Identity, Intimidation, and Alienation of Kashmiri students in India

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Image credit: Kashmir ReaderJKLF activsts protest against harassment of Kashmiri students in India. PHOTO: FAISAL KHAN

by Bilal Majid 23 February 2019

The death of more than 40 CRPF personals in the Pulwama attack on 14 February would have undeniably vexed every conscious being who despises violence and war. For Kashmir and its people, this bloodshed wasn’t a new occurrence; it was recurring feature in the last three decades. In these thirty years, an ordinary Kashmiri has witnessed the plethora of violence in the form countless killings, disappearances, tortures, and rapes. It won’t be an overstatement to say that there is hardly any individual in Kashmir who hasn’t lost anyone of his or her family member or someone among his or her relatives in this conflict over these years. The prevalence of this bloodshed and mayhem is the outcome of the unresolved dispute of Kashmir, generally called as Kashmir conflict. A simple search on the internet about “Kashmir conflict” will divulge extensive information for the readers to learn and understand what this conflict or dispute of Kashmir is. It should not be left to a notion of “India-Pakistan” rivalry over a territory that each party is claiming as their’s. The onus of the Kashmiri suffrage and independence has been denied by all parties including the international community.

Kashmir has been a bone of contention between the two nuclear powers of the subcontinent – India and Pakistan. Over the period, there have been numerous claims by both the nations; one claiming Kashmir as an “Integral part” and the other as their “Jugular Vein,” hence being used as their national metaphors. While India sees it as the representative of the secular and federal character of its nationalism; Pakistan, on the other hand, sees it as one of the principal constituents of its religious identity. Targeting the issue to suit their own objectivity, the essence of Kashmiri aspirations was made to evaporate. Each of these external players have promulgated their own system of authority without giving the citizens their right to choose their own system to go on with lives. Non-conformance with their wishes have been dealt with heavy-handedly. Kashmiri social, political, economic and educational life has been suffocating. The Kashmiris are kept under massive surveillance in every step of their lives in these two states. The slight aberrations from this ‘primary control’ like civil society movements, political agitations, and other forms of protest are allowed by these controlling sates.

Leaving spheres of the social, economic and political issues aside, this article focuses on the experiences of the Kashmiri students in the educational institutions in mainland India in light of the latest series of assaults and harassments after Pulwama incident. We will try to highlight the subtle forms of discrimination that predominant stereotyping of Kashmiris as the ‘other’ usually come across. The ‘other’ here typifies as one who not only opposes the institutionalization of repression in his/her homeland but because of his identity (Muslim) by default stands in opposition to the identity of the controlling power. Being Muslim and a Kashmiri and then opposing the violence of the state is like treading on the double edged sword. Our opposition to the instruments of violence like AFSPA, Public Safety Act, mass rapes, extrajudicial killings, fabricated cases, Custodial deaths, and tortures, etc. translates into ‘anti-national’ or ‘seditious’ , since our Muslim identity is used to create a false binary of Hindu versus Muslims and India versus Pakistan.  The denotation of Kashmiri as an anti-national is so pervasive that any issue that we take stand on whether of Dalits, Adivasis, laborers, or farmer suicides, etc., necessarily puts us in the ambit of anti-national in the mainstream narratives of Indian nationalism.

On 14 February, 49 CRPF personnel were killed in a major attack carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammad in south Kashmir’s Awantipora area. This event led to a strong wave of anger in Indian masses which was further exacerbated by saffron media. This rhetoric of war and vengeance created the atmosphere of hate and spite for Pakistan, which later on boiled downed to the Kashmiris (students, employees, and businessman) who were severely harassed, mauled, attacked in Delhi, Bangalore, Bihar, and other places. Kashmir is grossly skewed towards the Muslim population. The strong Hindu-Muslim binary and its politicization in India is mostly connected to debates of Kashmiri students. The shrill anti-Muslim rhetoric by radical Hindu groups and structural marginalization of India Muslims has led to primary alienation of Kashmir Muslims from India. The recent attack on Kashmiri students’ only strengthens their belief of isolation. When whole India was on roads to show solidarity with security forces and terrorizing common Kashmir, it just worked to alienate Kashmiri community further. They are feeling alienated, sidelined and humiliated. A spike in violence only adds to a broad political freeze that the people have been pushed into. The culture of violence and heckling of Kashmiri students creates a sense of living in the foreign territory. The disturbed situation only strengthens the prism of religion, culture, and history through which Kashmiri view their struggle. The separation and alienation reduce this community to their fundamental identity, which has been inspiring for their resistance movement.

The ostracization of Kashmiri students in mainland India is not a recent phenomenon. There are numerous instances over the last thirty years when Kashmiri students suffer 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 other local people all under the pretext of countering terrorism. However, the spiteful and smear campaigns against Kashmir students post Pulwama incident was unrivaled in its magnitude of hate and contempt. Mirza Waheed, 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 twenty years, and I don’t remember a time when there existed such unbridled hostility towards ordinary Kashmiris.” Numerous incidents were recorded across India where Kashmiri students were heckled, abused and harassed openly.

In Ambala, a village headman was shown in a mobile phone recording openly calling for the banishment of Kashmiri students while urging his villagers to dispose of students from their rented rooms. In Uttarkhand College principles were forced by fanatic jingoists to expel Kashmir students. The administration of certain colleges in Dehradun (Uttarkhand) even went to declare that no Kashmiri student would ever be enrolled in the college. 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 women students. The fanatic politicians and some journalists so much brewed the climate of hate, disdain and detest in TV rooms that for the first time any college in Uttarkhand testifies any support for Kashmiri students for safeguarding their careers as all students were in the mid sessions of their studies. The only way to avert persecution and death was to call of studies and return home, and this is what all the Kashmiri students in Uttarkhand did. There are still thousands of Kashmiri students, employees, and businessmen vexatious about their safety…many students are stranded in many places like in Chandigarh while en route to Kashmir after being ousted from their educational institutions, be it Uttarkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar Rajasthan and UP, thanks to some humane souls (Khalisa Aid) who provided these students with some means (vehicles) to drive them off 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 and locking their rooms from inside. The severe harassment, bullying, contempt, and abuse have created a fear psychosis among these students. Universities like AMU has issued an advisory to Kashmiri students not to wander out of the walls of their hostel premises.

The above incidents have unfortunately shaped the opinions of many Kashmiri students back home, and most of them would be very reluctant to come out to study in the mainland India despite the scarcity of higher education avenues in Kashmir. Except for Jamia Milia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University where the number of Kashmir students goes to a few hundred; and in rest universities of India, Kashmiri students are hardly in two digits. The choice of studying in Jamia Milia and Aligarh Muslim University by most of the Kashmiri students is having the feeling of safety and freedom. They are skeptic about other parts of India where as a Muslim minority sigma hovers around them and are treated with suspicion. The fear and skepticism of Kashmiri students aggravated since Narendra Modi and BJP took power in India.  The Hindutva onslaught not only crippled the lives of Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Adivasis but anyone who questions the tyranny of Modi’s dispensation.

Kashmiri students are not only harassed, bullied and loathed in Indian mainland, they are also treated miserably in their own territory of Kashmir. In Kashmir student politics has been banned and therefore, there is no political discourse or discussions in the academic campuses. The Kashmir University Students Union has been banned intermittently since the armed rebellion of the late ’80s. Though the ban was removed in 2007, it was imposed again in 2009 by the National Conference-Congress government after students protested against the rape and murder of the two women in Shopian by the Indian army. The following year, the student union office was demolished as police nearly took over the campus. The police crackdown continued for days as the hostels were raided at night. It is worth mentioning here that the two main political parties in Jammu and Kashmir- Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference (NC), both have cracked down on students and took the lead in banning the student movements in Kashmir. Neither the NC nor the PDP allowed political activities within the campuses as they considered  students’ views to be anti-establishment.

After the popular uprising of 2010, in the backdrop of Machil fake encounter case that took about 117 innocent lives, crippled the state for many months. The then Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh made a promise to give 5000 special scholarships to Kashmiri students to appease and pacify them to lessen the anti-Indian sentiments in Kashmir. The Modi Government continued the individual scholarships but failed to garner trust and faith from the Kashmiris. The students have seen the atrocities, killings, bloodshed, blinding and rapes in their regions and this experience of loss and grief became irreconcilable.

There was a time when Universities and educational institutions were places for mental growth, inclusion and scientific advancement. These spaces are shrinking as these institutions are becoming reactionary. The Kashmiri students are treated as “outsiders” and marginalized. The campus was a place where conscience developed, now turned into an institution where truth is choked, where thoughts should have been shaped, is now deformed, where fear should be culled, is being brewed, where peace and compassion should be illuminated, now has become a coliseum of hate.