The students’ unrest at NIT Srinagar has serious repercussions for the implementation of the coalition government’s “Agenda for Alliance” and for restoring peace and normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir. Unfortunately, political workers of all hues have deliberately created the crisis to destabilise the state government and foment trouble.
After much hesitation, the government under J&K’s first woman chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, was formed. Within a week, two groups of students, under their mentors’ influence, took extreme ideological positions and provoked each other by shouting “azadi” and “Bharat Mata ki Jai” slogans and hoisting green and tricolour flags. Such activities are not uncommon at educational institutions, which enrol students from different backgrounds and promote freedom of expression.
All parties have added fuel to the fire, rather than keeping the campus free of political interference and maintaining calm at examination time. The blamegame over police action and the comments of people who view the security forces from a communal angle didn’t wait for the inquiry’s findings. Unfortunately, vested interests have begun fishing in the troubled waters at the cost of students’ careers and the much-needed normalcy.
Those who raise the azadi slogan must remember that their audience doesn’t enjoy more or less of the freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution of India. Nor does the J&K CM have less political and administrative power than her counterparts in other Indian states. In fact, the J&K CM is more powerful than any other CM due to the state’s “special status” under Article 370. Therefore, to realise constitutional rights, the pursuit of knowledge for professional empowerment may be helpful. Students shouldn’t be misled by disgruntled elements, who tend to perpetuate ignorance, poverty and deprivation for political gain. Educational institutions prepare the youth for the challenges of life. The opportunities they are given through taxpayers’ money ought not to be wasted.
On the other hand, another section prefers a renewed debate on nationalism by shouting the “Bharat Mata ki Jai” slogan and expecting every Muslim to chant it. While a section of Muslims doesn’t object to chanting the slogan, there are those who feel such insistence is uncalled for. Because a Muslim prays five times a day and while bowing before the Almighty, his forehead kisses the motherland at least 50 times. Is it not enough proof of love for the country? The controversy over this slogan is unnecessary and should be avoided in the national interest.
The demand of non-local students for relocation or shifting the NIT campus is untenable, mainly because there’s no IIT, IIM or engineering college in the Valley. J&K is poor in so far as the provision of quality technical and professional education is concerned. Even at the NIT, less than 20 per cent students are local. There’s an urgent need to promote quality education in the state.
To fill the gap, the Union government launched the special scholarship scheme for post-secondary education in 2011. But the HRD ministry adopted a lacklustre approach. Therefore, the expected benefits aren’t reaching the target groups. In the last five years, at least 25,000 scholarships (5,000 per year) were to be distributed to low-income students. But less than one-third of the total was utilised, attributable to the laxity of the Central bureaucracy. The youth is frustrated because of the lack of empowerment and opportunities to participate in “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”.
In the last one year, J&K students have been harassed and humiliated on the following pretexts: Raising azadi slogans; shouting in support of Pakistan; non-payment of dues by those admitted under the special scholarship scheme; and allegations of cooking beef at Mewar University. The evidence against them is missing. Students may have erred, but the administration is to be equally blamed for its lackadaisical attitude towards Kashmiri students. The NIT crisis may trigger similar incidents across the country.
Over 60 per cent of J&K’s population comprised the youth. They haven’t had an opportunity to learn and earn due to the militancy of the last three decades. Any attempt to stifle their educational and employment opportunities will jeopardise the chances of winning Kashmiri hearts necessary for cordial Centre-state relations. While a greater effort should be made to promote student and teacher mobility for national integration, political parties must exercise restraint in interfering in institutional functioning. The onus is on the coalition government to arrest the growing alienation among J&K students, in whose future the Kashmir imbroglio is to be settled.