The #NITSrinagar episode brought back some unpleasant memories that I’d managed to push right to the back of my mind. Memories of those growing up years in Srinagar when life was not as rosy as we like to think, it did have shades of gray often threatening to turn black! Those were simpler times when all that mattered was friends and the thrill of finally being in college. These simpler pleasures were marred occasionally when a cricket match involving either India or Pakistan happened to be played in some part of the world. And woe betide if the two countries happened to be playing against each other!
Thanks to the Irish nuns, school had been a cocoon sheltering us from the harsh realities that the Government College for Women, with it’s mix of girls from various backgrounds, brought us face to face with. Suddenly, there were whole groups of girls vociferously rooting for Pakistan whenever a Cricket Match was played. The worst shock was when, Muhammad Ali the American Boxing Champion won a title, my best friend from school, a sane and totally non-religious girl transformed the college Common Room into a ‘Shrine’ for the Champ and announced that no non-Muslim would be allowed to enter! Girls who’d been perfectly normal till then, transformed into ferocious Viragos, delivering shrill Islamic sermons! Gradually, this became a regular feature, with each episode getting more blatant. Incidentally, a lady lawyer who frequents TV Debates these days, was one such ‘leader’ organizing these bouts of fanatic displays!
That was what took place within the cloistered walls of our college on Srinagar’s tony MA Road; the streets outside frequently erupted in loud demonstrations and cries of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, stone-pelting and crackers the whole night, to celebrate Paki victories. Menacing slogans in the distance meant a day off and the sudden familiar sound of hastily downed shop shutters. The years went by and by the time we entered the gates of Kashmir University, the ‘Protests’ became more regular and the reasons more random and far-fetched. A killing in distant Iran, some ‘fatwa’ somewhere in the Muslim world or trouble in neighboring Pakistan were enough for the streets to empty out, shops close down and buses to go on strike! Getting home from distant Hazratbal, where the University is situated, was always a daunting task in such situations! Panic-stricken parents waiting at home, we’d try and find some means of getting home.
Fast forward to 30 years later, in the present, nothing seems to have changed! Kashmir still gets vicarious pleasure from unrelated victories and losses, educational institutions still become hate-filled, forbidding places and friends turn into hostile strangers, ostensibly for Cricket Matches! We, who have lived in Kashmir, know that the NIT Srinagar students celebrating the defeat of the Indian Cricket team and taunting their non-Kashmiri counterparts is not a unique incident but, actually a continuation of the blatantly religious displays that have been seen in Kashmir through the decades. These are essentially anti-India in nature and therefore capable of inspiring fear and insecurity in any non-Muslim! It’s like a testosterone-shedding spree for these young men who are deprived of better forms of entertainment!
All this talk about Kashmiri students being ‘outnumbered and attacked’ is laughable! Anyone familiar with the ground reality in the Valley knows how close NIT Srinagar is to Kashmir University, how quickly these students hop from one campus to another and how easy it is for local people from surrounding Hazratbal to join the anti-national chorus! It is ridiculous to even imagine that Kashmiris are capable of being ‘outnumbered’ in Kashmir!
For Kashmiris to gloss over the matter by attributing the situation to ‘academic issues’ and playing down the gravity, is shameful! The far-fetched effort to connect and compare this incident with grievances of Kashmiri students studying in other Indian States, is a very petty effort to justify the lack of hospitality ( for lack of a better word) displayed by Kashmiri students! Several, rather unsavory tweets by Kashmiris, regarding this incident reveal a resentment against non-Kashmiri students being allowed in an educational institution in Kashmir. These students, who have been living in self-imposed isolation for far too long, need to learn to live with others! They must shed their ‘Victim’ mentality and mingle with people from other cultures and religions, only then will this age-old status quo change!
As for the non-Kashmiri students studying in NIT Srinagar, three cheers for these Brave hearts who marched through the NIT Campus with the Tricolour held high! Watching them do this right in the heart of Separatist territory: Kashmir University was an amazing experience. It somehow made up for all those years of silent humiliation that we Kashmiri Pandits had to tolerate for so many years!