Cricket row may hamper India-Pakistan HE cooperation

Academic collaboration between neighbours and arch rivals India and Pakistan is weak - and hopes of it improving have been dented by the suspension of 67 Kashmiri students by an Indian university after they volubly supported Pakistan during a cricket match.

Swami Vivekanand Subharti University in Meerut, north-east of Delhi, suspended the students after they allegedly shouted pro-Pakistan slogans on campus after an Asia Cup cricket match they had watched on television on 2 March, in which Pakistan beat India.

According to university management, local and Kashmiri students were watching the match in a boarding house at the university. After Pakistan's victory, some Kashmiri students called out 'Pakistan Zindabad' - Long Live Pakistan - which angered local students.

This led to tension on campus and resulted in vandalism and stone throwing.

Later, India's Uttar Pradesh state authorities registered a sedition case against the students under section 124-A of the India Penal Code, for celebrating Pakistan's cricket victory.

But after widespread criticism in Indian Kashmir, the sedition charges were dropped the next day and other charges including under section 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 427 (mischief) remained intact. Most of the suspended students returned home.

GS Bansal, warden of the hostel, said the Kashmiri students had been punished for being anti-national. The Kashmir region falls across India, Pakistan and China and parts of it are disputed, and so Kashmir and its people are a sensitive political topic.

"By raising pro-Pakistan slogans, the Kashmiri boys did an anti-national act, and that was why we suspended them and did not take any action against the others," Bansal told Indian Express newspaper.

However, many Indian journalists, social media users, bloggers and members of civil society expressed concern about this over-reaction. "I don't approve of what they did but such criminal proceedings against them will ruin their future," Alia Khatoon, an education expert, was quoted in The Times of India as saying.

Suspensions at another university

In a similar incident over the same match, Sharda University in Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh state suspended six students - four from Indian Kashmir and two from Aligarh - last Saturday.

On 6 March Pakistan's foreign office offered the Kashmiri students admission to universities in Pakistan, which is being viewed in India as unwelcome against this sour backdrop.

Tasneem Aslam, Pakistan's Foreign Office spokeswoman, said during a weekly media briefing in Islamabad: "We know that Kashmiris celebrated Pakistan's victory at certain places. We saw Indian media reports that 67 Kashmiri students were expelled.

"But if these Kashmiri students want to come and pursue their studies in Pakistan, our hearts and academic institutions are open to them," Pakistan's English daily The News reported.

Damaging to university collaboration

"This action and reaction has the potential to aggravate not only cricket and diplomatic ties between the two countries but it would also damage the possibility of university cooperation, which is already very meagre," Parvez Hoodbhoy, a professor of mathematics and physics at Lahore's Forman Christian College, told University World News.

Sri Lanka beat Pakistan in the final match of the Asia Cup. Had Pakistan won the final, the university environment could have been even worse, he suggested.

Muhammad Asghar, rector of Islamabad's National University of Sciences and Technology, told University World News: "Both students and university administration should exercise restraint, taking cricket as just a game.

"What would have been these universities' stances if those students had favoured, for instance, Australia or England in a cricket match against India?"

Long-standing hostilities

While academics on both sides of the border want research collaboration, the Kashmir student incident has highlighted the longstanding political hostilities that hamper such efforts. Visa applications by academics, researchers or faculty members are rejected on both sides.

India and Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding in 2006 to promote bilateral research links, but the 2008 Mumbai attacks prevented any progress.

Despite hurdles in getting visas and clearance, top scientists from India and Pakistan held a summit in Islamabad in January 2012 and aimed for collaborative research projects, student and academic staff exchange, and joint workshops and conferences. But no significant progress has subsequently been made.

For how long will these nations remain hostage to their past?

Nobody knows. But it is a pity to politicise the sub-continent's most popular game and to spoil attempts to achieve much-needed university cooperation between the two countries.

It's just not cricket.