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.