While the national capital is busy debating over freedom of speech at its premier universities, student politics in Kashmir continues to be unheard.
The Kashmir-conflict took its toll on the student politics in the 1990s when militancy erupted in the Valley. Kashmir University, the highest state of learning, has been bearing the brunt since then. After a few previous suspensions and subsequent revocations, a blanket ban was imposed on the student politics at Kashmir University in 2009. That time Kashmir University Students Union (KUSU), the only elected students’ body was banned by the then Vice Chancellor Prof Reyaz Punjabi, when KUSU took to streets against the Shopian double rape-and-murder, a case unsolved till date. While students hoped that the ban would be revoked after
While students hoped that the ban would be revoked after the situation improved, a year later Reyaz Punjabi got the building housing KUSU office bulldozed. Seven years on, the ban on KUSU awaits revocation –depriving more than 3,000 students of their right in the democratic process.
A ray of hope had emerged in 2015 when the ruling Peoples Democratic Party hinted at the revocation of the ban to set student activism back on track. But the university authorities have reservations. The KU Vice-Chancellor, Prof Khursheed Andrabi pleads the continuation of ban saying there is no need of students union on the campus “as the students need to focus on academic activities more.”
Students, on the other hand, claim that choking their “democratic space” has only pushed them to the wall. “When you choke the rightful space, the youth feel dejected and look for alternatives which in Kashmir end up as picking up arms. The results are obvious, over the past few years, it’s mainly the educated youth who joined militancy,” says a teacher of Sociology at KU.
As of now, the KUSU has symbolic existence. Apart from graffiti on the walls at the KU campus, the KUSU has some page Facebook pages as well.
One such page with post dating back to May 13, 2016, says that student politics is banned in Kashmir University. But prominent pro-India parties provide a safe haven for their unions inside the campus. Their unions fight, rag, quarrel, and endorse a sort of Goondaraj while enjoying immunity. It is like army men killing, raping, torturing yet enjoying impunity under ‘law’.
The page also claimed that these unions, though having a political genesis, choose to subsume political problems. Now, with pulling a leg into student issues, they try to appropriate students representation and claim to be the face of student politics in the varsity.”
“While they are the ones to operate freely, KUSU stands banned and barred from open-air activism. Yet KUSU hasn’t bogged down to such pressures. And repetitively, has proven to be the only credible students’ organization in the university campus. KUSU condemns the opportunist and nefarious attempts of such unions to hijack student issues.”
InUth approached the page administrator through Facebook chat but the other party had reservations to comment on the issue.
While KUSU continues to be banned, now all eyes are on the Minister for Higher Education Syed Altaf Bukhari. Bukhari, who was recently sworn in as a minister, is often considered people-friendly in the Peoples Democratic Party-led government. Within days of assuming office, he stressed for reforms like “easy place of postings” for female teachers, a long pending demand of the community.
But then will he be able to be friendly with students in revoking ban on KUSU?