There is an eerie silence in the Government College for Women in Lal Cowk, the heart of Kashmir’s summer capital at a time when it should be buzzing with activity.
The college gate is locked from inside with no one in the classrooms. A handful of students who have gathered outside the gate are asked to return home by the gatekeeper.
According to the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, colleges will also remain closed on April 20 and 21 as a precautionary measure.
The college, whose students add to the hustle and bustle of Srinagar’s business hub on a daily basis, was full of life on Saturday as the academic session has just started. The students were making a beeline to the college to complete their admission process. But Monday’s massive protests by students across the valley, including at Women’s College, prompted government to initially shut down colleges for two days.
“Suddenly things are looking bad when everything had started fine. It seems a repeat of 2016,” said a professor of the Women’s College.
Monday’s protests were against the alleged excesses by security forces on Saturday against students at the Government Degree College in Pulwama, some 30 km from Srinagar.
The Jammu and Kashmir government removed the principal, Abdul Hamid Sheikh, who has been attached to director colleges. An inquiry has also been ordered into the incident.
People say that the scale of Monday’s protests were unprecedented as thousands of students across the valley came out on the streets without any call from any prominent separatist organisation. The call for protests had come from banned Kashmir University Students Union.
Saturday’s crackdown came on the heels of the April 9 violence that left eight civilians dead in clashes with security forces during the by-poll to the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat.
The polling percentage was recorded at mere 7.13%, one of the lowest turnouts in decades.
There has been mounting bitterness between security forces and civilians in the restive Valley over the past nine months. The crackdowns on protesters following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani left close to 100 people dead in the summer of 2016.
The unrest also closed the schools and colleges of the Valley for more than four months when government announced winter vacations for another three months which ended in February this year.
And just when the academic session was resuming after this long break, thousands of students across the colleges of Kashmir came out protesting on Monday against the police action on fellow students in Pulwama.
Many students appeared angry against the state and its forces. “What do you think will happen when there is so much repression around? They are killing and arresting people. They are barging into our colleges and beating us. Shall we keep quiet?” asked a student who was part of the protests on Monday.
Many students are forced to confine themselves to their homes. “With colleges closed, I don’t move out often. Who knows if I get stuck in a clash between police and stone pelters and police arrests me. How can they differentiate who is a stone-pelter and who is not?” said Mohammad Asim, a 19-year-old medical student of Srinagar’s old city.
“Many of my friends would play cricket at SP College ground but the playground was in the thick of stone pelting on Monday. I play on the road in front of my house,” he said.
Over 60 students were wounded in clashes across the Valley on Monday. Live streaming of protests on social media prompted the government to crackdown on mobile internet.
There has been an increasing concern among people about the increasing hostilities between police and students inside educational institutions.
According to the divisional commissioner Kashmir, teaching work in all colleges of Kashmir division shall remain suspended on April 20 and 21, 2017, as a precautionary measure.
Khuram Parvez, a prominent human rights activist, said that hundreds of protests by students across Kashmir valley on Monday were peaceful.
“There should be an in depth investigation by journalists, government and Hurriyat as well to find out why at some places, protests turned violent. It is our collective responsibility to create safe spaces for our youth. It needs to (be) ascertained at how many places police resorted to use of force without any provocation. Also it is equally important to find out whether youth at any place resorted to stone pelting without police choking their protest,” Parvez wrote on facebook.