Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Games in Kashmir Valley

Vivek Sinha
Simmering undercurrents, if left unaddressed, quite often leads to sudden and disastrous outbursts. A case in point is the ongoing conflict at the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar. In what could have been a minor scuffle among students over India’s loss in the T20 cricket tourney, has now been turned into a battleground by secessionist forces at the engineering college in capital town of Jammu & Kashmir.  
The trigger came in on March 31st, when West Indies batsman Lendl Simmons lofted a six in the last over to beat India in the semi-finals of a nail-biting cricket match. Across the world Indian fans felt dejected. Ditto at the NIT campus where students appeared crestfallen at India’s loss and mood at the institute turned gloomy.
At the same time, NIT campus also echoed with slogans of “Pakistan Zindabad”, “Hindustan Murdabad” and "Azadi". Very soon crackers started bursting. So, if the hosteliers were morose, the local Kashmiri Sunni students at the campus were celebrating India’s loss. This could have been the end of matter but at NIT this was just the precursor of things.
An NIT student described celebrations as “suffocating” that was aimed to provoke outstation students. “It appeared as if they were on a high. Sloganeering and cracker-bursting gave way to stone-pelting on our hostel rooms, shouting obscene cuss-words and abuses,” the engineering student said, requesting anonymity.
Interestingly, all this while NIT’s security staff and administration remained mute spectators who even allowed outsiders to join the mayhem at the campus. 
Attempts by outstation students to reach out to college administration did not help and sloganeering continued through the night. After repeated rebuffs from college administration that refused to control the volatile situation, next day the hosteliers assembled peacefully and amid loud chants of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” hoisted the Indian tricolour at NIT campus.
Since then all outstation students who live in NIT hostels have been subject to daily harassment at the hands of college administration and local Kashmiri students who escalated their threat and hate messages to hostel students. These outstation students were also caned by the state policemen while sitting on a peaceful protest.
Superficially, these events could be brushed aside as the handiwork of Separatists who have found sympathisers at the institute.
Ironically, a deeper analysis points to some interesting insights.  
It needs to be understood that the entire Separatist movement in Jammu & Kashmir has come to naught. Separatists find absolutely no takers in Jammu and Ladakh divisions of the state. Even in the Kashmir Valley their support base consists primarily of Sunni Muslims and is shrinking at a fast pace. Other sects of Islam such as the Shia, Bakkarwal, Gujjar, Pahari and Ahmedias have rejected the separatist ideology in toto. In effect, this means there is a serious existential crisis for the Kashmiri Separatists and so they are lapping up every opportunity to stay in the news.
The India versus West Indies cricket match provided just the kind of opportunity that these Separatists were longing for. It could bring them back in news. On April 2, Separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani tweeted: “Indians must bear in mind, Kashmir is not dehli (sic) or any other state of India”. 
A section of media projected NIT issue as a pent up outburst of Kashmiri Muslims and painted the Separatist voices as the sole representative of the state. It was conveniently brushed aside that disagreement between groups of students often time turns violent but then college administration and district administration are able to control the situation. Nobody debated and discussed why the NIT administration was bent upon to demoralise the outstation students, or why the outstation students largely from other states of India were being targeted by the Kashmiri Separatists.
Well, any argument that claims that the Kashmir’s separatist movement is actually an expression of the feelings of Muslim minority does not hold water. Only one sect of Islam-- the Kashmiri Sunnis-- favour Pakistan over India. Their gambit is to use Islam as a political tool to further their nefarious political ambitions.
It must be borne in mind that  Kashmiri Sunnis who were shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” have no relation with Islam and their basic purpose is only to use Islam as a political tool to further their interests in the region. Under the guise of Islam they have committed atrocities on other Islamic sects such as Shias, Gujjars, Bakkarwals and Ahmediyas.
It’s sad Pakistan still exists in the minds of Separatist Kashmiri Sunni Muslims who feel that the state created by Muhammad Ali Jinnah is the final frontier. In fact, this is a mirage. “I alone with the help of my secretary and my typewriter won Pakistan,” Jinnah had said when he was approached by Muslims who asked him about their fate in a Hindu majority India. Jinnah was anything but a practicing Muslim and used Islam as a tool to further his political ambitions.
Several Sunni Muslims are realizing the futility of a pro-Pakistan sentiment in the Valley. “By shouting pro-Pakistan slogans they (separatists) spoil the business environment of the state and it adversely affects our livelihood,” said Shabir (name changed). Shabir is a Sunni Muslim in the valley, he owns hotels and his business depends on the number of tourists arriving in the state.
The Indian government, both at Delhi and Srinagar, must realize that the NIT incident is not the first and it could not be the last. Smriti Irani, the Human Resources Development Minister sent a two-member fact finding team from New Delhi to address the grievances of outstation students. Considering the gravity of the situation and security concerns at the campus Home Minister Rajnath Singh took stock of the situation from JK Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. State’s Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh has categorically said that the police officers who resorted to lathi-charge at peaceful outstation students will be “punished”. The issues at NIT appear to settle down as both Delhi and Srinagar have assured safety and security of outstation students at NIT.
Sensing that the real truth is now coming out Geelani was quick to change tack. In his tweet and Facebook post on April 6 he posted: “If outside students are studying here, we should ensure that there is no harm done to them or any obstacle created in their pursuit for education.”
Yet, it will be na├»ve to think that there will be a change of heart. The Separatists will look for similar such issues to stir up the passions in Kashmir Valley. The strategy should be to think ahead of the Separatists and pre-empt them.               
(this article was first published in Organiser in its edition dated April 17th 2016)  

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