A group of students gets thrashed by police in two different parts of the country. In one, the Centre rushes a probe team to campus, listens to students’ deputation – though it includes demands such as shifting of campus. Senior Union ministers talk to the chief minister of the state, assure the students’ safety and all political parties condemn the violence.
In the other, students are held in jail for days, allegedly showered with casteist and sexist abuses and when finally released, threatened with the full force of the state. Their demands – that include the enactment of an anti-caste discrimination statute – is not heeded to, the students are held and allegedly beaten up again. One student commits suicide but union ministers respond with statements questioning the student’s caste.
The alleged police brutality at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar bears little similarity to more violent incidents at the University of Hyderabad.
If the police beat up students at NIT-Srinagar, it is condemnable and part of a regrettable pattern of how authorities routinely tackle campus uprisings, from Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University to Kolkata’s Jadavpur University.
But that’s where the similarity ends. At NIT, the outpouring of support and empathy comes because the students targeted were ‘Indian’, ‘non-Kashmiris’ who were shouting Bharat Mata ki Jai and waving the Tricolour in the face of alleged ‘anti-national’ slogans by Kashmiri pupils.
In Hyderabad, the students beaten up were challenging the state to end caste-based discrimination in the wake of the suicide of Rohith Vemula, who was termed ‘anti-national’. They were fighting against the might of the government and punished.
In NIT-Srinagar, the opposite happened and the government swung into action to make sure the perpetrators are punished.
But for a few minutes, the ‘Indian’ students were shown the daily reality of Kashmir, where dissent is brutally suppressed and life is led under the heavy thud of military boots.
By saying that the campus is not safe in one of the world’s most militarised zones, the outstation students have stumbled on a cold truth: The presence of military forces wasn’t making life any better for its residents.
For us in the ‘mainland’, Kashmiris become anti-national on two counts: Many among them don’t recognise themselves a part of India and many others proclaim their ‘azaadi’ (freedom).
We get back at them in many ways. Many Kashmiri students don’t find housing easily in other cities, face trouble with police or any authority once their identity is known, find it difficult to shake off casual ‘Pakistani’ references and are asked by their families to keep a low profile.
Recently, they have also been targeted for not saying Bharat Mata ki Jai, hounded out of hostels on suspicion that they cook beef and profiled by city police for ‘security reasons’.
It is not possible for an ‘Indian’ student to understand this reality.
The other group of people who have been at the forefront of protests – Dalits – also face similar oppression. They are brutalised and beaten up, denied entry into public spaces, humiliated in college and university spaces and termed ‘anti-national’ if they question their oppressor.
The NIT-Srinagar stand-off is significant because it has made clear where the sympathies of the government lie, that access to state resources will be given to only those who match our ideologies.
If one is a BJP or ABVP member, their nationalist credentials are set but if one is a Kashmiri or Dalit person, they need to say Bharat Mata ki Jai to exist in the eyes of the state. The overt nationalism being a thin ruse, as the Bombay high court recently observed, for the state to declare that the country belongs to a particular caste of Hindus.
The outstation students are justifiably angry at being thrashed by police for protesting. But they should know that there are millions of other people in this country who have been maimed and brutalised for years, without a drop of the wave of attention that NIT has received. This is because those people – such as tribal communities, Kashmiris and Dalit-Bahujans – are not aligned with the state’s interests. That is the difference.
(The views expressed by the writer are personal)