Dear Guardians of Education,
It has been long since we least heard from you, when you were chest thumping and shouting from the rooftops how important education is for the Kashmiri youth. A few beatings of Kashmiri students in Indian universities later, I want to bring something to your notice.
“The JNU Entrance Examination Centre at Srinagar stands cancelled” was the diktat issued by the Jawaharlal Nehru University administration. And with that all the candidates who opted for Srinagar Centre are now allotted a centre in Jammu.
What looks like a mere shuffle of exam centres for the applicants, if one would look deeper, is in fact a shuffling with the very possibility of them ever making it to JNU. Because that possibility for scores of Kashmiri applicants, in fact, now lies buried under a thick layer of snow that usually covers the highways blocking traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu highway.
Only a select few would be in a position to afford the skyrocketing air-fare. And as such, in one stroke, JNU has shut it doors for scores of Kashmiri students denying them access to quality high education.
What the snow doesn’t hide, however, is the fact that the move on the part of the JNU administration was deliberate. It is in tune with the model of denial, exclusion and discrimination that the JNU administration has been practicing with rigour off late.
Only last year, the administration embarked on a massive seat cut that debarred thousands of students, particularly those from deprived backgrounds from having access to JNU. It stopped or altered the access points given to students coming from different and underprivileged social, cultural and regional backgrounds, and those identifying with different gendered identities.
This time the exclusion has been targeted specifically towards the students from Kashmir and North East with the cancellation of centres in Srinagar and Shillong.
The (ill)-logic of the University in cancelling the entrance exam centre in Kashmir includes flimsy arguments of winter setting in and winter vacations going on in. The fact, however, is that examinations have always taken place in Kashmir in winter, be it the University exams or the state civil service exams.
Thereby, such an arbitrary move only reeks of a motive that is to systematically side-line the possibilities of the already marginalized and oppressed voices to step into the institutes of higher education carrying with them their truths, their experiences and aspirations.
It is only a brazen extension of the Indian state’s historical persecution of and discrimination against the people of Kashmir. Whether the questions is of life, or death, opportunities, or aspirations, for a career or for self-determination, the will of the people of Kashmir has had no value for the Indian state.
Higher education’s emancipatory importance is not only as a driver of social mobility because in the context of conflict, like what we are faced with in Kashmir, higher education also provides a means for political elucidation and assertion. It is this assertion that the Indian state’s functionaries both at the centre and state government level want to systematically choke.
Ironically, earlier this year at a meeting where the Chief Minsters of all states were present, Mehbooba Mufti had appealed to the CMs of all states to reach out to Kashmiri students and Narendra Modi had apparently seconded it. But, beyond the political rhetoric, what is evident here, ther reality is quite contrary.
Here, while the administration at the behest of BJP and the RSS is hell bent upon keeping Kashmiris out, the PDP and the Chief Minister are maintaining an eerie silence. Or may be it is a conscious restraint on their parts? As partners in alliance they seem to have no say against their masters in the BJP-RSS.
The PDPs rhetorical argument about how education is a driver of peace during the 2016 uprising that had choked the state and shut down school, like access other basic amenities, it seems was only a tool to reclaim its space that was choked. A classic example, and a face off of this is the case in point, when the same PDP turns a blind eye now that so many young students will be deprived of their chance to write the entrance exams for one of the finest universities.
Be it the former Chief Minister, and father of the present CM Mufti, Mohammad Sayeed or Sheikh Abdullah, both sought for themselves higher education outside Kashmir. Mehbooba Mufti’s own children are privileged enough to seek higher education in foreign lands.
It is rather shameful that when it comes to the question of the underprivileged and the deprived students of Kashmir, the political elite is only concerned about it when, what it calls disruption, comes from the non state. It however does not seem to give a damn when the opportunities are choked, robbed and silenced by the inaction of the state or its incompetency to run quality education in Kashmir.
Kashmiri students who are born to the lullabies of gunshots and explosions, grow up to the constant frisking and harassment under the shadow of the guns and bunkers. Some of them who decide to pursue further studies in mainland India are subjected to suspicion, attacks, abuses and discrimination.
Yet, amidst all of this, their pride, aspiration and assertion remain intact and which is why those in power in the empire try to muzzle their voices.
I am writing this letter as a Kashmiri student studying in JNU, when scores of other aspiring students of Kashmir will be deprived of this opportunity. How can those who claim to be the ‘elected’ representatives of the people of Kashmir watch and wait in silence as time runs out?
Do the ‘representatives’ only care about education when it suits them?
Baasit Abubakr is a student at the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University.