Sifting Facts from Fiction

  • Faheem un Nisa
  • Publish Date: May 31 2016 3:00PM
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  • Updated Date: May 31 2016 3:00PM
Sifting Facts from Fiction

Let’s look at the whole controversy beyond the easy binaries of “Hindu-Muslim” or “local-non-local”

I came to know about the violence in NIT Srinagar from a friend. That was before social media got to it. We laughed over it, recalled our time and discussed how the students in NIT were always willing to walk the extra mile to avoid classes and examinations. For us, it was nothing new.
Fights, arguments, conflicts have always been a part of NIT Srinagar (and every other college, for that matter), as have everlasting friendships that transcend religion and region. After all, you cannot expect youngsters with raging hormones, of varying faiths and beliefs from states all across India to live in continued harmony under one roof. They are bound to have their moments of affection and friction. We once saw a batch-mate being stabbed by another. Some of our seniors ragged the juniors bad enough to be jailed for it. In yet another fight, a student was rusticated for misbehavior. And so on. 
The fights were always big but never blown out of proportion and so got resolved quickly. At the end of the day, they were more about entertainment; about newer gossip, lesser classes and a new excuse for attendance shortage and late submissions! Students who are at daggers drawn forget their differences when they are seated next to each other in an examination hall, and don’t hesitate to share the answers with each other. That is the NIT I know, not the one in the news. And I doubt if the one in news even exists.
 Endless accusations, locals and non-locals fighting over who is more communal; teachers being called biased; girl students claiming that they are being harassed; anyone who has ever been associated with NIT Srinagar can easily smell a rat in the current flare up. A college tiff that would otherwise have been forgotten by sundown, overshadowed by petty but more significant worries about the quality of mess food and concerns about the timing of the morning class, was turned into a volcano of hatred when, once again, the power of internet was misused for spreading untruths and fanning the flames of communalism. But let me steer clear of the politics. I do not want to get into who did what and what happened next. I wasn’t there; I don’t know. What I do know is that even though the differences have always been there, NIT Srinagar is much, much more than a battleground. There’s a side of the story that is unfortunately (or deliberately?) being ignored in all this mess.
 Despite being located in Kashmir and being run by Kashmiris, NIT Srinagar has always operated as per the demands and needs of the non-Kashmiris. The college has always put the convenience of the non-locals first. The semesters never commenced until majority of non-Kashmiri students were back from their vacations, even if that meant delaying the semester by a month, but always ended on time. The hostels were not equipped well enough for Kashmir’s harsh winter and so, taking into consideration the fact that the non-locals were not accustomed to such extreme cold, extra efforts were made by the administration to complete the semester exams before the winters set in. In 2010 unrest, when stepping out of your home was an open invitation to a bullet, the college authorities somehow got together and did a commendable job of planning the semester without any delay.
 About favoritism on teachers’ part, the only bias, if any at all, was on merit and never on regionalism. In my batch, out of the eight existing branches of engineering in the college, five were topped by non-locals. The statistics for the senior and junior batches are not much different either. The qualification of some of the teachers may be questioned but not their integrity.
 Let’s move on to the bone of contention – the safety of non-Kashmiri students. Fifty percent seats reservation quota for locals is equally applicable to students from Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Assuming that half of the quota is filled in by Kashmiris (which, in my knowledge, never was the case) leaves the college with no more than 25 percent localites! How can a person feel unsafe in a place where he is among the majority? Besides, the college has always provided a highly protected environment for everyone inside the campus. Curfews, protests, strikes and other such forms of agitations that go on frequently in the state, disrupting normalcy of every sector, have never affected the hostellers, not even in the 2008 land row or the 2010 turmoil.
 Conscious efforts are put in by the administration and the students to make the non-locals feel at home. Such is the extent of secularism that, to a Kashmiri, crossing the gates of NIT Srinagar comes as a cultural shock because the world within its walls is entirely different from the one outside! Holi, Diwali, Dussehra, Navratri and all other festivals are celebrated with fervor inside the campus and never has there been a complaint of conflicts or interruption from the locals. No one has ever made a big deal of the music and dance parties, which are an everyday thing in NIT but are otherwise unheard of in Kashmir! Some female ex-students have been calling Kashmiris perverts because “every time they stepped outside the campus, locals would stare at them and make gestures, making them feel unsafe and more of outsiders”. First of all, by saying that, they agreed that they were never made to feel awkward within the premises of the college. Isn’t that our whole point? As for the stares, Kashmir is a conservative place: they were not being stared at because they were outsiders; they were stared at because they were not dressed as per Kashmiri norms. Any girl at their place, Kashmiri or not, would have faced the same awkwardness. Inside the campus, the non-locals are free to wear what they want to wear, free to do what they feel like doing, and free to maintain the lifestyle they want. They are never made to feel uncomfortable. It might sound like a casual thing to some but a Kashmiri knows that such things are not easily overlooked in Kashmir. In NIT, however, we might not always agree with their culture, but we have always respected it.
 As far as the relations between the local and non-local students are concerned, they have always been unquestionably amiable. The students leave the college with a broader perspective of the world owing to the exposure to multiple cultures and traditions. In my opinion, it is the diversity of thoughts and ideas and their symbiotic exchange that gives the institute an edge, if any. Farewells have always been tearful and reunions are held frequently. NIT Srinagar holds the official alumni meet every year. The institute has fostered friendships that survived a lifetime. At the wedding of an NITian, you will find more non-local friends than local ones – friends from college who have taken time out of their busy lives and flown all the way for old times’ sake.
 When it comes to the quality of education, there is a lot of room for improvement and it is important to stand up for that but the demands should be centered around how to make it a better college and how to improve its overall ranking, not how to inject communalism into the curriculum. Rather than asking for 50 percent non-local faculty, we should be asking for 100 percent well qualified staff. If we are fighting against favouritism, we should fight together because someone who favours a local student over a non-local one can also favour one local student over the other. Want to make NIT safer? Let’s remove the words local and non-local from our vocabulary and replace it with “future engineer” and focus on that. We must not deviate from the ground reality which is that we are there to study, and putting “Hindu-Muslim” or “local-non-local” above our education will not make any difference to the propagandists but to us, it might cost our career.
 The fact is that NIT Srinagar stands in all its glory, maintaining the decorum inherent to an institute of national importance. A handful of people, who have taken it upon themselves to defame it, are trying to propagate an utterly wrong and holistically negative image of the institute. But before we fall prey to their cheap gimmicks, we must get our facts right and use our discretion to filter out what information to believe and what not.  
  (Faheem un Nisa is an NIT Srinagar graduate)