Storm in a Kahwa Cup: Organizers of the Kashmiri Food Counter at the International Food Festival, JNU 2015

Guest Post by Organizers of the Kashmiri Food Counter at the International Food Festival, JNU 2015

Universities are supposed to be the centers of free inquiry, speech and expression. However, in the recent months universities and other democratic spaces have been under attack from right wing fascist elements across India. University authorities under the influence of right wing forces have increased surveillance on sections of students and have started to monitor and control campuses. As a premier institute of learning Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has always has preserved its democratic culture and has resisted such attacks tooth and nail. However, in recent days even JNU is experiencing pressures from the right wing fascist forces.

Every year, JNU organizes an International Food Festival (IFF) where students from diverse cultures and nations displaying their flags come together to offer global cuisines. This year on 20thJanuary, a group of students from Kashmir booked a counter at the IFF. After completing necessary formalities and depositing security amount the festival organizers allotted space for Kashmir food counter along with the Tibet food counter. However, International students association (ISA), body that organizes the festival started receiving threats from the ABVP goons. The president and other members of the organization were harassed and intimidated. The organizers received open warnings from ABVP threatening them with disrupting the festival in case Kashmiris were allowed to open their food counter. International students who organize the festival were threatened with legal action and deportation. Just two days before the festival the booking for Kashmiri food counter was cancelled by the organization.

It is disappointing that after ISA approached the JNU administration, the university rector turned a deaf ear to ISA’s complaints and grievances against ABVP. We would like to put this on record that threatening student bodies and intimidating students individually does not change the fact that Kashmir issue is an international dispute and the people of Jammu Kashmir are fighting for their right to national self-determination. The evolution of a complex association of the erstwhile Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir with the Nation-states of India and Pakistan after 1947 amounts to writing on the wall that Kashmir is a disputed territory. It is disheartening to see that groups like ABVP succeed in converting the liberal and free space of JNU into the “sacrosanct national space”. It has happened for the first time that on the demand of ABVP an event by a group of students has been called off.

Like other students from stateless nations the students of Jammu and Kashmir have struggled to share their views and concerns on issues confronting them. JNU campus was known for its diversity and democratic space and it is unfortunate that the university administration cowed down to the pressures of right wing forces in the campus. Thus, we Kashmiris students appeal to all the political groups in JNU to resist such attacks on the democratic spaces. We also hope that all likeminded students groups would come together and send a strong message to the administration and respond to this crisis and express their solidarity with the students from Jammu and Kashmir. We expect a response from all the political groups on the campus that sends a strong message to the authoritarian administration and its political masters that, the voices of students in the name of India’s ‘integrity’ cannot be gagged. We continue with our struggle to reclaim the JNU space and stand by the fact that Kashmir is a disputed territory. We hope and expect solidarity from the larger student body and all political groups.

13 thoughts on “Storm in a Kahwa Cup: Organizers of the Kashmiri Food Counter at the International Food Festival, JNU 2015”

  1. I am ready to confront the ABVP activists and stand as a volunteer at the food stall proposed to be put up by students from J&K. However, I have one condition. I will wear a Tshirt with one of the Mohammed cartoons from Charlie Hebdo.

    Deal?

    After all, QUOTE Universities are supposed to be the centers of free inquiry, speech and expression UNQUOTE. :)

    1. I will let you stand with me and wear your Charlie Hebdo shirt, as long as you undertake to distribute Lakshmi bikini bottoms and copies of the Koran. That way, you balance- as appears to be your wish- freedom of expression on multiple sides. Deal?

  2. I have uploaded this post, because I think that student voices of all kinds are important and need to be heard. However, I could not resist thinking of two ironies that are attendent to the post – 1) That students belonging to Jammu & Kashmir who are currently in JNU, are not enrolled as ‘foreign students’. As far as I know, being a ‘foreign student’ places several restrictions on a student – including providing undertakings not to take part in political activity. Would the students behind this post consider providing such undertakings? If so, would it not amount to a kind of self-sabotage?

    2). Their participation in a ‘food festival’ organized ostensibly to felicitate the host country of International students studying in JNU on the occasion of its ‘Republic Day’ is something that I did not exactly find of delicious irony. Let us not forget that if you consider yourselves, ‘guests’ and your ‘host’ state to be an occupying power, then, felicitating that ‘occupying power’ by serving food on the occasion of its ‘Republic Day’ is in someways thanking the occupying power for its actions. Food is a highly symbolic thing, and by undertaking to provide food to celebrate the day when the ‘occupying power’ parades its military might, is something that i think would have required some more careful thought.

    The whole business of ‘facilitating’ states and their citizens, through symbolic actions of this kind can distract from the hard task of thinking about what hospitality can mean in a turbulent world.

    It might have been better if instead of trying to participate in a ‘United Nations’ of food, the point of food and hospitality, and of who gets to serve whom, had been thought through with greater care. I am all for people sharing food, and feeling free to share food, but let the terms of that sharing not be set by a system of ‘states’ and their mutual relations, and the shadows of those systems in the everyday life of symbolic actions.

    Things to think about, over more than one cup of kahwa.

    regards, and hoping that nothing prevents normal friendships and solidarities that transcend momentary dsitractions in the valuable space of freedom on campuses.

    regards,

    Shuddha

    1. I am sure the organizers would have their replies to your concerns. As another student of the university who stands in solidarity with the organizers, I have a few words to say. To put it in the words of Arundhati Roy, we shouldn’t simplify things that are complicated, or complicate those that are very simple. You have made a number of points, but to me it seems you have missed the point. As far as I can guess, the point of organizing this stall was hardly hardly about food, or Kashmiri students signing bonds like other foreign national that they will not partake in any political activity or for that matter felicitating the hosts, in this case the occupying force (If I am wrong, i would request the organisers to correct me). It only seemed to me a very creative way of speaking in the face of the powers that be – their outright refusal to be co-opted into the nationalist-integrationist project by raising their “international identity” and foregrounding questions of occupation and self-determination. And to me, they have succeeded in foregrounding the same (even if in the limited space of our campus) despite the program being cancelled. The approach of the ABVP and the JNU administration was after all far from surprising.

      Umar

    2. While there is irony here, I think you kinda mis-placed it. It makes perfect sense for Kashmiris to felicitate India on the fact that it celebrates a day that commemorates (at least the idea, if not the fact) of being a nation that reposes (lays to rest, quite literally) in its citizens the right to decide for themselves. That India chooses to celebrate this day through a flexing of its arms, and that too in its own capital, the heart of the country rather than some border or something, is definitely uproariously hilarious, especially since those very same muscles are flexed not merely in symbolic display against its own citizens (and their right to decide for themselves) across the country way more than they are against the citizens of other nations, statistically speaking.

  3. Hi Shuddha,
    Kashmiri students are nor enrolled as ‘foreign students’ at an Indian University and why is that, well i would imagine that you know the answer to this part. And secondly no one intends to thank the host party or feed them on their republic day. The presence of Kashmiri stall amidst all other international stalls would tantamount to resistance in the face of existing political times. The day Indian state exhibits its military might, what is wrong in reminding the world of the hypocrisy and brutal face of the republic. The presence of Kashmiri stall in an International food festival is symbolic of the defiance on part of those kashmiris who are forced to stay as Indian nationals while they fights for not being that. The spirit behind setting a stall in purely an act of resistance and defiance and not to serve wazwan to occupiers. Thanks ..:)

  4. Self determination based on Islamic exclusivism and fanaticism. No thanks, says every Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, Jain and atheist in the state of Kashmir.

  5. As another student from JNU, all I know is that food and music are two things that connect people the most, despite severe differences along many lines…I was expecting to call my family and enjoy the food from different stalls and see the cultures of many people…but now I will politely stay away as the purpose of hosting a food festival is defeated…the ingredients of bonhomie and nourishment has been replaced by hate and infighting…all the best to all those revolutionaries and freedom fighters who want to make a point…but in my opinion you guys just want to make a loud noise…irritating the people who just want to come and enjoy…but then it is JNU and it will be sin to enjoy without first cleaning the mess of all the world…if Kashmiris really want to make a point then pls hold a food fest at a later date so that all food loving people can come and enjoy their lovely cuisine and talk about lives…I don’t see the point of coming and eating food when I can’t be relaxed and always tense…this is really called a food fight…good food bye bye!

    1. Yes, I largely agree with you!

      You can still take your family to eat Kashmiri food – Wazwaan.

      Many moons ago, when your wallet was full you could go to ‘Chor Bazaar’ on Aruna Asaf Ali Road and feast on authentic Wazwaan food and wash it down with a large mug of very cold beer.

      But never mind wallets. A little bird tells me that the most authentic Wazwaan is now available, only with takeaways alas, at Ahad Sons in Uday Park…check it out…

      Or, find a way to cage an invitation to a Kashmiri wedding!

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