Representing Kashmir!

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The ban at home on campus politics has not stopped Kashmiri students from seeking bigger roles in mainland India universities. Marila latif meets this Budgam boy who is one stop grievance redresser for Kashmiri students in Punjab

In 2013, when Aadil Bhat, 23, first landed in Chandigarh, Punjab, to pursue B Tech in Civil Engineering, he had no idea how life will turn out to be in an alien land.

As promised to his parents, Aadil focused on his studies while staying away from the politics of the place.

Located in Kharar village, around 13 kms from Chandigarh city, the life in Doaba Group of Colleges was peaceful for hundreds of Kashmiri students studying there.

But the ‘peace’ proved short living for Kashmiri students living outside Kashmir. In 2013, a row erupted in many college campuses after Kashmiri students cheered for Pakistani cricket team, during a match between India and Pakistan in Mohalli.

“I still recall those difficult times when Kashmiri students were hunted like criminals,” recalls Aadil.

While the match was on, around two hundred students, both Kashmiris and locals, sat inside a small common room in front of a television set. As Kashmiris began cheering for their favourite team, a section of local students reacted. “The noise coming from the common room was frightening. I instantly rushed to the spot to see what is going on,” recalls Aadil.

By the time Aadil reached the spot, a full-fledged brawl has broken out between Kashmiri students and locals. “They had beaten a few Kashmiri students,” said Aadil. “I quickly intervened to pacify the situation.”

That day on Aadil decided to seek larger role in campus politics for sake of safe-guarding Kashmiri students in his college.

Next year, when student’s union election was declared, Aadil filed his nomination for the Chairman’s post.

“I wanted to give representation to thousands of Kashmiri students who are studying outside,” said Aadil.

Aadil won with a huge majority as Kashmiri students from eight affiliated colleges came out in large number to vote for him. Since then Aadil is Chairman of his colleges union representing Congress backed Punjab University Students Union (PUSU).

“I entered student’s politics for sake of helping my fellow Kashmiris,” said Aadil, who won his third term recently.

That day onwards whenever a Kashmiri student is in trouble in any part of Punjab, he contacts Aadil for help.

Most of the cases Aadil receives are related to unavailability of hostel, or an apartment outside the campus, or issue regarding admission, or fee related concerns.

“I know how it feels to live and study outside Kashmir,” said Aadil, a resident of Budgam in Kashmir.

Aadil, like most of the students studying outside Kashmir, is aware of his limitations to do much in conflict ridden Kashmir. “Back home there is no scope for student politics as everything is seen from the prism of conflict,” feels Aadil. “So I thought, why not help make lives of students a bit easy outside.”

At the start of new academic calendar Aadil is in demand as freshers approach him with a number of issues concerning them. “I never say no to anyone,” said Aadil.

In his three years of tenure as Chairman of PUSU in his college Aadil has successfully made contacts with who-is-who in Chandigarh. “It helps in the long term as a student’s representative to stay in touch with the people who matter,” said Aadil. “On a number of occasions I was beaten for being a Kashmiri. The conflict back home is always there in our lives.”

In his last three years of stay at Chandigarh, Aadil has helped hundreds of Kashmiri students. Since 2016 summer uprising in Kashmir, the number of students from valley seeking admission in Punjab colleges has surged. “I can understand what a parent has to go through to send his children outside Kashmir,” said Aadil. “And my presence as Chairman ensures that their kids are safe here.”

At a number of occasions Aadil had arranged food, lodging, books, and even money for Kashmiri students in their hour of need. “I left Kashmir to study outside in a peaceful environment, but peace eludes a Kashmiri always,” said Adil.

A few back a Kashmir girl was harassed by some Haryana based students in Chandigarh. “When they saw me coming to her rescue, all of them ran away,” said Aadil.

But despite such minor incidents Aadil believes Punjab is safe for Kashmiri students. “You see what is happening in places like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Faridabad. That way we are quite safe here,” said Aadil.

In last few months the number of attacks on Kashmiri students studying outside has increased alarmingly.

“Every innocent killing back home takes an emotional tool on people like us who are away from Kashmir,” said Aadil. “I have not visited my home in last three years. I cannot bear to see brutalization of my people.”

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