Peoples Union for Democratic Rights expresses its outrage at the harassment and arrest of Kashmiri students in Mewar University, Rajasthan, and other educational institutions, amidst an intensifying surveillance of Kashmiris across the country.
On 14th March, 2016, a rumour was spread on WhatsApp that “Kashmiri students are cooking beef”, in their hostel room in Mewar University, following which a 200 strong mob comprising of Bajrang Dal activists and Vande Matram Sangathan gathered outside the hostel. The four students who were allegedly cooking beef, fled from fear. The mob beat up some other Kashmiri students. The police, not finding the students who were allegedly cooking beef, arrested four other Kashmiri students who lived in the room opposite. They were detained in the police station overnight. On Tuesday 15th March, the four Kashmiri students who had actually been cooking meat – Saqib Ashraf, Mohammad Maqbool, Shaukat Ali Butt and Hilal Ahmed turned themselves in. They acknowledged that they had broken the rule of vegetarianism in the hostel by cooking meat. But it was buffalo meat, not beef.
The police rationalised the initial, wrongful arrest as an attempt to protect the Kashmiri students, and as preventive action to prevent the situation from escalating as the police feared that the mob would start pelting stones. Revealingly, it didn’t strike the police to control the mob using other means. Rather it chose to satisfy dominant sentiment and the mob’s demands by arbitrarily picking up four, uninvolved Kashmiri students. For the police, one Kashmiri is as good as another. The four boys who had been cooking meat, too have committed no criminal offence; they have only broken a hostel rule. Nevertheless they were charged under Sec 151 CrPC for disrupting the peace, kept in the PS overnight and produced before the magistrate on the 16th. They have alleged that they were made to sign a good conduct undertaking, before being released on bail.
Significantly, the police has taken no criminal action against the mob that beat up the boys, despite activists of the Bajrang Dal openly declaring that they had led the mob .The only action taken by the police was to register a case against one person under Sec 108 CrPC for circulating a false message. The police has also raised concerns with the University that several incidents of violation of law and order have been reported from the University.
The University authorities have attributed the incident to a prevailing rivalry between two groups of students, one from Jammu, and the other from Kashmir- something that these students have denied. The University has over 800 Kashmiri students, out of a total student strength of about 3000. These students are studying here under the Prime Minister’s Scholarship scheme for Kashmiri students. The inciting of anti-Kashmiri student feeling through false rumours on social media, the involvement of right wing Hindu groups, the police’s action based on Kashmiri identity rather than the facts, and the University authorities generalising that the Kashmiri students are a part of conflicts, taken collectively, suggest an attempt to project the Kashmiri students as responsible for vitiating life in the institution. It however defies logic that bright students who have come here to study, far from home, will jeopardise their careers by engaging in such activities.
This incident follows close on the heels of developments in Kolkata, where the Central Government has directly initiated a formal policy of surveillance and harassment of Kashmiri students. At the end of February, a directive was issued by police’s intelligence wing to Kolkata colleges to prepare a list of all students with residential addresses in Jammu and Kashmir. This dossier is to be sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi. The alleged purpose is to 'sensitise' campuses against events such as at JNU and the subsequent protests at Jadavpur University, but as per the Indian Express senior police officials have indicated that this information will be used for monitoring the Kashmiri students’ activities. As per newspaper reports, a general advisory has been issued by the Home Ministry to all states. In March, the Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar told the State Assembly that the ATS has been instructed to conduct door-to-door checks of tenements where Kashmiris stay, and collect information, in order to check crime. These are blatant instances of ethnic profiling which violate the most fundamental of rights of freedom and equality. The upshot is that Kashmiris, students who have come to educational institutions to study (quite often on government programmes), or in search of work, are being systematically hounded and made to live in a climate of fear and insecurity. PUDR demands that such a witch-hunt of Kashmiri students and workers be stopped immediately.
Moushumi Basu, Deepika Tandon
Secretaries, PUDR ([email protected])