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Saqib Ashraf, Mohd Maqbool, Shaukat Ali Butt, Hilal Ahmad on campus. (The Indian Express Photo)
Saqib Ashraf, Mohd Maqbool, Shaukat Ali Butt, Hilal Ahmad on campus. (The Indian Express Photo)

MEAT cooked in a hostel room, tension between students from Jammu and those from the Kashmir valley, a 200-strong mob including Bajrang Dal members, and a dramatic intervention by police. When a group of Kashmiri students at Mewar University decided to get together on an off day, they had no idea what their “meat party” would trigger. Today, with their two-day detention making national headlines, and police sources claiming they had picked up the students to placate the mob, an uneasy calm hangs over the campus. The students, meanwhile, are back in their hostel rooms, insisting that there was “no trouble” and “admitting” they were at fault for breaking the private university’s rules by cooking “buffalo meat” on campus.

“Don’t worry. It’s just a media trial,” one of them assured a family member over the phone on Thursday, three days after the incident that was sparked off by rumours that Kashmiri students were cooking beef inside their room.

Police, meanwhile, booked one person under section 108 CrPC for spreading the beef rumour and initiated action under section 186 CrPC against those who obstructed police work.

They also served a notice to the university asking its administration to explain why “there had been several law-and-order issues on campus over the last few days”. According to sources, the administration responded with an assurance that it would ensure order among students.

When contacted, Harish Gurnani, media liaison officer for the university, described the incident as “minor”. “Everything is fine,” he said. But a police officer deployed at the university said that “had we not calmed tempers of the mob, no one can say what would have happened”. “There is a railway line right there. They would have had an unlimited supply of stones to pelt us with,” said the officer, pointing towards the track barely 500 metres from the boundary wall of the university. According to eyewitnesses, police initially picked up four other Kashmiri students from the hostel on Monday night.

After learning their friends had been picked up — Saqib Ashraf (21), Mohammad Maqbool (21), Shaukat Ali Butt (20) and Hilal Ahmad (21) — “turned themselves in” at the Gangrar station. Police confirmed that all eight — part of the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS) for students of J&K — were arrested as a preventive measure under section 151 of the CrPC. But while the Kashmiri students who were picked up alleged that they were made to sign bonds that they would not indulge in “any activity that would disturb public peace and order”, Chittorgarh SP P K Khamesara claimed that “they were only brought in for questioning”.

One of the four who were initially picked up said that they were “relaxing” in their rooms when police took them away. Khamesara said the “preventive arrests were made only when the students refused to cooperate with police and acted aggressively”. “There were three things: we didn’t allow the rumour to linger, we dispelled it immediately and we didn’t allow the mob to get in. We took the four students in only as preventive action,” said Khamesara.

According to the students, Monday was a much-needed break on campus after a 15-day annual tech fest, and they were issued passes to go outside. But on their way back, the Kashmiri students said, four of them sneaked in some buffalo meat they had bought from a shop near the Chittorgarh railway station. Officials confirmed that the university campus, hostels and mess are “strictly vegetarian by policy”.

According to police sources, as the Kashmiri students were cooking the meat in their room, a student from Jammu “got a whiff of the aroma of non-vegetarian food and confronted the boys”. “There is this constant tension on campus between boys from Jammu and those from Kashmir. These boys had a tiff with some Jammu students around 15 days ago at the mess,” said the officer deployed on campus. The students, however, denied any such rivalry. “The students from Jammu are our friends. I don’t know why they confronted us,” said Maqbool, a resident of Kupwara.

The situation escalated as several students gathered around room no 201 of the New Hostel building, where the four stay, police said. One among that group sent a picture — captioned “Kashmiri students cooking beef” — on WhatsApp, they added. Soon, police said, activists of the Bajrang Dal and a little-known outfit Vande Mataram Sangathan among others, gathered outside the main gate, demanding that the Kashmiri students be arrested.

“We got information from one of our members about beef being cooked by Kashmiri students in two hostel rooms. The Kashmiri students have vitiated the environment of this region,” said Mukesh Nahta of the Bajrang Dal, who claimed to have led the mob. “When we came to know about the mob, we were really scared. So we went and hid somewhere else,” says Saqib, a second-year student of civil engineering.

Within an hour, police arrived at the scene and seized the contentious meat. And since they could not find the four who were cooking it, they knocked at the door of the room across, which housed Khalid Faizan (19), Tanvir Ahmad (18), Rahil Manzoor (18) and Irshad Rashid (19). “It was about 8:30 pm and we were relaxing in our room. The police asked us our names and told us to come with them,” said Tanvir, a second-year of mechanical engineering from Anantnag.

“But when we went downstairs, there were some journalists clicking our pictures and others hurling abuse at us. The police did not mistreat us but we did not like our pictures being taken because they can be misused on social media,” said Rashid, second-year student from Qazigund.

The students said they were taken to the station and kept in a cell before being moved to the clerk’s room after “a senior officer came and asked them to take us out of the cell”. The next morning, on the advice of the university administration and the Chittorgarh SP, Saqib, Maqbool, Shaukat and Hilal went to the Gangrar station, where they were detained till Wednesday afternoon. “We were not kept in a lock-up and the police was nice to us,” said Shaukat.

According to Mewar university officials, the institution has about 5,000 students, out of which 2,000 are hostel residents. Of these, about 1,000 are students from J&K, funded under the PM’s scheme launched by the UPA government in 2011. “There are students from all over the country here. Sometimes they take time adjusting to each other. Our students cooperated fully with the investigation. We’ll be counselling the students on our part,” said Gurnani, the media liaison officer.

(Courtesy: Mahim Pratap Singh from Gangrar, Rajasthan in The Indian Express)


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