashmiris. Instead of reporting the sufferings of the Kashmiris at the hands of the highly-militarised state, the media focused on the casualties of the armed forces. The channel shed tears and beat their chest that the armed forces had been brutally attacked by the “militant” Kashmiris.

But the fact is conveniently ignored that the protesting Kashmiris can never match the brute force of the state machinery. As the alternative media and activists report about the recent crackdown following the encounter of Burhan Wani, the state violence on the Kashmiris is massive: hundreds of civilians have sustained injuries, lost their eyes, while dozens of them have lost their lives.

Worse still, the curfews pushed a large population into a state of scarcity of food items and medicines. Their sufferings are further aggravated by the suspension of phone and internet services whenever the state wishes.

Even their religious rights to offer prayers and visit mosques are being suspended by imposing curfews. But the “mainstream” Indian media are busy with blowing out of proportion the assaults of “stone-pelting” Kashmiris on army, hiding the dark side of the militarisation in Kashmir for decades.

By contrast, the Facebook post of Yusuf reiterated the issue of militarisation. Instead of standing with his own student for his right to dissents, the AMU VC bowed to the diktat of the government and Hindutva forces.

In the past too, the VC drew criticism for attending an iftar party hosted by RSS-affiliated Rashtriya Muslim Manch. Given that, the possibility of a genuine research has become almost closed at these sites of persecution.

(Earlier published in Rising Kashmir)

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