Discontent Runs Deep at NIT Srinagar as Kashmir Remains Tense

Months after clashes broke out among students at the institute, there is renewed discontent over the disruption to studies caused by the current unrest in the Valley.

Kashmiri protesters throw stones and bricks towards Indian policemen during a protest in Srinagar. Credit: Reuters

Kashmiri protesters throw stones and bricks towards Indian policemen during a protest in Srinagar. Credit: Reuters

Srinagar: The ongoing unrest in the Kashmir Valley has led to frustration and anger amongst outstation students at Srinagar’s premier engineering college, National Institute of Technology (NIT). NIT was at the centre of a controversy earlier this year after differences broke out between local and non-local students over the Indian cricket team’s defeat in the ICC T-20 World Cup.

The current prolonged spell of curfews and shutdowns, which began on July 9, has created discontent, with students feeling that their career is in jeopardy. “Our registration for the new semester was to begin from July 18 but the commencement was extended twice due to the ongoing crises. It was first postponed to August 1, then to August 18 and now to August 23,” said Vipin, a fifth semester student.

The students fear that the crippling turmoil in the state could eat away at the number of days in their semester, meaning that their studies would suffer.

Tensions broke out across the Valley last month after a police team laid siege around a house in Bamdoora village in South Kashmir, launching a gunfight that killed Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani and his aides. Wani’s killing triggered a wave of protests. People came out in large numbers to mourn the death of the 21-year-old fighter. Wani had an aura that embodied the angst that several Kashmiris have towards India. Across Kashmir, protesters clashed with the police and the CRPF, resulting to the death of over 50 people. A complete paralysis ensued, which saw schools and college shut down.

The closure of their college has worried NIT students. Currently, a large numbers of outstation students are away on vacations after their exams ended. The few who stayed back on campus are filing out, allegedly over concerns of street violence, fewer rations and ATMs running dry.

“Every semester we face problem due to the tumultuous situation in Valley,” Vipin said. “We are engineering students. If the situation remains as such, our campus should be shifted elsewhere till everything gets right over here.”

The students refused to comment on the current spell of unrest, but firmly maintained they feel for the youngsters who have died and suffered injuries. “There were many innocent people who died,” said Gaurav, a B.Tech student from Rajasthan.

Renewed tensions among students

CRPF forces outside NIT Srinagar. Credit: PTI

File photo of CRPF forces outside NIT Srinagar. Credit: PTI

An uneasy relationship – alternating between amiable gestures of companionship and the feeling of suppressed sulkiness – has endured among local and outstation students in the aftermath of the debacle that occurred following the Indian cricket team’s defeat at the hands of West Indies in the T-20 tournament earlier this year.

Kashmiri students rooting for the Caribbean team against India angered their outstation colleagues, causing the two student groups to face off. The trouble between the students has calmed down over the past few months, but the ongoing unrest serves as a kind of trial for the students who find themselves facing each other across the political aisle once again.

Interestingly, union human resources development minister Prakash Javadekar recently informed the Rajya Sabha that issues related to NIT, Srinagar had been resolved and the institute is functioning even during the curfew.

“One good news … NIT Srinagar was in news for many reasons but let me tell you, all the issues are resolved satisfactorily. The students are on the campus and even during the curfew period the institute was functioning. So that’s a good news,” Javadekar was quoted as having said.

If the current mood of the students is any indicator, Javadekar seems to have misread the situation.

Attempts to restart classes

The students I talked to maintained a single voice about the current violence, but their answers indicated some lack of unanimity. While most outstation students are adamantly demanding that the campus be moved, local students believe the issue can be resolved if the government were to take adequate measures for their security.

“Definitely the political unrest is affecting out academics, but temporary shifting is something local students may not be satisfied with,” says Aijaz, a local student. “I believe non locals should come and security must be provided for the campus.”

Outstation students, however, disagreed. “What difference will giving security make?” demanded Gaurav. “Entire Kashmir is suffused with security. That is why the clashes are happening. I don’t think the administration can live up to its promise of commencing registration from the stipulated date of August 23. Besides newer students are arriving, they are not accustomed to the vagaries of Kashmir’s political situation. Obviously, a pang of fear will strike them.”

Kashmiri students are hopeful about the college authorities starting classes, even though the streets outside will likely be seething with turmoil. “They did it during 2010 as well. And even just after the floods in 2014,” Aijaz said.

But this leaves the question of transportation unanswered. There have recently been many attacks on public transport, often because the vehicles are alleged to have defied the hartal. There is arguably very little chance of college buses being able to ply, given the scale of anger against the relentless onslaught of pellet guns against the protesting mobs. Even as recently as August 5, routes leading to NIT were barricaded by the police and the CRPF in the wake of the call issued by secessionist leaders to march towards the Hazratbal shrine – barely meters away from the campus. If such a situation were to continue, will teachers and local students be able make it to college?

“There are hostel facilities for both students and teachers,” Aijaz said. “As far as the administration is concerned, I think they will manage in these circumstances.”

Non-local students are unconvinced. “They might start classes but how can they continue while outside the city is in great tumult. The college and the outside milieu are inextricably link,” says Daksh, a fourth-semester student who would have been in the fifth semester by now had the situation in the Valley been alright. “We cannot study amidst gunfire, sloganeering, stampedes and tear gas shelling. Besides, there are odds and ends  students need to buy. With the markets all closed, where would we go?”

Authorities at the office of the dean for academic affairs, however, played down these fears. “The registration process will commence on the 22nd. It is even mentioned on the website,” an official said, with a note of optimism.

Apparently, the NIT administration is banking on the recent hint by a police officer that the crisis may calm down after Independence Day. “Hopefully, I believe things will do quite well post August 15,” he said, but stopped short of giving an assurance that there would be no further postponements in case the situation gets graver. “See these issues are decided by the ministry,” he said stoically. “We still have more than 100 students in hostels. They never sought to leave. In fact up to 50% of our students have reported [for classes]…260 out of 524 of them.”

For local students, it is a double-edged sword. Many of them are simply torn between their resentment towards the government for killing protesters and the urge to focus entirely on their studies. They do not want to turn their backs on those killed during clashes, but nor do they want to desert their education. The moral dilemma is becoming increasingly hard for them to navigate.