Abdul Azeez and Ghulam Ahmad (names changed on request) dropped by at a Big Bazaar outlet in South Delhi Wednesday evening but couldn’t find what they were looking for.
“We need affordable formal wear and we need it quickly,” says Azeez, just in case he gets a job interview call. “We didn’t bring any with us because we did not know we would need it here.”
Hit by an unprecedented communication blockade in the Kashmir valley, these final-year students from National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, reached Delhi this month to submit their application forms online for the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) for admission to Master’s courses.
Azeez’s smartphone buzzed with hundreds of message alerts on his college WhatsApp group as soon as he landed. He discovered that many of his classmates were also in the National Capital Region. “They all are here to participate in the placement drive. I would have missed the opportunity had I not come to Delhi on my own.”
It has been over a month since NIT in Srinagar suspended classwork abruptly. With no update or assurance on when the institute will open again, a group of final-year students decided to take matters into their own hands. About 70 students are camping in a hostel in Ghaziabad for the last three weeks, at their own expense, to organise their placement drive. The total final year class has 360 students of whom 80 are from Jammu and Kashmir, most from the Valley.
“The institute suspended classes bang in the middle of the placement season. Just before closing, two companies had visited our campus to recruit. Uncertain about when classes will resume, a group of students sought help from an alumnus to find an alternate venue to continue the placement drive,” says Amit Kumar, a final-year student and placement coordinator.
However, the first drive conducted at the BSNL’s Advanced Level Telecom Training Centre (ALTTC) in Ghaziabad on September 2 saw no participation from Kashmiri students.
“We tried our best to reach out to them. But there was absolutely no way of informing them,” says Shishpal, a final year student of information technology. Uncomfortable with local students being left out, the institute asked the outstation students to go back home.
“Students have travelled from Telangana, Jammu, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Leh. Sending them back was not a solution,” Shishpal adds. On September 4, a delegation of 30 final-year students met officials in the HRD Ministry and requested them to ask NIT-Srinagar to inform Kashmiri students through advertisements in local papers and on Doordarshan Kashmir. After initial reluctance, NIT-Srinagar has agreed to continue the drive.
Almost all the NIT-Srinagar students that The Indian Express met Wednesday at the hostel in BSNL’s ALTTC campus in Ghaziabad were outstation students. Azeez and Ahmad will be the first Kashmiri students to join the placement drive this week.
“We will soon place advertisements in the local papers in Kashmir to inform students about the placement drive in Ghaziabad. Recently, we informed local students, also through advertisements in local papers, that they can get their eligibility certificates for the GATE examination, signed by me at the institute. A few had come,” NIT-Srinagar director Rakesh Sehgal said.
Sehgal was in Delhi this week to sign and attest GATE eligibility forms of outstation students.
Ever since the institute closed down on August 3, NIT-Srinagar has been struggling to contact its students. Its official website is not working because of the clampdown on communications. Updates are few and far between and being shared on the institute’s Facebook page and Instagram handle.
Till date, only 560 out of the 778 first-year students have reported at NIT-Srinagar. The deadline for joining the institute, for first-year students, has been extended indefinitely. This was communicated through a post on the institute’s Facebook Page on August 12.
“The uncertainty is making the first-year students anxious. I have constantly been trying the (institute’s) landline number. It never connects. How are we going to cover up for the lost time?” asks a first-year student of chemical engineering, who is currently back home in Aligarh. He spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In a bid to allay anxiety of freshers, NIT-Srinagar, on August 20, wrote to students on its Facebook page: “We feel your anxiety and worry. In response to all those queries, I would like to assure you following: NIT administration is well aware of all important concerns of all students. As soon as website of institute will be operational we will be contacting you with all updates. Administration will take all steps to complete your specified course work and will ensure timely completion of this semester. The time loss will be compensated by utilising all off days and vacations.”
A week ago, an online petition surfaced on change.org informing that a group of students was planning to file a PIL on the indefinite closure of the institute. The online petition demands that the institute be re-opened or an alternate arrangement be made to conduct classes elsewhere.
Om Prakash Verma, a second-year civil engineering student, is part of the group trying to mobilise support and funds for filing the PIL against the government and institute. “We are in touch with a few lawyers, but they have quoted high fees. We are now trying to approach lawyers who can help us pro bono,” he said over the phone from Bihar.
Sources said the government briefly considered moving students to other NIT campuses until the Srinagar institute remains closed. “The proposal did not work out because every single NIT is full to its capacity because of the 10% EWS quota this year,” said a senior official.
In a meeting called by the HRD Ministry on Monday and attended by Sehgal, it was decided that students will be advised to register for online courses available on the SWAYAM (India’s MOOCs) platform. “We have sent an email to our teachers asking them to identify all lectures and courses on SWAYAM that fit our curriculum. This list will be shared with all students. As for local students, we will advertise in local papers asking them to collect these lectures in a pen drive watch them at home,” said Sehgal.
“Whatever credits a student earns (after submitting assignments on the Swayam platform) will be counted at the time of generating the semester-end score,” he adds.
When asked how local students affected by the communication blockade would submit assignments online to earn credits, the director said, “They may have to travel to find (internet) network.”