Cricket normally has a uniting effect on Indians – people from different states with completely-different cultures, languages, beliefs, value systems, etc. However, recently at NIT Srinagar it has driven a wedge between the Kashmiri students and their colleagues from outside the state. Things have reached such a state that police has had to step into action against the non-Kashmiri students and now opposition parties across the country are condemning the same. The lathi charge that took place on the evening of 5 April injured a number of students. Already, there has been some discussion between the college officials and the Union Human Resources Development (HRD) Ministry represented by a couple of members.
When did the problem start?
The fracas started on 31 March when a section of Kashmiri students at NIT Srinagar were celebrating the defeat of India in the ICC World T20 semi-finals against the eventual champions West Indies. This drew the ire of their non-Kashmiri colleagues, who vehemently opposed the celebrations. This led to a fracas and there were several injuries.
The non-Kashmiris hit back
On 1 April, the non-Kashmiri students started a protest march. They waved the Indian flag at the campus and attempted to hoist it in the vicinity of the college’s administrative block. Apart from this, there were the usual slogans such as Bharat Mata Ki Jai, Pakistan Murdabad, and Hindustan Zindabad. They were countered by Kashmiri students who shouted slogans such as Hum Kya Chahte Azadi. The non-Kashmiri students were praised by Tarun Vijay, a BJP MP, who termed their act patriotic and said that waving the flag inside the campus served as a good lesson for Kashmiri students whom he branded separatists. Thanks to the widespread unrest authorities had to suspend the classes.
Assurances of normalcy
On 2 April, Rajat Gupta, the Director of NIT, assured the warring students, their parents, and faculty members that everything will come back to normalcy as the tensions had been assuaged. It was said that from 4 April classes would resume as normal and life at hostel would be back to what it was before the events of 31 March. He also addressed all the stakeholders stating that there was no need for any concern since the students were safe and sound. The HRD Ministry also lauded the efforts put in by the local administration to control the situation.
A calm beginning
The classes started this Monday as had been promised by the NIT Srinagar authorities and a significant number of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and local police officers were deployed to keep any situation in check. Director Gupta expressed satisfaction at how things were on schedule – sans any problem – and stated that security was their top priority, a statement which explained the heavy deployment of police personnel to keep things in check.
Trouble erupts again
The apparent calm of 4 April was broken again on the very next day when protesting students attempted to leave the campus only to be confronted by the police. Some of them also staged a protest march inside the campus. Even as the police alleged that the protesting students were trying to leave the campus with banners and placards, the students hit back by saying that the police had roughed them up and taken away the Indian flag they had been carrying during the protest. The police officers were also accused of forcefully entering hostel rooms and thrashing the students. In the end CRPF had to be deployed at the campus.
The political dimensions
The situation reached such a head that Rajnath Singh had to call up Mehbooba Mufti, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, in order to talk about the same. It was at this time that the HRD Ministry team visited the campus. Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi, accused NDA (National Democratic Alliance) of hypocrisy by saying that it was punishing people chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai in Jammu and Kashmir and people not chanting so in the rest of the country. For Omar Abdullah, the coming of the HRD team betrayed the lack of faith that the central administration had in Mufti’s regime. The PDP-BJP government of Jammu and Kashmir also came in for criticism for the lathi charge on outstation students from a body of Kashmiri Pundits. They said that it was an eye-opener of sorts and also asked for assurance from Narendra Modi that students in Kashmir will be safe henceforth.
Without a shadow of a doubt this entire incident betrays a serious lack of balance from the entire student community, who are the pivotal characters in the entire sequence of events. For starters, it is understandable that a section of Kashmiri students are miffed at what they perceive as step-motherly treatment from the Indian Government and they feel elated at the loss of the Indian cricket team, the most dominant sporting outfit representing the country. However, there are dignified ways of elation and celebration. They need to understand that by hurting the emotions of their outstation colleagues they are being no better than their “oppressors”. On part of the outstation students, if they were miffed at what they saw they could have taken it up with the authorities or they may have just informed their Kashmiri colleagues in a civilized manner instead of a protest march that achieved very little but caused a lot of nuisance in an educational institution. Regarding political figures such as Tarun Vijay and Kejriwal it is always important to remember that as elected representatives they are role models for millions of people and they need to find ways to resolve matters peacefully rather than fanning the fumes on social media or other public platforms.