The elephant inside NIT Srinagar

Curiously we were not awoken by the hubbub resulting from—one wouldn’t be going overboard assuming indeed a commotion would’ve followed—events set in motion the previous night. Distance too should’ve hardly been an obstacle because the events were transpiring inside another hostel block, just an odd hundred meters from ours. Pathways to classrooms were wanting in signs of disorder so that most of us began attending classwork without a whiff of the incident. A great commotion, however around the hostel area by 10 o’clock prompted many of us away from classrooms which were, as I recall now, busied no more that morning. The sequence of the events had been thus: the day before one Kashmiri student entered into a disagreement with his non-Kashmiri classmate, it led to a minor scuffle amounting to an exchange of few slaps and an odd blow, the said student had addressed his Kashmiri mate with an expletive (abbreviated to ‘MC’ in short message parlance) while he sauntered to the dining hall for lunch, the guy took exception to the expletive as being offensive and landed a slap on this fellow’s cheek, few benign blows were exchanged, come night and the non-Kashmiri fellow accompanied by many of his compatriot hoodlums barged into the Kashmiri student’s room and in addition to thrashing them both roommates with iron rods and chairs gashed one in the head with a knife and another in the thigh. We came to learn that the student with a large gash in his head was rushed to hospital at midnight and admitted for a serious injury. As the news of the incident entered classrooms Kashmiri students assembled to press for action against the guilty. The best they thought possible in the circumstances was guilty students’ rustication till an enquiry would have its way. A standoff ensued between the administration and Kashmiri students forcing us—Kashmiris from all the four batches—out of hostel for many weeks to follow. It was the spring of year 2009, month of May when I was still a student of 8th semester at NIT Srinagar.DSC01090

That I am referencing the whole incident from memory is a perfect catch, although one I don’t seem to have missed. I therefore shall not build upon the anecdote for the core argument. I merely reference this incident as another example of excess—contrasted with recent happenings at NIT Srinagar—politics of intimidatory majoritarianism (with its origins in military, hence coercive dynamic) may let loose in its stride.

Violence embedded in the word ‘National’

Think of Kashmiri landscape as an enormous lab house where experiments with varied consequences are being conducted, have been conducted, by Indian state in the interest of belligerent notions of nationalism plaguing the brahmanic conscience of India’s apathetic elite and its desperate middle class. One experiment which transcends many layers of caste, notable boundaries of class and otherwise diffuse political predilections in India is the continuum and enhancement of military effort which must go into securing the very fulcrum of these notions: the theory of integral part—an important denominator about which Indian Nationalism has rallied when (self)pitted against pervasive sense of a hostile neighbor whose principal claim on Kashmir too extends in a direction which, if not same, can loosely be seen as tangential to Indian. Awareness of Kashmiris to have engaged Indian state in fructuous episodes of resistance over the course of last 70 odd years, however, has not only burgeoned, these episodes have flourished through the consciousness of ordinary Kashmiris and shaped their collective psyche. A matter-of-fact observation therefore finds it hard to consider for a consummate Indianised station in Kashmir any place other than a military camp—a space not won but merely depleted of the Kashmiri presence. These are by far makings of a manifold failure, and this not in the least because Indian state cannot afford misdirection of efforts, rather that Indian state wouldn’t want these efforts channeled contrarily.

It therefore is no surprise that the right wing in India, applauded by tendentious elements from Kashmiri Pandit community who submit to Indian military apparatus for recompense regards restoration of their severed ties with Kashmir, has been pitting the assault of demographical change as only effective enterprise against Kashmir’s indomitable spirit of resistance. In an ideal world, one aspired to by these maniacs, a complete purging of the native population should not be insufferable. Interestingly the ambition is nearly realized, no doubt as a byproduct and mere mock-up, inside the campus of NIT Srinagar, the lone non-military perimeter within Kashmir where non-Kashmiri presence is a definite majority. An act of numbering bodies views the campus as a space where competing bodies exist side by side, bodies set in motion by forces acting counter to each other, bodies propelling the inhabited space in competing directions: one which seeks hegemony—its origins in the military expedition Indian state’s agenda is succored by in Kashmir—as its mode of existence, another which means to resist these hegemonies. Looked at thus the campus of NIT Srinagar simulates a scenario in which a space marked out is lent to unfamiliar episodes of experimentation which add naturally to the overall intrigue of Indian military expedition in the occupied territory. It goes without saying that there is no ideal battleground for the competing narratives of Aazadi and Indian Nationalism, a Kashmiri student does not see an Indian army post differently than say a farmer tending to their paddy, the campus of a college—when exposed to certainties of this competition—takes on the role as if an act were being transported from the streets. When it comes to living the efforts needed to sift through the nuts and bolts of occupational machinery one knows too well how effortlessly the rhythm of feet of marching protestors segues into the crescendo of Iqbal Bano’s voice singing Hum dekhenge Hum dekhenge!

For a Kashmiri consciousness, having matured and flourished by the banks of teeming river of Aazadi, the dive into these waters—partly strange no doubt—is yet another prescient experience. Battling ominous currents it simultaneously is exposed to the dynamics of jingoism sitting comfortable in the lap of an alien gathering, a gathering of students no less. This gathering hitherto unbeknownst to the reality, fed and brought up on the hashish Indian media doles out in the name of news on Kashmir is brought face to face with an unsettling reality as regards the ground situation in Kashmir: that here Indian state is adjudged a loathsome organism with its fangs deep inside the native’s neck. Simultaneously another disturbance begins to set in, one which exposes the Indian student to the fait accompli of native resistance: the campus of NIT Srinagar, even if garrisoned, occurs inside limits, both psychological and geographical, of the lived Kashmiri experience—thereby aspiration— ergo setting limits on triumphs and tribulations of the competing narratives. In face of such reality Indian nationalism, donning robes of jingoism, ought to be reacting similar in both cases, whether it be students of NIT Srinagar, a group of bodies dominating the space and propelling it in a direction inimical to where the forces of nature—like snow and wind and people’s memory and defiance in face of a brutal occupation—are taking it, or a horde of soldiers deployed with the aid of weaponry to keep the Kashmiri body in check. In case of a soldier the reaction is an undelayed version of sham bravado bestowed unceremoniously by laws which extend impunity beyond the limits of every reaction conceivable to a Kashmiri, whereas with the Indian student at NIT Srinagar a fairly muffled version of the same bravado takes the course of mob violence seeking to cleanse the campus of any traces of ‘India-hating’ Kashmiris. The attitude on part of students wont to looking at most formulations of political life through the prism of ‘Bharat mata’, ‘Kashmir mangoge to cheer denge’, ‘what about Kashmiri pandits?’ etcetera seeks to purge this space of all aberrations. Failing, it readily espouses a demand of another kind, radically different, one that purports to create an alternate space and populate it with afore-referenced bodies effectively robbing the Kashmiri body of affiliation of comradely environs.

Shifting NIT Srinagar elsewhere

During my stay at NIT Srinagar through the years 2005 to 2009 Indian students (many a time) resorted to demanding that college be shifted to another city, preferably Jammu or equivalently—for them—they be shifted to an NIT elsewhere. Numerous incentives led to the demand, each spurring the Indian student to call for a march toward Delhi and threaten a sit-in at Jantar mantar. Rather than being a force in itself, as it were, an incentive derived more relevance from circumstances and position that particular day commanded in the overall framework of the semester work; nevertheless the only incentive which guaranteed spurring the patrioteer in the Indian student into action were reactions to instances of confrontation between jingoistic fervor infiltrating the sense of association of Indian student and ideas which inform the sovereign consciousness of Aazadi pasand Kashmiris.
Fountain
Assisted by an animus attitude towards Kashmiri Aazadi it is these comparable strands of reactionary nationalism which on the one hand force, nay inspire, the armed soldier—in the context it’d be pertinent to point out that only distinction that marks the soldier from another citizen of the occupying country is the presence, or equally absence, of arms in the hands of one—to hold onto positions of control and military power (even if that demands an exercise in the bloodbath of Kashmiris) while on the other hand provoke the Indian student into demanding that college be shifted outside Kashmir. This spectacle of divergence is not lost on Kashmiris. We in fact cannot help sensing defeat in the act of provocation that Indian student at NIT Srinagar gives into. Following an inference such as one we have in our hands now we won’t be asking this question anymore: Is it humanely possible to be blind to the fact that Indian presence in Kashmir is overwhelmed no sooner it tries to be unmilitary?

A little more of 2009

As I reminisce what followed the stabbing incident in 2009 not many things surprise me. Kashmiri students followed the incident with a month long period of protest and a demand for measures inculpating those who were involved in the stabbing. Needless to say the demands were neither met nor unequivocally denied. Administration—fearing reprisals from students who, if held accountable, were intent on marching to Delhi—made it a point to harass us by letting J&K police inside the campus. Deputy Commissioner Srinagar too pitched in, trying to talk us into giving up the demands. As the last resort college administration threatened the spokespersons of protesting Kashmiri students with rustication if they didn’t resume classwork.

The elephant in the room

For what it is worth one may wish to look askance, even if only once, the elephant in the room is however too large to disappear from sight—an elephant made of about seven hundred thousand tooled up bodies, and fattening by the day. The truth which supersedes every other in relation to a Kashmiri body is that it is a controlled body, coerced and humiliated, beleaguered under the watch of seven hundred thousand troopers. This truth in addition to distinguishing a Kashmiri body brings it in conflict with other bodies whose movement either refuses to acknowledge it or downplays its weight.

A linear relationship extends from the anecdote I excavated from memory to one that transpired at the campus of NIT Srinagar after Indian cricket team was defeated by West Indies on 31st March, a relationship resting squarely upon the elephant’s back. It is as if the elephant transforms miraculously into a dark cloth wrapping in both the incidents with equal ease. Indian students, whether they be hooligans attempting to escape responsibility for a stabbing or chauvinists rioting to purge the campus of any ‘anti-national’ sentiments, in both cases look towards the elephant for assistance. The sight of the elephant provides incentives to demand setting up of an army cantonment inside the campus, its trumpeting registers calls for hoisting of Indian flag. Needless to say the elephant, in addition, can always be taken for a ride towards Jantar mantar.

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Ashfaq Saraf Written by:

Ashfaq Saraf studied Electronics at NIT Srinagar. He writes from Varmull, Kashmir. The Harkening, his first collection of verse was published in 2012

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