NEW DELHI, Aug 10: On a rainy Sunday morning in May 2010, a bulldozer drove into the mammoth Kashmir University campus on the banks of the Dal Lake in Srinagar. It drove straight into the beautiful Naseem Bagh.
Wall by wall, the bulldozer demolished a small hut that was the office of the Kashmir University Students’ Union (KUSU).
As the bricks fell and the dust settled, a massive crackdown on KUSU members followed. The organization was banned and all kinds of student activism were crushed under
After the ban was imposed, students’ protests peaked on campus. Shouting anti-India and anti-establishment slogans, young men and women marched down to the vice-chancellor’s office.
But the voices were soon suppressed. While some students were threatened, several others were arrested – bringing an end to the Union and students’ politics on campus.
The Union still existed in the classrooms and our hearts, but no one spoke a word.
Strangely, the silence was broken last week when National Conference, one of the largest mainstream political parties in the Valley, announced the formation of the National
Conference Students’ Union (NCSU).
For most KUSU members, the announcement was a bolt from the blue.
Given that students’ unions are banned on university campuses across Kashmir, how did this National Conference- backed union come about?
It was in the late ’90s that students’ unions were banned in the University, after militancy erupted in the Valley.
After a long, arduous battle with the authorities, KUSU was formed in 2007.
But curbs followed soon and the students’ body was choked year after year, till its demise in 2010.
All attempts to revive the Union since have been duly suppressed.
When I joined the University in 2009, I found the set-up on the campus to be extremely bureaucratic and the authorities high-handed.
A student could never venture too close to the vice-chancellor’s or the registrar’s office, unlike our counterparts studying in universities such as Delhi University or Jamia Millia Islamia where the authorities are much more approachable.
Here, you would find the police on campus and loops of barbed wire dotting the landscape. Frisking and harassment were routine.
I joined KUSU a few months after my admission upon the insistence of some friends from the Law Department.
Though KUSU enjoyed overwhelming support from the student community, it had few members.
A Union membership could have serious consequences, including rustication.
But we had little to do as members. We met twice a week or so and planned recruitment drives to have more members, besides writing memorandums to the administration. Our proposals of holding workshops and debates on the issues plaguing Kashmir were duly disposed by the authorities.
On the academic front, there was very little happening except for the regular class work based on syllabi that were designed decades ago. Most teachers came, delivered
lectures and left, but made no effort to encourage creativity or discussion.
Though there was one group of teachers that spent more time in the administrative block of the campus than in the classroom. They behaved like bureaucrats and treated
students like dirt.
One such teacher was the deputy proctor at our time. He was supposedly a professor of Physics, but was seldom seen in the Science department.
Instead, one could see him manning the macadamized roads of the University, questioning and threatening anyone who had any association with KUSU.
Innovation was paramount in all aspects other than education – sophisticated grass mowers that kept the lawns prim, varieties of almost all flowers available. Kashmir
University is perhaps the only educational institution in the world where gardeners had walkie-talkies.
They used them to spy on students and prevent any ‘suspicious assembly’ on the beautifully manicured lawns.The mechanisms yielded the desired results. There was no
activism, no student interaction, no debates and no freedom. Of course, seminars on non-controversial issues such as air pollution were commonplace.
The one place on campus where students enjoyed a measure of freedom was the canteen. There were a couple of them until last year but a few more have been added this year.
The canteen was always alive and full of students having open, vibrant discussions.
But all this while, there were a few students who were more equal than others. They could freely walk into the vice- chancellor’s office with no one questioning them.
And they were the only ones sent on outstation workshops and scholarships. They would always occupy the front rows and were introduced as “students’ representatives” during events.
But whom did these students represent? We could never find out.
Then came the bloody summer of 2010. As curfew locked us inside our homes, a group of students met the All-Party Delegation from New Delhi. Later, the same group of
students met Home Minister P Chidambaran as well as the interlocutors on the Kashmir issue.
When the University reopened a few weeks later, we learnt it was the very group of students that had free access into the authorized zones of the University.
Two years later, it turns out that these select students are the members of the newly formed NCSU.
An update by a student on a social networking site sums it up aptly: “The same 6-7 students who are part of NCSU were the ones who met the interlocutors in 2010. No one ever knew who picked them and whom they were representing. Now they have a Union. How is that?”
This is quite similar to the story of Kashmir and its people. At least, we now know whose interests the NCSU does not represent – the Kashmiri youth.
(The author is working with the Hindustan Times)