Kashmir universities to shut until 2020, after blasts and curbs

A grenade blast outside the gate of the University of Kashmir in Srinagar, happening at a time when examinations are under way, is likely to prolong the shutdown of colleges and universities in Kashmir up to March next year, officials confirmed.

Since 5 August, when the Indian government unilaterally removed the semi-autonomous status of Indian Administered Kashmir, educational institutions here have been closed. The region has been reeling under heavy curbs and general strikes.

Although the government tried to open colleges in October, students largely refrained from attending classes. Later the authorities announced that examinations for all college and university level classes would be held, which forced students to appear.

The government hoped that the examinations would bring more transport and movement back onto roads and thus break the general strike currently being observed by the masses. But there has been no classwork, and universities remain deserted after exams.

University of Kashmir blast

The government has been trying to portray the situation as normal in Kashmir, but realities on the ground differ.

On 26 November there was a grenade blast outside the main gate of the University of Kashmir, the region’s biggest university, in which four people were injured. The police and other forces immediately cordoned off the area but could not arrest anybody.

The area is termed a high security zone as it is adjacent to one of the holiest mosques in Kashmir and is also near the National Institute of Technology Srinagar, which houses the highest number of non-local students.

As the news of the incident spread, apprehensive relatives from all over Kashmir contacted the university authorities about the well-being of students. Kashmir University has more than 4,000 students. At present fourth semester examinations are being held there.

The attack was the first of its kind near the university for many years. But it was not the only violent incident in Kashmir on that day.

Wider violence

Another grenade attack in South Kashmir resulted in the death of a government official and a local public representative. A firing incident in another district of South Kashmir resulted in the killing of two armed insurgents.

These incidents indicate the volatility of the security situation. Police officials later said the blast might have been aimed at scaring people off carrying out normal work.

The violence is likely to dent government efforts to normalise the situation in Kashmir. It happened at a time when local government has been pressurising universities to resume classes.

In some departments at Kashmir University, students alleged that they were being forced to attend the classes.

A postgraduate student of chemistry, who did not want to be identified, said students were called to collect study material at the department and when they reached the office, they were asked to attend the class. “We resisted and said that in the absence of normal public transport we won’t attend classes,” she said.

Some of the roads to the University of Kashmir pass through volatile areas of Srinagar that experience incidents of stone pelting and road blockades by protesters.

“It has become a ‘you-first, you-first’ game. The officials tell students that ‘you come to classes and the situation will become normal’, and students in turn tell them that ‘let the situation first become normal and then we will come to classes’,” said the head of a college in Kashmir.

Universities cautious

University and college authorities are treading cautiously. Beyond the examinations they have not been active in starting classes.

“Many colleges with large student populations are located in security sensitive areas with past records of violent student protests. Everybody is aware of what happened in April 2017 when a protest erupted in a single college and soon engulfed all colleges and universities, jeopardising the situation for months,” said the college head.

“So, to keep everyone happy the authorities formally say everything is normal and even classes are going on, but informally the opposite of that is happening.”

The continuation of blockades of almost the entire internet service and around two million pre-paid mobile phones has also paralysed normal working at universities. Be it research or uploading forms by students, everything has stopped for more than 115 days.

An official at the University of Kashmir said that the management would not be able to announce the opening of classes until public transport and internet services had been restored. With government non-committal on dates to lift communication curbs, the shutdown of colleges and universities is like to be one of the longest in Kashmir’s history.

Government sources claim that most top officials are in favour of not opening colleges and universities until March next year. With winter vacations a few weeks away, the government is unlikely to push for a resumption of classes.

“There is every possibility that the class work in schools, colleges and universities will resume fully only in March when new year classes start in Kashmir,” said an official. “Nobody wishes to take any risk.”