Students Suspended After 'The Kerala Story' Stokes Communal Violence at GMC Jammu Campus

Students have alleged that the worst of the violence was perpetrated by outsiders, including a former student, who breached campus security.

Srinagar: A 23-year-old student who was brutally assaulted during communal violence at Jammu’s prestigious Government Medical College (GMC) has been suspended by the college administration along with nine other students.

An internal inquiry has been ordered into the violence which left five students injured on the intervening night of May 14 and 15, one of them grievously, when two groups of students clashed with each other at the GMC Jammu’s ‘Boys Hostel’.

Sources said that tensions flared up on May 14, Sunday, when Deepak Chandel, a first year MBBS student, posted a link on the controversial Bollywood film The Kerala Story in a students’ WhatApp group with an acerbic comment: “A must watch for woke people.”

Screenshots of the WhatsApp group, accessed by The Wire, show Aqib Ishaq, also a first-year MBBS student, objecting to the post, urging Deepak to stop “spreading negativity”. “If u r really interested in spreading this kind of negativity, then make another group,” Aqib responded, triggering a heated discussion among the students.

A source in the college administration said that the students had gone for a picnic on Sunday. According to at least three first-year MBBS students at the college who spoke with The Wire, Deepak and Aqib shared a good bond on the campus and they were on friendly terms with each other before the The Kerala Story episode slid them down the path of confrontation.

“When the students returned from the picnic in the evening, Deepak, accompanied by some friends and seniors, stopped a first-year student, Arif Gul, who had also objected to his WhatsApp post. He asked him for the reason behind his objection, which led to an argument,” the source said.

Seeing Arif caught in a hostile situation, his friends also called seniors from their community to the spot in order to prevent an ugly situation. “Clashes later broke out during which Haseeb, a final-year MBBS student from Doda district, was attacked with a blunt object on the head while four more students suffered minor injuries,” an official at the hostel where the clashes took place said on the condition of anonymity.

A second-year MBBS student, who spoke with The Wire on the condition of anonymity, alleged that some students, including seniors, a former student and outsiders again surfaced near the Boys Hostel about an hour after the first scuffle, well past midnight. The group assembled outside the building that serves as accommodation for medical interns.

“Suddenly the hostel lights went off,” said the student, who was present near the building. “The hooligans then caught hold of two senior Muslim students and roughed them up.”

The other injured students have been identified as Arunesh and Aniket, who hail from Udhampur, Akshit, a resident of Billawar in Jammu, and Umar, who lives in Budgam district of Kashmir.

A video shot after the second attack shows a healthy looking young male with white unbuttoned shirt worn over a green tee and tight blue jeans striding towards a stationary SUV, a Mahindra XUV 500, parked across the road outside the hostel while a group of students on the other side of the road can be seen raising slogans like “We want justice”.

The video also shows a J&K Police officer visibly managing traffic on the road outside the hostel, oblivious to the action unfolding around him. A second cop is seen speaking in a serious manner over a mobile phone. Two more policemen emerge from behind the SUV as it speeds away, which further agitates the protesters.

“How can outsiders get into the hostel?” one of the students is heard as saying in an agitated tone.

A Hindustan Times report, however, said: “It has been learnt that the student, who had appreciated the movie in the group was confronted and assaulted in the hostel which flared up the situation, as more students along with some outsiders had joined the scuffle.” The report in the daily is not bylined and does not attribute the information to any particular source.

Many Jammu-based media outlets and rightwing social media accounts also posted short video interviews with masked youngsters, purportedly students of the college, who alleged that Deepak was threatened by Aqib and Arif, and that Kashmiri students at the college were getting “radicalised”.

The hostel administration official quoted above said that some students came out of their rooms after the second scuffle on Sunday night, and later held a silent protest to demand action against the outsiders involved in the attack. The protest continued till the early hours of Monday, the official said.

A fresh protest was held by the students on Monday afternoon, prompting the administration to step up deployment of security forces on the campus to prevent any untoward incident. Holding photos of the bloodied face of Haseeb, who was grievously wounded in the attack, and some pro-justice placards, the students continued pressing their demand for stern action against the perpetrators.

To break the ice, the college administration met the representatives of protesters and later wrote a letter urging the J&K Police to file an FIR against the former student who breached the college security to gain access into the campus and is believed to be one of the main perpetrators of the attack on students.

In the meantime, the administration also suspended 10 students identified as Waseem, Mubarak, Tauquir, Sarmad, Haseeb, all final year MBBS students and Umer Farooq, a first year student, along with Aniket and Arunesh, both final year students, Akshit, a second year student and Deepak. All the students have also been banned from the hostel for two months.

The J&K police have reportedly lodged two FIRs at Bakshi Nagar police station in Jammu, including under sections 147 (punishment for rioting) and 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) of Indian Penal Code (FIR No. 65/2023) against the students involved in the violence and under IPC sections 451 (trespass to commit offence punishable with imprisonment) and 323 (FIR no. 66/2023) against the former student.

Jammu police tweeted: “Case has been registered. Investigation started. No one will be allowed to disturb communal harmony in the Jammu region.”

Students and former students of the medical college, who spoke with The Wire, said that the clashes will widen the gulf already existing between the students of the two communities in the Jammu region where communal divisions run deep. “It will further deteriorate the communal harmony and vitiate the atmosphere on the campus,” said a former GMC Jammu student, who is now working at a hospital in Srinagar.

The campus flare-up in Jammu triggered an uproar in Kashmir Valley where several mainstream political leaders demanded an impartial probe and strict punishment for the accused. A disciplinary committee headed by Dr A.S. Bhatia, who heads the biochemistry department at GMC Jammu, has been tasked to hold an internal probe, said principal and dean, GMC Jammu, Dr Shashi Sudhan Sharma.

She said that the 14-member committee will submit its report in seven days during which the suspended students have been debarred from attending their classes, “The team members will interact with the students at the hostel between 8-10 pm for the next four days. Additional security personnel have been deployed on the campus to avoid any law and order problem,” she added.