Two days into the government, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is faced with her first major crisis: the still unfolding fallout of the clash between students at Srinagar’s National Institute of Technology on the occasion of India-West Indies match on March 31. The NIT has been closed since and the clashes between local and non-local groups of students have been followed by the police lathi-charge and the injuries to the students.
It began when Kashmiri students began celebrating India’s defeat in the T20 semi-finals. Non local students took serious exception to it leading to a scuffle between the two groups. Following day, both groups staged protests against each other, shouting competing slogans like Bharat Mata ki Jai and Pakistan Zindabad respectively. This brought police on the scene. Authorities suspended the classwork and ordered the Kashmiri students to go home till peace was restored on the campus.
Though the Institute was due to open on Monday, non-local students continued to protest. On Tuesday, they staged another protest and tried to move outside the campus, shouting Bharat Mata Ki Jai and carrying tricolour. Sensing this would lead to a reaction from the people outside and exacerbate the situation, police stopped the students at the gate. When the students resisted, police used force to break the protest. Several students were injured. Students put the number at around 30 while the police say only “three to four” were hurt. Some of them were rushed to the nearby Jawahar Lal Nehru Memorial hospital.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Sajad Bukhari said they had registered an open FIR against the protesting students. “We have not made any arrests so far,” Bukhari who was charged with the security of the campus. ”We are assessing the video footage of the protests and will accordingly act”.
Situation has since further deteriorated with both student groups hardening their stand and setting out their own respective demands. Some of the demands of the non-local students include hoisting of national flag at the main gate, deployment of central forces for the security of the campus and the action against the faculty and the administration for indulging in anti-national activities.
“Until the mentioned demands are not met, the university shall remain shut,” read a statement issued by the group.
On the other hand local students have urged the college administration to take stern action “against the miscreants involved in vandalization and petrifying Kashmiri students, to ensure safety of minority Kashmiri students at NIT Srinagar”.
“ Also we request the authorities to take stern action against the communal bigots residing within the campus who attempt to disturb the peaceful atmosphere at NIT Srinagar,” the statement read. “Such measures are essential to restore an environment congenial to scientific learning and innovation”.
The political uproar across the nation has targeted Mehbooba. In fact, the CM had nothing to do with the incident at NIT. Her Government was sworn in on April 4 and the final of the T20 World Cup was played April 3 and West Indies had already become champion defeating England by 4 wickets.
But while there was little political fallout for four days after the incident, all hell has broken loose since Mehbooba took power.
Forced by the unfolding political ramifications, the government removed the J&K Police and deployed paramilitary central reserve police force (CRPF) inside the campus. This has not gone down well with the police and the local population who feel New Delhi has communalized the security in the state.
Centre also rushed a two-member team of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to the Institute. The team held meetings with the students at the Institute.
The three-member team, headed by Director Sanjeev Sharma, visited the campus to ascertain the facts that led to clashes. The team first met the NIT director and then the protesting non-local students who have been boycotting classes for the past five days. The interactions lasted nearly three hours, a senior official said.
Talking about their meeting with HRD team, a non local student said they have demanded that NIT be shifted and the students be allowed to go home. “We are not feeling secure in Valley,” he said. “Please relocate the institute outside the state”.