Controversy Continues at NIT Srinagar

Students have stood by their demands and continue to boycott classes in spite of a meeting with senior government officials, while the state police is upset by allegations of brutality and ‘anti-nationalism’ against them.

NIT Srinagar gates guarded by the CRPF. Credit: PTI

NIT Srinagar gates guarded by the CRPF. Credit: PTI

Srinagar: At around 10:30 pm on Friday, a group of out-station students from Srinagar’s National Institute of Technology emerged from an eight hour meeting with Jammu and Kashmir’s deputy chief minister, Nirmal Singh, at his official residence in Srinagar. Tensions have been high at the NIT campus ever since Kashmiri and non-local students clashed following India’s semi-final loss to the West India in the T20 cricket world championship last week.

Escorted by the police and kept away from the media glare, at least seven students were hurriedly driven back to the campus, about eight km from Singh’s residence.

“We hope to see some issues getting resolved by Monday and normalcy returning to the campus,” Singh, who was joined by education minister Naeem Akthar in the meeting, told the media late at night.

This was the first meeting between representatives of the agitating non-Kashmiri students and thePDP-BJP  coalition state government, which is desperately trying to bring normalcy back to the campus. “The channel [of communication] has finally opened with the students, and we hope things will progress positively,” Singh said.

But less than an hour later, sources said the campus erupted again as non-local students, who have put forth a set of demands as precondition for resuming classes, resorted to sloganeering which continued late into the night. By the time morning arrived, the students had gone back to their original stand.

An official who was part of the Friday meeting said the students reiterated their demands of shifting the NIT campus out of Srinagar to somewhere “safer”, while demanding action against the police personnel who used force against some non-Kashmiri students during clashes on Tuesday. The students have also sought action against “anti-national” faculty members, and replacement of at least 50% of the faculty with non-locals – a demand the Union human resource development ministry is reportedly considering.

“Some of their demands are unacceptable, and this has been conveyed to the HRD ministry,” a senior NIT official told The Wire, hoping the situation would calm down in the coming days.

But going by the mood on campus, the agitating students don’t seem ready for any sort of compromise. While on Thursday the students repeated their protest march inside the campus, hoisted the tri-colour and sang the national anthem, on Friday fresh protests erupted when non-local students, mostly females, tried to take out a march outside the campus on the main road, seeking time-bound action on their demands.

“The magisterial inquiry [ordered on Wednesday] will bring facts to the fore, and any police personnel found guilty will be brought to book. We will also shift police officials from the area to ensure an impartial inquiry,” said the deputy chief minister.

‘Anti-national’ J&K police hits back 

As the state government has gone all out in its attempt to bring calm to the campus, the J&K police, which has come under fire across India over the lathi-charge on non-Kashmiri students and dubbed “anti-national” by a section of the media, hit back on Friday, saying they did not need a “certificate of nationalism from anyone”.

“The J&K police doesn’t need any certificate of nationalism or impartiality from those whose valour doesn’t extend beyond their keypads,” senior superintendent of police Mubassir Latifi posted on his Facebook page.

What angered another official of the force which has been on the forefront of anti-militancy operations in the valley was the sudden removal of police from the campus following clashes with students, and their replacement by the CRPF.

“You beat a law enforcement officer for enforcing the law. Better start your own police station inside the NIT and tell an engineering student to operate the kotwali,” the angry officer wrote.

A senior police official told The Wire that they have registered a case, asserting that around two dozen students and some faculty members, allegedly involved in whipping up passions, have been identified.

To counter the criticism against them, the police also released a video showing non-local students vandalising property and pelting stones inside the campus.

Centre interfering in J&K affairs? 

With the row turning political, senior functionaries from the J&K government, including top police officials, have pleaded with the Centre not to allow some senior BJP leaders including ministers from New Delhi to visit NIT, fearing the move could escalate the situation.

The government made it clear to the Union home ministry that visits by politicians would “vitiate the atmosphere” on campus, deal a blow to the peace efforts and send a “wrong message” about New Delhi calling the shots on the issue, a senior government official said.

But the deployment of the CRPF on campus has already raised question about New Delhi’s interference, a grim reminder of how the Centre has been able to dictate state government actions in the three consecutive summers of unrest during the previous government.

Political analyst Noor M. Baba said the “interference” by the Centre has yet again shown that New Delhi doesn’t trust an elected government in Kashmir when it comes to dealing with “such situations”.

“The worst thing is now they don’t trust the police, which is headed by an official drawn from the IPS cadre. People in Kashmir have again started questioning the authority of the local government,” said Baba, who teaches at Kashmir University.

With the campus becoming the next spot of debate over “nationalism” after JNU and Hyderabad Central University, it remains to be seen how the row over a cricket match, which has snowballed into a political controversy, unfolds in the coming days, as Kashmir with its troubled political context lends itself easily to the polarizing political agendas in India.