Unsafe outside?

A Kashmiri student studying in M.P was shot at by motorcycle borne assailants raising concerns over the safety of thousands of youth studying or working in different states outside J&K. Sameer Yasir reports

The road connecting Sopore-Bandipora highway with Hairpora, Botingoo is filled with jarring rut. A muddy link road leads to the double storey house of Bashir Ahmad, which is frequented by his neighbours and relatives. They are visiting them as news of Bashir Ahmad’s son, Shabir, being shot by some motorcycle borne assailant at Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh, has reached the small sleepy hamlet. He received a bullet in the neckand and is being treated in a hospital.

“The assailants had opened fire after asking about the location of Vikram University where Shabir is pursuing M Phil in English since October 2011,” Bashir Ahmed said.

Shabir Ahmad had left home a few weeks ago after getting registered for M. Phil in English Literature at Vikram University in Ujjain. A public university in Ujjain named after King Vikramaditya. It has also been one of the main operating bases for the student wing of the BJP, Akhil Bhartiya Vidya Parishad (ABVP) in Indore.

Shabir had earlier completed his M.A from the Baraktullah University in Bhopal in 2009.  Ujjain is around 190 kilometers from Bhopal , the capital of Madhya Pradesh, .

“This time when he left his home, I was a bit skeptical as there are very few Kashmiri students in Ujjain as compared to Bhopal. But he (Shabir) was persistent and told me that many of his friends were doing degrees in Ujjain,” Bashir said.

The shooting of Shabir has left his father distraught.

Meanwhile Police say they are investigating the case.

“We are trying to find out who these two motorcycles borne youth were. The boy doesn’t have any clue. Up to this time we have not been able to trace them but we are on it,” SSP Indore, A Sai Manohar told Kashmir Life over phone.

The security of students studying outside the state has always been a concern for their parents in Kashmir. Reports of Kashmiri students being harassed in different states make it to the newspapers in the valley, intermittently. There is an increase in such reports on every January 26 and August 15.

The scenario has changed to some extent after the present chief minster, Omar Abdullah, wrote letters to chief minsters of various states asking them to stop “unnecessary harassment” of Kashmiri students.

But it has remained the same even worsened in Madhya Pradesh. It was this concern which has forced, Shabir’s father, to desist him from going to Ujjain.

“He told me that he ‘would be safe and he had the police verification issued by Sopore Police Station’,” Bashir said.

Universities in Madhya Pradesh have attracted Kashmiri students from decades. Majority of the Kashmiri students go to Baraktullah University were they have been to able score high percentage marks as compared to their counterparts in other states. The university is surrounded by the slum like areas were students get cheap accommodation and food.  

The number of Kashmiri students in Bhopal rose dramatically after 1990 arouse. There are 10000 students presently enrolled in different universities of M.P.

The number of Kashmiri students in M.P. in certain courses was once so high that the state government made it mandatory for the universities there to have 80 per cent local students. The 80:20 student ratio was made mandatory after a debate in the M.P. constituent assembly. In some instance the number of Kashmir students in some course at Baraktullah University was as high as 90 per cent.

It was after the state government had pressured the local colleges that the principle of MLB Girls Post graduate College I.P. Tiwari had said they were discouraging outsiders from applying in their college specially Kashmiri students. The statement by the principle was widely condemned by the J&K state government. It was also a reason for which Kashmiri students had come on the streets of Bhopal demanding an apology from the principle.

Even during the students union elections in 2008, the increasing number of Kashmir students, was one of the main election issues. The protest over a Kashmir student’s arrest by the Bhopal police on charges of robbery in a bank once again had forced the Kashmiri students to come on streets. At one time it looked like this was the only state in India were Kashmiris were organized.

“For the first time so many Kashmiri students got together. It was as if we have become a force. I have never seen so many Kashmiri students protesting together for a cause in Bhopal,” said Imtiyaz Ahmad who is doing his Phd in Chemistry from Baraktullah University.

But the protest made things worse. It caught the attention of ABVP and they started a campaign against the Kashmiri students accusing them of having “separatist leanings”.

It also caught the attention of Sachin Sharma, a short and husky man in early thirties. The State President of ABVP based in Indore. It was he who had started the campaign against the Kashmiri students in 2007.

“There was formidable presence of Kashmiri former militants present in different colleges of M.P. They were evading the arrest by enrolling themselves in the different universities of M.P. So we were only putting pressure on state government to ask them for police verification we did not give it a communal angel,” Sharma told Kashmir Life over phone from Indore. “Whatever happened with this boy (Shabir Ahmad) is unfortunate.”

But the pressure on local authorities started a process which lead discrimination of Kashmiri students at the hands of police and even university authorities, says a former student of Barkatullah University. Most of the times the police verification would not come on time and many students had to suffer, he adds.

On July 18, 2009, Nasir Ahmad Bhat, an M.A Psychology student at   Baraktullah University was preparing his dinner. He was living in a rented accommodation in Peer gate area near Bharata talkies in a congest neighborhood in Bhopal, when three plain clothed policemen knocked at the door of his two room rented apartment.  Nasir was dragged down the stairs.  

“I was dragged down the stairs by plain clothed cops taken to a nearby police station stripped in front of policemen and kept naked for whole night.  For 12 days I was locked up inside the police station. Only fed on the third day of the arrest. Next three days were hell. I was not given anything until my roommate came,” recalls Nasir.

When Nasir family came to know about the incident they rushed to Bhopal and after 12 days of hectic negotiation and paying 1000 rupees as bribe to the SHO they managed to get him out of the police station. His only crime was that he was not having a police verification issued from Baramulla Police Station.   

“While leaving police station I asked the SHO what was my crime, he replied ‘You are Kashmiri’,” Nasir said.

Nasir lives in an old mud and brick house in the congested old town of Baramulla. He teaches in a college now.

“I still get shivers when I remember that day. It was the worst experience he ever had in Bhopal,” he said.  

Despite the harassment coupled with the problems of finding accommodation, Kashmiri students have not stopped travelling to Bhopal. Majority of the courses which the Kashmir students chose are also the same subjects which they fail to get into the state university.

Some of the students also choose universities in MP like Baraktullah university as they get very high marks there. Sometimes as high as 90 percent subjects like English, chemistry, physics and Psychology while students in universities in J&K don’t get more than 70 per cent leaving many disgruntled.

Siama Pervaiz, an M.A English student of University of Kashmir told Kashmir Life that she had applied for the contractual lecturer post in the colleges last year but most of the posts went to those who had done their degrees from Baraktullah university because they had very high marks percentage.

“It is not they are more intelligent or something like that” she said. “It the kind of percentage which they get in Bhopal much to the disappointment of local students.”

Last year a major controversy aroused when at least 85 percent of the candidates shortlisted for posts of teachers and accounts assistants, by the service selection board in Kashmir were from Barkatullah University and Priest University.

The candidates from J&K, who had failed to crack the entrance examinations held by the state universities like Jammu University and University of Kashmir have been pursuing their degrees in these universities in almost all streams of science, commerce, arts, social sciences and management.

Contrary to this, a meritorious candidate from Kashmir, who gets a PG degree from University of Kashmir hardly gets 70 per cent marks. Same is the case with courses like B.Ed and research programmes like M.Phil and Ph.D.

But, Shabir Ahmad’s neighbor Burhan-ud-Din has a different story. He did his masters in Urdu from Baraktullah university. “You don’t get high percentage in every subject. “I despite doing my masters was not able to find even a contractual job in Kashmir.”

Whatever the case Bhopal remains one of the favorite destinations for Kashmiri students. After the recent snowfall in the valley nearly 200 students trapped here were desperately trying to convince the registrar of the officials at the Baraktullah University to delay the examinations.

The situation in M.P was not the same as it is now. Tanveer Alam who did his masters from Bhopal in 2002 says in early 2000 Kashmiri students were treated with respect.

“There was no problem when Digvijay Singh of the Congress was the chief minster. Even police would never ask for the verification from us when I was there,” he said Things started changing for Kashmiri students first when Uma Bharti came to power on Dec8, 2003. Even as a chief minster she has asked many institutions to avoid taking outside students.  It was after one year, when Babulal Gaur, another BJP chief minster took over from Uma Bharti that the things become worse for Kashmiri students.  

During a public meeting in Indore Maha Shakaha of ABVP he had openly castigated the Baraktullah University for “making it a place filled with anti-national people”. The rhetorical speech by the first time Chief Minster had encouraged the ABVP to start a vicious camping against the Kashmir students, said one of the former students of Barkatullah University.  

This time the shooting has only proved the crises that Kashmiri students face while pursuing their studies in plains. Even though the policy makers have tried to send letters and issue statements. It has had little impact on the people governing outside state. The shooting incident has left a question mark on the new policy of encouraging youth in Kashmir to move out for studies and employment.

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