NIT and the Never Ending Story of Kashmir: Jagjit Singh

Guest post by JAGJIT SINGH

[The incidents in NIT Srinagar follow those in a number of universities and institutions of higher education and at one level, reflect a similar pattern. Yet, at another level, they – and the forces active behind them – play on a very different template of politics to achieve the same result. The story is similar and yet, radically different. The key dramatis personae are, understandably, the same. How do we make sense of what is happening in NIT Srinagar? Today’s Indian Express story by Nirupama Subramanian gives a sense of one part of the backdrop – life in NIT Srinagar before the incidents. The piece below gives us another sense of the larger history.]

NIT Srinagar non-Kashmiri students demonstrate
NIT Srinagar non-Kashmiri students demonstrate, image courtesy The Hindu

I remember when I was kid and was trying to make sense of a sport which looked very dull and boring but generated passions I had never seen in my hometown. Every time the game ends, the streets would be flooded by countless people with music and firecrackers and slogans in the background. Sometimes we could see fireworks even from our balcony, and some other times we would be locked inside our homes. Only thing we knew was ‘situation is tensed outside’. The game was Cricket and my hometown was Jammu. Jammu has always been RSS’s stronghold, and there are two Muslim-majority areas in Old City, Jammu. The whole tension surrounded these two areas only. Even that time slogan shouting was the test of your love for your country. The more violent and high-pitched your slogan is the more cheers you receive from the crowd.If you think that it’s only during India vs Pakistan match that such situations arise then you are mistaken. It could be any crucial match in which India is playing, and if it loses then you will see celebrations in many areas of Kashmir. So it’s definitely not Pakistan but India where our attention should be diverted. This is the same Kashmir which under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah decided not to accede to Pakistan but stay with India under a constitutionally guaranteed federal structure where Kashmir enjoys autonomy. But instead of autonomy Kashmir was turned into militarized zone; years of suffering and human rights violation by Indian security forces has turned the majority of Kashmiris against India. The anger is not against India or Indians but the face of India which has brutally ransacked their lives, and this face of India is men in uniform protected by draconian laws.

But what do these slogans have to do with the issue of Kashmir? Kashmir is one place where any slogan you shout can be replied with a lathi-charge or stone-pelting or arrest, and sometimes it could flare communal tensions in any part of the state. One such slogan was shouted in 1952-53. It was ‘Ek desh mein do vidhan; ek desh mein do nishan; ek desh mein do pradhan nahin chalenge’ – “in one country, two constitutions; in one country, two flags; in one country, two prime ministers”, would not be tolerated. It was shouted by Jammu Praja Parishad, consisted mostly of Hindu landowners and supported by Right-wing groups from across the country, which was demanding abrogation of Article 370 and ‘full integration’ of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian union.

It’s no coincident that Praja Parishad movement gained momentum in the same year when Sheikh Abdullah’s government was unconstitutionally dismissed and Sheikh was put behind the bars. Before 1989, when militancy broke down in Kashmir, 1953 was the most crucial year in the history of Kashmir. It was in this year Sheikh was dismissed from power and a series of puppet governments took hold of Kashmir affairs with full ‘backing’ from New Delhi. If Sheikh Abdullah toyed with the idea of independent or semi-independent Kashmir it had its roots in Praja Parishad movement. The movement generated support from important Indian leaders like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, and even Nehru came under severe attack and couldn’t handle the situation in Jammu. It shook the confidence Sheikh had on India’s secular fabric. These fears led to the bittering of relationship between Nehru and Sheikh and ultimately Kashmir and India. Post 1953, Kashmir went through numerous constitutional amendments with the support of dummy-governments picked by Delhi, and finally resulted in the armed revolution in 1989.

Recently, over the game of Cricket, passions again went out of control and police cracked down on NIT campus in Srinagar. The occasion was India vs West Indies semi-final Cricket match. The lathicharge on the students of NIT should be condemned but we also have to understand as to what has made this police force so brutal that they could beat peaceful students organizing a march. The history of police-state in Kashmir is not News to anyone. Lathicharge, stone-pelting, firing, teargas, all these are the routine chores of forces in Jammu and Kashmir. Every time the force comes under attack for using excessive force, it is defended by the argument that any action against the force would demoralise it. Kashmiris have been facing this violence for decades now. This is the time to criticize this brutal attack on civil liberties but in the larger context of Kashmir.

The demand to shift NIT out of Kashmir would do much more harm to the already trust-deficit relationship Kashmiris have with India. The students want to hoist Tiranga on NIT campus and wish to raise nationalist slogans. The J&K police is out of the scene and CRPF has taken charge of the security of NIT campus. There are protests happening in Jammu, and many Jammu based organizations have extended their support to NIT students. It seems the debate is back on the issue of who is a nationalist. But before we brand Kashmiris anti-national we have to put efforts to first make them feel like Indian nationals. The high-voltage slogans of Bharat Mata ki Jai won’t do any good either to the Kashmiris or the Indian nation. These slogans can be easily encountered with anti-Bharat Mata slogans from Kashmir.

The nationalist feelings of non-Kashmiri students of NIT should be respected in a democratic country but even these students have to understand the implication of such slogans in a sensitive place like Kashmir where hawks are always looking for the opportunities to turn every issue into a crisis. The Praja Parishad movement strengthened the hold of RSS in Jammu which led to the popularity of Jan Sangh and later Bhartiya Janta Party. Now, BJP shares the power in J&K with its arch-rival PDP. Fortunately, till now not much politics has happened over the issue, both BJP and PDP have been cautious and Hurriyat has vouched for the safety of NIT Srinagar’s outstation students. But knowing the history of Kashmir one must be extra-careful and handle the issue with utmost sensitivity and political maturity.

The author is pursuing Masters of Art in Development and was born and brought up in Jammu. He has also just finished his dissertation on Kashmir which looks into the constitutional erosion of Autonomy in J&K

4 thoughts on “NIT and the Never Ending Story of Kashmir: Jagjit Singh

  1. K SHESYU BABU

    A classic example of how narrow-minded one can be in quest of ‘projecting’ nationalism or patriotism. The pathetic plights of Kashmir and successive governments neglecting the sufferings of people is once again proved by the ranting and raving of a ‘few non-kashmiri’ students and their hysterics with the blatent support of Centre and its Hindu fanatics.
    Cricket was just a ploy in the larger drama. One of the most ill-effects of nationalism is that the ‘sportiveness’ is being completely eroded. Whether Pakistan or West Indies, whoever plays better on the particular day, they win. It is the right as well as duty of any sports-loving person to appreciate good sports. One should be generous to praise winning team without prejudice. Unfortunately, majority of Indians,including students, are falling a prey to petty opportunistic political gimmicks of patriotism and nationalism. Intolerance is seeping into sports too and troubleshooters loose no time in fomenting disorder and mayhem.
    Kashmir has been used as a tool of political hegemony by both Pakistan and India. Every political leader talks of Kashmir and none bother to heed to conduct a referendum in the state to know the will of the people. If majority of Kashmiris really want a ‘free’ or ‘AZAAD’ Kashmir, why should be one afraid of accepting their wish? Separate Kashmir does not mean that they hate Indian or Pakistani people. Why should their right of self-determination be a threat? In the quagmire of narrow nationalism, a large section of India is behaving atrociously leaving logic, sensitivity and compassion to the wind.
    Kashmir is for Kashmiris. They have the right to self-determination. They have a right to aspire for a better life and education. If their welfare is seen as paramount, they will also begin to love their non-kashmiri’. Is a humanitarian view of their condition and conscience not possible????

    1. A humanitarian view is possible only if the majority population of India will allow it. Even a humanitarian progressive Nehru could never have held a plebiscite for the fear of loosing his popularity in India. The majority population could possibly have allowed it if the Kashmiris were of the same religion as the majority of Indians. But in that case, Kashmiris would not have wanted to be separate from India because they would have been treated with care as is the case with the Kashmiri Pandits. Most Kashmiris are Muslims, they cannot be treated as brothers and because they are not treated as brothers, they react childishly and want to be independent. A catch-22 situation. The other dangerous angle is – Pakistan will never let them be independent and joining with Pakistan is not an attractive option for most Kashmiris. An independent Kashmir will become a battleground for a proxy war between India and Pakistan. The practical solution for Kashmiris to be like the Sikhs after the Khalistan struggle, Gain the confidence of the more humanitarian sections of the Indian society by working towards integration with India at least on the economic and political front and avoid needless confrontation with the Hindutva brigade which will continually bait them for votes.

    2. Laasika Nirmal Bose

      I totally agree with you. What happened at NIT didn’t just happen. Clearly it is part of the sinister agenda of the pracharaks,just what I was apprehensive of post May 2014.Does one just watch helplessly ?

  2. shaturya

    Kashmir is a classic case study for the concept of nationhood and presently fashionable votaries of ‘vedic nationalism ‘ has much to learn from it…Kashmir alongwith Jammu, Leh and Gilgit-Baltistan were separate cultural entities till mid-nineteenth centuries..Then , British , as a favour , gave it to Raja Hari Singh ‘s ancestors, just like a jagir in Mughal court. Later , Gilgit- Baltistan revolted against Raja Hari Singh and declared themselves independent and later accessed to Pakistan (rather naively, in my opinion, as they were manipulatively ruled thereafter by Pakistan ) .Same was the case of POK . POK was always ruled by MKA . East Jammu and Leh (present day J&K) were the only part which willingly wanted to be part of India and are still the same. Kashmir valley became part of India because of Sheikh Abdullah. Sheikh Abdullah , because of his deep disliking of Raja Hari Singh and because of opportunity being provided by Nehru to him to become CM of J&K and making Raja irrelevant, forced Raja Hari Singh to write the instrument of accession to India. However , later , Sheikh Abdullah wanted an independent Kashmir and relation between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah (not India and Kashmir) soured. Thereafter, Kashmir valley remained a hotbed of politics which metamorphosed into violence later once religious terrorism became a strategic weapon in the hands of some Governments.

    Therefore going back to history doesn’t help..!!!

    Kashmir separatism arose out of political aspiration of some political leaders, just like caste separatism have arisen because of opportunities seen by some political leaders. This could have been solved by fair play and finding out just ways ( as opposed to emotional and unnecessarily going back to historical roots) which is not difficult …

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