India’s national flag is at the centre of the conflict at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar that has seen alleged police violence and unprecedented military presence inside campus in the past week.
Non-Kashmiri students used the Tricolour frequently in ongoing protests to portray nationalistic sentiment but many Kashmiris on campus felt it was aimed at provoking the local population and stoking prevalent anti-India sentiments in the Valley.
The issue of the flag came under the spotlight when representatives of non-Kashmiri students told the visiting home ministry team, “The police have our Tricolour. We want it back.”
Deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh defended the students’ right to get their flag back in a media interview, but raised questions about hoisting the Tricolour during clashes.
On social media, a photo of non-Kashmiri students hoisting a hand-made paper Tricolour on campus went viral, with #TirangaInNITSrinagar trending on Twitter.
Protesting students told HT that the cloth flag was allegedly snatched from a group of demonstrating students by the police on Tuesday. This was the same flag that outstation students hoisted the night India lost to West Indies in the WT20 semifinals, which became a flashpoint between student groups on campus.
A student who was part of the group from whom police allegedly snatched the flag told HT he was not sure where the flag originated.
“I think it was with the students since last year when it was used in a cultural programme here. The flag was brought out on the intervening night of March 31 – April 1 when clashes on India’s defeat in WT20 semifinal match. Then again the flag was brought out on April 1 morning,” he said.
“After that we had brought it out on April 5. Then in the evening, the clashes happened with students when the police snatched it away from us. So, we demanded to the MHRD team that we must be given back our flags.”
Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani, inspector general of police, Kashmir range, told HT he does not have any information regarding the students’ flag allegation.
But the disappearance of the cloth-flag notwithstanding, numerous other flags, probably hand-made, are routinely seen in campus protests, sources said. A non-Kashmiri student said many have begun making their own Tricolours with paper for protests.
Many non-Kashmiri students fear the increased use of the national flag by fringe elements might lead to more clashes.
“Today is Friday and yet some students attempted to go near the gate with the Tricolour. What if Kashmiris outside the campus see it and get provoked?” a final year undergraduate said.
The registrar of NIT, FA Mir, said he did not have any details of the ‘snatched’ national flag. But he said many replicas of the Tricolour were seen with students throughout the protests.
He clarified that rumours of students taking the institution’s official Tricolour were untrue, as the NIT never possessed a national flag and used an institutional flag for all purposes.