New Delhi: Kashmir remains on edge in the aftermath of a controversial social media post shared by a non-local student of the prestigious National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar, which had sparked protests earlier this week.
Authorities have closed NIT Srinagar in the middle of the semester and the students staying in hostels have been asked to vacate, purportedly to prevent further vitiation of communal tensions on campus due to the post which allegedly denigrated Mohammad (PBUH), Islam’s most-revered prophet.
“All students (boys and girls) are directed to leave the campus/ hostel by or before 10 am tomorrow,” said a notice issued by the dean, students welfare, NIT on November 30. The institute has also suspended mess service in the campus from Friday onwards.
The J&K administration has also asked other colleges in the region to shut down classrooms “due to early onset of winter” and shift their academic activities to the online mode only, with police apprehensive of law and order deterioration due to the allegedly blasphemous post.
In a hurriedly announced press conference on Thursday, November 30, Director General of Police R.R. Swain said that a case (FIR No.156/23) under Sections 295-A (insulting religion or religious beliefs), 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups) and 153 (provoking riots) of the Indian Penal Code has been registered at Nigeen police station on November 28.
Swain didn’t divulge information about whether the accused student, a resident of Maharashtra who had fled the campus after uploading the post, was arrested in the case. Without naming Pakistan, he, however, claimed that a conspiracy was being hatched “across the border” to use the prevailing anger in Kashmir for “other things”.
“Our probe suggests that many social media handles were created across the border (after the NIT student shared the controversial post) to stir tensions in Kashmir. Their messages are designed with the aim to trigger violence. Some elements here mix with them to disturb peace and harmony,” Swain said, adding that the investigation in the case “will be taken to its logical conclusion”.
According to open source intelligence networks followed by The Wire, several social media handles were interested in spotlighting the Hindu identity of the student who had uploaded the offensive post on social media, purportedly to stir communal tensions.
Many posts on X (formerly Twitter) suggested that the accused student was having an affair with a local girl, whose purported photos were also circulated on social media, while some of these posts called on other students in Kashmir to boycott non-local students and “teach them a lesson”.
In one instance, an old video was used as showcasing the recent protests that erupted in NIT Srinagar and parts of Kashmir against the blasphemous post. Some of these posts on X were shared by handles which were created in the month of November, raising eyebrows in Kashmir’s security establishment.
DGP Swain said that the police was monitoring social media and “any misadventure…done with deliberate and malicious intent” will be dealt with strictly “under the framework of law”. “Innocent remarks on a situation as a viewpoint is certainly different which can’t be part of any police investigation,” Swain said.
He continued: “We want to make a clear distinction between freedom of expression and the right to dissent. But, statements based on falsehoods, half-truths and out-of-context designed to further violence are certainly not in that category. We will make the distinction with the powerful tools of investigation and intelligence that we have.”
The DGP said that the police was proposing to bring in a “new emergency law” under Section 144 Code of Criminal Procedure that will criminalise uploading any content on social media which may affected communal harmony or disturb peace in Jammu and Kashmir.
“Posting, forwarding or sharing any type of content which disturbs communal harmony or is used to create fear or terrorise on social media, will become illegal and those who don’t inform police about such content before sharing it will be held accountable also,” he said.
Swain said that J&K Police respects the honour of Prophet Mohammad “in the same way that we respect the honour of our country”. “It is our legal responsibility and in any situation we will not allow the dignity of Prophet Mohammad to be besmirched. But we should be alert to the conspiracies at work to use this incident to flare up tensions,” he said, while appealing citizens to restrain from indulging in any “illegal” acts.
Earlier, mainstream political parties, including Peoples Democratic Party led by Mehboob Mufti, National Conference, moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and others condemned the allegedly blasphemous post while urging the authorities to take strict action against the NIT student.
“The reverence and honour of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is dearer to a Muslim than his or her life and such blasphemous remarks will not be tolerated by the Muslims of valley,” Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulama Jammu and Kashmir (MMUJK), a conglomerate of religious bodies headed by Mirwaiz, said in a statement
The MMUJK said that the authorities should conduct a “thorough investigation…into how and why this incident occurred” while demanding that “all those found involved” should be brought to book.
This is not the first time that the Srinagar NIT has shot into the limelight due to a controversy involving students that boiled down into communal tensions. In 2016, the institute was closed for days after a face-off between two groups of students during an India-Pakistan cricket match.