In this piece, a Kerala-based independent journalist tries to study the hounding, often faced by Kashmiri students in various educational institutes across India.
When two hostile neighbours assumed belligerent guards on the heels of the 2019 Pulwama highway bombing, a Kashmiri boy from Sopore studying Radiology in Ghaziabad saw his stark identity becoming a reason for his existential crisis.
Those who used to share hearty laughs with this “full of life” Kashmiri boy, overnight became cold and cantankerous. He was now a foe in friend’s skin — who was notoriously “eating India’s food, and singing paeans of Pakistan”.
“They were angry like I was involved,” Zuhaib*, the Sopore boy, recalls. “Even ‘friends’ stopped talked to me.”
The witch-hunt fuelled by warmongering newsrooms and panelists didn’t stop.
Zuhaib shortly saw his Kashmiri brethren being singled out and subjected to street and campus hounding and harrying in different parts of India.
“The fringe-turned-mainstream hatred fuelled by toxic TV news channels was pitched against the Kashmiri identity,” he says.
“When I saw helpless Kashmiris being harassed in full public glare, I was reminded of my graduation days in Ghaziabad when I was forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ by a blood-thirsty mob.”
At about the same time, a Kashmiri boy from Baramulla currently pursuing M-tech in Ludhiana faced a near fatal situation when he visited his cousin in Gwalior University.
“We were ragged for carrying the Kashmiri identity,” Shoiab Lone says. “I could see ominous hatred in their eyes for our identity and existence.”
Peak in Pattern
That anti-Kashmir bias going berserk was surplus of an unchecked stigmatization stacking up for Kashmiri students in the Indian society, and colleges, for years now.
Even as the anti-Kashmir hostility touched its threshold after the Pulwama attack—leaving 40 Indian paramilitary men dead on the highway turned death trap—the hate campaign, many believe, had begun soon after Kashmir erupted in a massive armed uprising against New Delhi’s dominance in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir during the late eighties.
The massive defiance unleashed a counter offensive against Kashmiris beyond the Jawahar Tunnel and further down to Madhopur bridge — the borderline of J&K.
Political pundits believe that the products of the mainstream media and the political propaganda are polished to ensure the terrorization of Kashmiri identity.
And the result being Kashmiri students are further alienated and intimidated in the very spaces they come for pursuing their careers.
Notably, following Pulwama attack, “Catch these Kashmiris and shoot them” were the words students from Kashmir had heard occasionally.
“I study Taxes, on which I’ve no rights and I’m branded as an anti-national in an Indian institute,” says Toiba, a graduate in BBA from Kupwara.
And with their homeland grappling with a 4G ban and political uncertainty, the influx of students from Kashmir has only increased in campuses across India.
Today, as thousands of them study Medicine, Engineering and Humanities in insitutues from Bangalore to Punjab, Rajasthan to Uttar Pradesh, they often return home with finished degrees despite facing ill-treatment.
“Most of these students are able to make to their graduation outside, than in the universities in Kashmir,” says Nasir Khuehami, spokesperson of Jammu and Kashmir Students Association (JKSA)—the body working for the welfare of Kashmiri students studying in various Indian campuses.
“In addition to harassment, students are tortured and booked under UAPA and are going through anxiety and depression back home where education remains the foremost victim of the uncertain situation. So this whole situation forces them to study outside, where they unfortunately face identity based assault.”
An undergraduate in a University in Ludhiana, Junaid says Kashmiri students are mostly mistreated in outside campuses.
“They don’t give us rights equal to other Indian students,” he says. “We can’t even speak truth there and they treat us like terrorists.”
On responding to the approach of the officials in dealing with the institutional harassments and alleged seditions of the students, Nasir Khuehami says that the police and officials in certain states cooperate well, but they face challenges in BJP-ruled states.
“In February, three students were arrested on sedition charges and after their release, there was pressure over the local party by the ruling government,” he says. “The jail procedures were purposefully delayed and it took six months to get cleared.”
However, Kashmiri students studying in Punjab feel relatively safer and more comfortable as compared to other states.
“I’ve spent five years outside Kashmir and I can say Punjab is like z second home to us and very safe for Kashmiri students,” says Zuhaib.
On the contrary, someone like Hilal, a post graduate in Pharmacology, terms Rajasthan as the worst place he has ever seen.
“I don’t know but people here have negative thoughts about us Kashmiris,” he says.
A study done by this reporter to map the assault on Kashmiri identity in Indian educational institutions selected 78.3% of the students from middle class families.
Most of them were afraid and reluctant to respond to the queries and remarks of their experiences in outside campuses.
While 75% marked their educational stint as Good and Satisfactory, 50% of them shared the ill-treatments they had to confront for being a Kashmiri.
It reveals that students love being outside Kashmir, as it gives them an opportunity to explore, hangout, play sports and develop their careers in Indian colleges, other than being in the midst of detentions and disturbances back home.
Out of the statements shared, the experiences of studying in Indian colleges range from stone pelting, ragging in hostels, forcing to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and posing offensive opinions regarding the Kashmir conflict to issues of Pulwama attack, India-Pak cricket matches, Burhan Wani;s killing, Jamia Millia, CAA protests and lot more which gives an overview of the campus scenario in contemporary India.
Very few students said that they received a lot of love and respect from their classmates and professors and could not relate to anything bad.
Few others consider it as the negative mentality of the society, like the responses they get from uneducated rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers and add that “it doesn’t represent the whole India”.
While 8.3% marked their experiences of studying in India as bad and unsatisfactory, 100% responded on their plight with the 4G network ban for not being able to attend online classes, apply for scholarships or to pay their semester fees, expressing their frustrations and clearly addressing the concerns, anxieties and apprehensions for their futures.
On viewing the scenario, in spite of the ill-treatments they face and the peevish approach of the society, the constant unrest and clampdown in the valley, has made education and future uncertain.
But while the option of studying in Indian colleges remains inevitably necessary, there’s no special quota for Kashmiri students and no specific data available about them.
The nodal officers appointed for taking care of their issues are also “not up to their roles”.
However, many expect, the least these institutions can do to restore some lost confidence is by staying vigilant on false accusations and campaigns and hateful portrayal of the Kashmiri identity.
Some names have been changed to protect identities.
Hana Vahab is freelance journalist from Kerala. She works on the refugee crisis, and Human Rights issues.
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