Tension mounted at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) campus in Srinagar as agitating outstation students refused to cooperate with a visiting central team demanding immediate action against some NIT officials who allegedly indulged in “anti-national” activities.
A three-member team of human resources development (HRD) ministry, which arrived Srinagar wednesday morning, held talks with agitating students to defuse the tension. The team included Sanjeev Sharma, Director(Technical Education) in the HRD ministry, Deputy Director Finance Fazal Mehmood and Chairman of Board of Governors of NIT M.J. Zarabi. The team was rushed by the ministry to take stock of the situation and look into the grievances of the outstation students studying at the NIT Srinagar.
In Surat, HRD minister Smriti Irani said she had spoken to Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti who assured her that safety of all students will be ensured. “My officers are in touch with the agitating students and their family members. One or two students said they wanted to go back home for which my ministry is making arrangements,” she said.
Mehbooba has assured that an enquiry has been ordered into the clashes inside the NIT campus, Irani said. She sought to allay apprehensions of the students who feared that the agitation will have a bearing on their academic performance as exams are due to start next week.
Home minister Rajnath Singh, campaigning in West Bengal for assembly polls, said that he had spoken to Mehbooba who gave an assurance that all students are safe and she would enquire how the incident happened and fix responsibility.
The agitating students demanded that some of the NIT officials should be transferred and action taken against them for their alleged “anti-national” activities and that they be allowed to daily hoist national tri-colour at the main gate.
They also demanded shifting of the campus to Jammu and building of a temple inside campus. Tension started brewing inside the NIT campus, located at the banks of famous Dal lake, last week after India lost to West Indies in semi-final in the T-20 cricket tournament prompting some local students to rejoice and burst crackers.
This was protested by the outstation students resulting in clashes. Since 31 March night, the situation inside the campus has been volatile and the authorities had posted personnel from Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB). The local police was manning the main gate of the institute. The developments prompted the NIT authorities to close the campus on Saturday but reopened it on Monday.
Last evening, the outstation students tried to march out of the campus saying they wanted to return to their homes. A senior police official, who attempted to pacify them, was heckled and pushed around resulting in a mild lathicharge in which four students sustained injuries.
A senior NIT official said that demands like building a temple or a mosque inside an educational institute is impossible. The official said some of the outstation students were mainly using this minor incident as an opportunity to seek migration to their home state.
The protesting students also wanted that their papers should be checked by non-local teachers to ensure “equality and transparency” during all examinations. “There should be no academic harassment by the faculty”, a letter handed over to the NIT administration on 4 April by the outstation students said.
It listed the five demands to ensure that their stay inside the campus was trouble free so that they can concentrate on their studies. “Due to the anti-national activities rising in campus premises, outstation students have faced serious problems as well as life threats. Due to this, students are eager to return to their homes,” the letter said.
As the HRD team arrived here, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said the matter needs “tactful handling” and the state government should look into it “without back seat drivers”. “Rushing in a team from HRD ministry coupled with the CRPF replacing J&K police speaks volumes about Delhi’s confidence in Mehbooba Mufti,” Omar wrote on Twitter.
The incident also drew the attention of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who asked PDP-BJP government in the state not to harass the students. Kejriwal tweeted that BJP is beating those who are “chanting Bharat Mata ki Jai” in Kashmir, while doing the same against those “who are not” raising the slogan in the rest of the country. “Lathi charge on students in Srinagar is highly condemnable. BJP-PDP must stop this immediately,” the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief tweeted.