By Suaid Rather, Mohammad Umar, and Sobia Bhat
On 14 February, when the world was celebrating the Valentine’s Day, Adil Ahmad Dar, a young Kashmiri, 22, rammed a vehicle loaded with explosives into a CRPF convoy at Lethpora on Jammu and Kashmir national highway, killing as many as 49 personnel of Indian paramilitary forces, including himself. As soon as the news broke out, an instant paranoia gripped Kashmiri students studying in India. They knew the ramifications of this attack on their lives. The situation soon turned ugly. Numerous incidents of violence against Kashmiri students and tradesmen were reported from different parts of India. These incidents of mob-thrashing were filmed and circulated on social media with outrageous warnings to the Kashmiris to vacate Indian territory at the earliest. At least 10 Kashmiri students were booked and 24 suspended or rusticated from colleges across the country for what officials called “anti-national” social media posts. Two Dehradun-based educational institutions, upon intimidation by a mob, publicly declared that they will not admit Kashmiri students in future. Several students were beaten to pulp and forced to flee their hostels with life threatening warnings.
What is the significance of such threats for a Kashmiri student as compared to the irony of the life he is forced to live under continuous military occupation? In several videos of well-orchestrated violence against Kashmiri students, the mob can be heard asking such questions: ‘Why do you come here, if you kill our jawans in Kashmir?’ The answer to the first part of this question is fairly simple. We have come to India to study. The answer to the second part of the question is complex and it lies in asking bolder questions. To put it simply, a poor helpless student in the hands of a violent mob did not kill anyone. He is only a student who cares about his studies, about his family, and (with education generating a sense of history and belonging) about their people, like every Indian or other countries’ students studying abroad do. In the second part of the question, however, they must be asked to clarify what they mean when they say ‘Our Jawans’. If they are Indians, then why are they in Kashmir in the first place? India has stationed almost a million uniformed men in Jammu and Kashmir, which is roughly half the total strength of Indian army. The official government sources reveal that there are not more than 300 active militants in Kashmir at the moment. How does that justify stationing almost a million-army personnel in Kashmir and continuously adding more to an already outrageous number? Kashmir is already the highest militarised zone in the world.
There have been preposterous human rights violations by Indian armed forces in Kashmir, which not only makes it difficult to have a smooth functioning education system in the valley but also makes it impossible for an ordinary Kashmiri to live a dignified life. In a recent development, the administration has come up with a fresh clampdown on the FAT (Falaahe-e-Aam Trust) run schools in the valley. These schools provide quality modern education to the students at meagre expenses. Presently, Falah-E-Aam Trust runs over 350 schools across the state of Jammu and Kashmir, with enrolment of over 1,00,000 students and 10,000 staff members. The higher education system in the valley is in shambles, due to continuous strikes against gruesome human rights violations.
It is under these circumstances the young Kashmiri students choose to leave their home to get good education in lesser or non-militarized areas outside. The recent wave of violence against the Kashmiri students in India casts a dark shadow over their future. These instances of violence against Kashmiri students are not unprecedented. There are numerous examples which point to the fact that Kashmiri students studying in India bear the brunt, when an untoward incident or event takes place in the country. For example, in 1991, after the demolition of Babri Masjid, two Kashmiri students were killed on their way back home, by Karsevaks: Farhat Razzak, a ninth-grade student was stabbed to death and Javed Andrabi was reportedly found dead on a railway track near Delhi (Shalimar Express).
Why are Kashmiris attacked though? Why is that every time a Kashmiri is seen amongst Indians, s/he is seen as the other, an enemy, a terrorist or at least a supporter of some supposed terrorist outfit, thereby blurring the line demarking a civilian and a musketeer? This segregation is not abrupt, as may be seen as a result of some untoward incident that has been laid against the state of India. It is there, already prevalent in the minds of people – developed through years of confrontation and in want of domination status – waiting to be unleashed upon the hated other. Here the other, the Kashmiris, is a unique kind of other. They tend to take pride in this otherization, pointing to the fact that Kashmiris and Indians are culturally different, historically apart and politically in a stalemate – one trying to break away and the other forcing an integration; therefore, the other to each other. However, from this theory, conventional wisdom has it that Kashmiris, being forced into integration, should despise Indians, and Indians should be sober in dealing with Kashmiris. However, it is almost the opposite. Kashmiris have always lent a helping hand whenever Indians – for that matter Indian army as well – found themselves in trouble. We have abundant examples of Kashmiris, on humanitarian grounds, helping army men during floods, organising blood donation camps for Amarnath pilgrims, and showing utmost hospitality towards Indian tourists with record zero crimes against them.
Come the other way. An attack takes place at Lethpora, about a thousand miles away from the Indian Capital. The violent mob across several Indian states, without much thought, come out to start hunting Kashmiris around them. They manhandle Kashmiris – students, traders, employees – dubbing them as terrorists and asking the institutions where these students and traders are based, to expel them. In some cases, the shops and stocks of traders are vandalized.
Kashmir has seen death and destruction for about seventy years now. In last ten years, it has already witnessed three major uprisings, all being equally bloody. At least 247 people were killed in 2016 due to violence in Kashmir, 384 in 2017, 413 in 2018 and this number is only growing. Numerous civilians have been blinded by the use of pellet shot-gun. These circumstances in Kashmir actually serve as one of the reasons that Kashmiris in thousands have turned to Indian mainland for studies. Taking away a peaceful democratic space from them will only push them to the wall, intensify the alienation and perhaps serve as a trigger to choose violence over peaceful dissent – the violence which everyone despises.
Kashmiri students turning to India for education is not a new phenomenon. The students had been coming to India for education even before the tragic 1990s, much like Indians used to do, when some of them studied in England, during British Rule in India. However most of these Kashmiri students were from privileged sections of the society who could afford the finance of living outside their home. During the 1990s the situation was more or less the same. The situation changed from the second decade of the 21st century. Because of the incessant conflict and bloody uprisings, an increasing number of students from the valley turned to India for higher education, on the basis of merit and capability. However, with the recent surge of nationalism in India, these students often became soft targets of communal hate. This coincides with the brewing of strong anti-Kashmiri sentiment, particularly in North-India, with Kashmiris being largely seen as seditious anti-nationals, hatching some conspiracies towards disintegrating India. As a result, the violence and political conflict associated with the valley become an overarching reason for constant threats to Kashmiris even when they are outside Kashmir, in the Indian mainland. It is thus the identity of being a Kashmiri which continues to make these students vulnerable to assault. This identity, it seems, is unacceptable, unlike the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, which is being stubbornly hailed as the crown of India, to the Indian masses in general. Under these circumstances who will compensate these students for their loss? How does the state hope to manage the emotional, psychological, and physical trauma faced by these students?
Suaid Rather is a Research Scholar at Centre for Development Studies, Jawahar Lal Nehru University.
Mohammad Umar has a Masters’ Degree in Political Science from Aligarh Muslim University.
Sobia Bhat is a Research Scholar at South Asian University, New Delhi.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Hatred and Mass Violence: Lessons from History”, edited by Navras J. Aafreedi, Presidency University, Kolkata, India.