Image depicting clamp-down on dissent in Kashmir, used for representational purposes.
India

‘This is a Prison’: Kashmir Uni Students on Anti-Free Speech Order

On 15 November, a circular issued by the Chief Proctor’s office, University of Kashmir, ordered the students, among other things, to ‘maintain discipline’ and abstain from indulging in any ‘political and religious debate’ inside the campus.

The circular, which was posted at various places inside the university campus, also asked the students to avoid ‘sitting idle’, avoid ‘talking loudly’, and avoid ‘obscene and inappropriate acts’ and exhibit ‘pleasant and acceptable’ behaviour.

The Proctor’s office maintains that the circular’s purpose was only to enforce ‘decency’ on campus and was not a measure to ‘censor’ or ‘control’ students.

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A Tactic to Check ‘Dissent’

The circular issued by the Chief Proctor of Kashmir University.

Speaking to The Quint, the Chief Proctor of Kashmir University, Naseer Iqbal, said:

This is a regular advisory that we issue from time to time. It is only to make the students pay attention to their studies.
Naseer Iqbal, Chief Proctor of Kashmir University to The Quint

However, the students believe that it is a tactic to check ‘dissent’.

Kaisar Majeed, a 3rd semester media student at the university’s Media Education Research Centre (MERC), says that this is not new as the university has been ‘unofficially’ monitoring and controlling the students.

Majeed says that the police have been deployed all over the university to keep a close watch on the students’ conversations and actions, and then report the same to the university authorities. Majeed told The Quint that the police personnel constantly ask questions and try to separate students who are involved in a discussion.

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‘Like Living Inside a Prison’

It is harassment and feels like one is living inside a prison. It is as though Section 144 has been enforced at the university.
Kaisar Majeed, 3rd semester media student, Media Education Research Centre

In the past, many students have allegedly been served notices by the university officials or debarred from the classes, for ‘creating trouble’. Last year a student of political science wrote an opinion piece for Outlook magazine which was critical of the state – soon after, the student claims that he was served an oral notice by the Proctor’s office and the police was sent to the department asking him to “explain this misconduct to write like this.”

However, the student says he was ‘saved’ from expulsion from the university by the head of the department. Many students see this circular in light of the larger political context. On 12 April 2017, the police and CRPF forces entered the premises of Government Degree College, Pulwama, in southern Kashmir, and beat up students who had organised the protest against an art exhibition organised by the Army under the ‘Sadhbhavna Mission’.

Later, on 15 April, the students of the same college organised another protest against the alleged civilian killings at the hands of state forces, when the CRPF allegedly barged into the premises and injured over 50 students.

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‘State’s Repression of Critical Thinking’

After this incident, there were protests in several colleges in Kashmir. The government allegedly used force to deal with some of the protests, and several institutions were even temporarily closed down in order to deal with the unrest.

Rouf Dar, a fourth semester student of political science, calls the Proctor’s circular ridiculous at best, but says it is reflective of the kind of submissive attitude that the State wants to inculcate among the students. Dealing with dissent in a repressive manner has been a regular response of the university authorities.

Repressive politics in the university is the tip of the larger inhumane politics that the State plays with the people here. This is fascism in practice. They want you to do what they are comfortable with.
Rouf Dar, Political Science Student to The Quint

Rouf Musaib Ahmed also says that this circular demonstrates the ‘colonial mindset’ of the university administration. According to the law student, a university ought to be a place where ideas are nurtured and society and politics are looked at critically, but the University of Kashmir’s practices are likely to ruin the spirit of critical thinking, which is bound to be harmful in the long run.

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‘Censorship at Its Worst’

Similarly, Umar Lateef Misgar, a student of international relations says that this ‘utterly ridiculous’ order is censorship at its worst. A university, he continues, should allow, if not foster, what is subversive in the eyes of power.

A university should fundamentally be a place where people can explore and debate everything. That is more important than formal education. 
Umar Lateef Misgar, Student, International Relations

The University Grants Commission (UGC), in its guidelines on the rights of students, clearly entitles a student in any college and university to ‘freedom of thought and expression within and outside the institution’ and the university should ‘allow space for free exchange of ideas and public debate so as to foster a culture of critical reasoning and questioning’.

The UGC guidelines also entitle the students to ‘form associations and unions’. However, the Kashmir University has been flouting these guidelines for a long time.

In 2007, Kashmir University Students Union (KUSU) was formed by the students. A member of KUSU (on condition of anonymity) said the organisation’s chief aim was to engage in debates and discussions that affect the lives of the students.

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‘Idea Is to Create Conformists’

However, in 2010, the then vice-chancellor of the university Riyaz Punjabi ordered the demolition of the KUSU office, although KUSU is not ‘officially banned’.

“But this how the university flouts the law. They rule like dictators, without caring for the law,” said a former member of KUSU. Shahnaz Bashir, Assistant Professor, Media Studies, at Central University of Kashmir, says that the recent advisory is “foolish, ludicrous but extremely threatening”.

He argues that the university is a place where new knowledge discourses are created by critical thinking and extensive debates on the dominant narratives, and by banning debates on politics and religion the university administration is going against the very spirit that it claims to inculcate.

“This is a dictatorial step. It is intentionally done to hamper the flourishing of any associations of students and discourage critical thinking,” Shahnaz told The Quint. Shanaz believes that this will also ‘self-censor’ the students, who, in the future, will not “even imagine forming associations or participate in debates”. “That is why it is more threatening, and it has potential to create conformist individuals”, he added.

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Cameraperson: Nayeem Rather

Producer: Indira Basu

Video Editor: Vivek Gupta

(Nayeem Rather is an independent journalist based out of Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir)

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