With JNU continuing to hog the limelight as the battleground between the political right and the Left, Kashmir has remained glued to the fast changing political developments in New Delhi. The support for the students demanding a right to intellectual freedom has only grown with civil society and the civil liberties groups expressing their wholehearted support to their struggle.
The civil liberties group Coalition of Civil Society issued a long statement in solidarity with the JNU students. “We have watched with a sense of horror and dismay, the violent criminalizing of student democracy and dissent, not just at Jawaharlal Nehru University but across Indian campuses in the recent past,” the statement read. “Having long and intimate knowledge of violent repression and legalized impunity that Indian state is capable of, especially against those it considers ‘anti-national’ we are not surprised by these events, but have a special empathy with all who suffer its horrors”.
The group demanded release of all student dissenters and political prisoners “and an end to acts of policing and surveillance on campuses, and targeting of students on the basis of political beliefs and speech”.
Another civil society group Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies has similarly condemned the use of the force against the student community in the garb of nationalism. “JNU is one of the fewer places in India where dissent is tolerated and the received wisdom on many burning issues of the day is questioned. But BJP seeks to occupy this space as well,” said the chairperson Hameeda Nayeem. “And the saffron party is using Kashmir to do this. Just because the event organized was about Kashmir, BJP got an excuse for crackdown, thinking any draconian action can be legitimized in the name of Kashmir”.
Nayeem said that the nationalism can’t be privileged over the people. “It is the people who make a country, not the nationalism. India professes it is founded on democracy and constitutionalism which gives everybody a right to express their views,” Nayeema said. “But in the name of nationalism, Kashmir and Pakistan, BJP seeks to override the constitution and curb the freedom in India. It is good that the young generation is now questioning the flawed notions of nationalism and nationhood”.
Afaaq Ahmad, a student of Kashmir University, said he wholeheartedly supported JNU students and their leader Kanhaiya Kumar. “I have been watching with horror the government crackdown on the university. It is the last thing that should have been on the priorities of the BJP government,” Afaaq said while bemoaning that the Kashmir University was not allowed to have its own students union. “Student dissent in Kashmir has long been suppressed. We can’t even protest like the students in other universities do”.
Student politics in Valley has been generally discouraged after 1975 accord between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi which paved the way for Sheikh’s return to mainstream. But after a full blown separatist movement broke out in 1989, student activism was completely banned. There was, however, a brief hiatus through 2007-2009 when unions were allowed to resume their activity. Kashmir University Students Union held formal elections after years. But by 2009, the university gave up. The simultaneous separatist groundswell through Valley rubbed off on the campus triggering violent protests in favour of separatist parties. The administration moved fast to ban the union.
Waseem Parray, a college student said, his heart beats for JNU students. “I have been seeing the JNU controversy play out over the past some days. And I can say that BJP has not acquitted itself well in the episode. The party appears even more petty and venomous than it did before,” Parray said. “Nationalism for the party is an excuse to impose its own narrow ideology on the country”.