Reading the Silence of Kashmiri Students at AMU

On the 5th of October afternoon, when I entered Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), I felt silence reigning there amid the din of sloganeering days before students’ union elections. The silence was about the recent expulsion of a Kashmiri student.

Aligarh: On the 5th of October afternoon, when I entered Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), I felt silence reigning there amid the din of sloganeering days before students’ union elections. The silence was about the recent expulsion of a Kashmiri student.

On the beautiful AMU campus, I met several Kashmiri students. My request for their views about the expulsion and eviction of Mudassar Yusuf — a resident of Kashmir who was pursuing his masters in organic chemistry there — was largely met with studied silence. The majority of the Kashmiri students,  whom I could manage to interact with, said that further media coverage of this issue might trigger “troubles” for them.

Their fear is not without reason. While the axe had already fallen on Yusuf for writing an “objectionable” Facebook post about the Uri attack, the rest of the Kashmiri students felt threatened by further action at the hands of the university administration, the police and the Hindutva forces believed to be keeping close eyes on them.

As I spent time and sipped a few cups of tea with them at a canteen, they began to open up. Yet, they were extremely cautious in their selection of words. “The time is not appropriate for discussing this issue,” they tried to convince me. “Try to understand our situation. If things improve, we will definitely tell you everything,” one Kashmiri student told me me assuringly.

The unwillingness to speak up, many believe, is a result of the state of fear and insecurity in which they have been forced to live in. Their silence, it seems, is shaped by the unfolding of events outside the university than those happening inside.

Ever since the encounter of Burhan Wani last July, Kashmir Valley continues to burn. The acts of gross human rights violations in the Valley and the persecution of Kashmiri students outside the state have left deep scars on them.

As the history of Kashmir testifies, the bloody cycle of violence — rolling out particularly since late 1980s — has turned the “paradise” into a virtual “hell”. The state, in the name of fighting “militancy,” resorted and continues to resort to all kinds of illegal means, frauds and cruelties such as surveillance, frisking, detention, illegal arrests, torture, police firings, custodial killings, molestation, rape and arson etc.

Outside the Valley too, Kashmiri students are not safe. The occurrence of incidents of attacks on them, as newspapers daily report, has increased of late. The latest incident of an assault on Kashmiri students took place at Ganga Institute of Technology and Management in Jhajjar (Haryana) last week.

Commenting on the ongoing state repression in the Valley and their persecution outside, a Kashmiri student spoke with anger in his eyes: “The students from Jammu and Kashmir are just considered terrorists and not nation-builders.”

The stereotype of Kashmiris as “anti-nationals” has been built through the media and state propaganda.  In this exercise, Hindutva forces are playing a leading role. The frenzy of jingoistic nationalism — expressing through beef politics, the discourse of “anti-nationalism” and Pakistan-bashing etc. — prepares the ground for the persecution of Kashmiri students.

Apart from their identity of being a Kashmiri, their enrollment at AMU further complicates the situation. Like their own security, the Kashmiri students were also worried about the university. “University ko bachana hai (University has to be protected),” asserted a Kashmiri student while many others sitting there nodded their heads in agreement.
What made the AMU so special for the Kashmiri students? A number of factors are responsible for their strong “bond” with it. Particularly important is its atmosphere and culture. The university, therefore, continues to attract them and makes them feel at “home” outside the Valley. Some Kashmiris, out of over one-thousand studying there, told me that they felt “safe” there. But now the expulsion left them shocked.

While AMU remains an “institution of national importance” and one of the “most prestigious intellectual and cultural centres” of Indian Muslims, Hindutva forces have always conspired to demonize it, projecting it as a centre of Muslim “separatism”. However, they conveniently turn blind to the historical facts that both Muslims and Hindus had generously contributed for its establishment (first established as M.A.O College in 1887 and later blossomed into a university in 1920). The university, contrary to Hindutva allegations, is open to all irrespective of religion, caste and gender. Also noteworthy is the fact that the first graduate of AMU was a Hindu and the first life-time membership of AMU Students’ Union was given to Mahatma Gandhi.

However, the popular perception of the university having a Muslim character made the larger AMU community “tight-lipped” about the expulsion, argued an AMU professor of social science. “There was a tremendous pressure to expel the Kashmiri student and the administration caved in.” Weeks after the expulsion, some AMU students, contesting elections, made passing references to the expulsion in their speeches but that came too late. These factors perhaps account for their silence.

When asked if they should wage a fight against the administration as JNU students did this year, they were not excited about such comparison. “We are unlikely to get public support as the students of JNU got,” they contended.
Note that the state crackdown against JNU students, following the February 9 incident, was widely condemned by intellectuals’ circles and civil society. But the same circles, in the perceptions, are unlikely to back them up – “We know very well that there is a big difference between JNU and AMU,” they rued.

The argument of Kashmiri students carries force. It pointed to the different yardsticks the state, university administrations and media have used to deal with the “dissenters”. While the administration instantly expelled Yusuf without hearing his position, most of the Indian universities are providing impunity and safe heaven to the Hindutva forces. The civil society members, in their perceptions, had fallen short of the expectation as they were hesitant to stand with oppressed people and speak out on “controversial” issues.

(First published in Milli Gazette (print edition), October 16-31 October, 2016, reprinted online on October 31, 2016)

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