Last Thursday’s fracas between local and outstation students at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar over a cricket match has snowballed into a major issue, leading to non-local students demanding that the campus be shifted out from the Valley, preferably to Jammu.
Amid political parties condemning the police crackdown in the campus and demanding the safety of students, Union minister Smriti Irani said state chief minister Mehbooba Mufti had assured her of the student’s well being on Wednesday.
Some parties particularly spoke out for non-local students though Valley-based separatists warned of consequences if the issue persisted. They alleged the involvement of “state machinery” in “use of force against the Kashmiri students”.
Senior separatist leader of Kashmir, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, however vouched for the safety of non-Kashmiri students coming to study in the Valley. “Our policy and our religion teaches us that we should not have any grudge or enmity against anybody on the basis of religion, race, caste or linguistics. If outside students are studying here, we should ensure that there is no harm done to them or any obstacle created in their pursuit for education,” he said on Wednesday.
With issue continuing to unravel, a look at what transpired:
A cricket match
The controversy kicked off with the alleged celebration of India’s loss in the semi-finals of the T20 World Cup against West Indies. As it often happens, many Kashmiris celebrated India’s defeat against West Indies in T20 World Cup late on Thursday night. Non-local students were angry with locals cheering Andre Russell’s winning runs against India in Mumbai.
A clash apparently broke out, and multiple reports indicated that non-Kashmiri students attacked Kashmiri students and a local courier-delivery boy. But when Hindustan Times asked the non-Kashmiri students about the incident, they denied the allegations.
Teargas and lathicharge
On Friday, the atmosphere at the institute was charged with hundreds of non-local students protesting against the Kashmiris chanting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’, ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ and ‘Pakistan Murdabad’. The non-local students also burnt a replica of the Pakistani flag, eyewitnesses told HT.
In retaliation, Kashmiri students responded by shouting ‘Hum Kya Chahte Azadi’.
Police fired tear gas shells and used baton charge to disperse the groups and authorities decided to close down the institution until further notice.
The institution formally opened on Monday but non-Kashmiri students had boycotted them. On Tuesday evening, a group of them went to the director’s office for a meeting.
Trouble started when, after the meeting, the students took out a march, shouting slogans. Police stopped them at the main gate, and clashes erupted. The students group accused the police of entering classrooms and beating up students. Following the incident, the Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) was deployed.
Students blamed the police, saying they were only trying to move out of the campus when they were baton charged and teargas shells were fired. The police maintain they “chased the mob of students” after some officers were assaulted.
“Police officers who were involved in lathi charge will be punished. I was told it was a ‘mild’ lathi charge which is why I used that term earlier,” Nirmal Singh, the deputy chief minister told NDTV on Wednesday night, a day after he described the assault on students at the NIT campus in Srinagar as “a mild lathi charge”.
MHRD team visits campus
The NIT campus was garrisoned after Tuesday’s violence; police were deployed in strength, besides two companies of the paramilitary CRPF. A student who was part of the delegation of non-local students that met the MHRD delegation told HT that all their demands including the one to shift the campus were heard.
A team of officials from the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) visited the campus on Wednesday. The team included Sanjeev Sharma, director (technical education) in the HRD ministry, deputy director finance Fazal Mehmood and chairman of the board of governors of NIT, MJ Zarabi.
Demands made by non-Kashmiri students before the MHRD team included shifting non-Kashmiri students to NITs in their own home states, J&K NIT be shifted, preferably to Jammu, action on administration staff and faculty members for allegedly threatening non-Kashmiri students and an investigation into the role of the police in Tuesday’s incident.
Sources told HT the tussle between students soon became about the angst of non-local students’ against the administration and police.
Meanwhile, a few classes were conducted on Wednesday, but attendance was reportedly sparse.
Relatives and even parents of students staying in hostels were not allowed to enter the campus and were restricted to the office of the security chief of the institute near the main gate. Only students, staff members and security personnel were allowed inside.
Non-Kashmiri hostel dwellers, on the other hand, did not venture out of the campus.
Battle on social media
Social media was abuzz with #NITSrinagar and #Srinagar being the top Twitter trends throughout Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
On Twitter, the nationalism debate was brought into the fold, with many tweeting how “students were attacked for raising the national flag” and celebrities like Anupam Kher congratulating students and asking them to keep calm.
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah too joined the discussion on Twitter, and posted: “Rushing in a team from HRD ministry coupled with the CRPF replacing J&K police speaks volumes about Delhi’s confidence in Mehbooba Mufti,” on Wednesday.
“Cool heads need to prevail, tactful handling is the order of the day. Let the state government handle #NIT issue without back seat drivers.”
He also advised non-Kashmiri students at the institute to behave as they would expect Kashmiris to behave in the rest of India.
On Facebook, many students posted their comments, photos and videos that depicted how students were attacked by police on Tuesday night.
Moreover, pages like ‘Save NIT Srinagar Students’ have come up on Facebook on which photos and videos of the injured students are being posted regularly.