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.]
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