The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Reborn: Kashmir campus politics
- After a decade and a half, university approves revival of student activism

Srinagar, June 24: The bustle of student politics will be back after a decade and a half at Kashmir University, which had been resisting the formation of students’ bodies because they were openly backing militants.

The university has now approved the revival of the Kashmir University Research Scholars Association (Kursa) while a Kashmir University Students Union (Kusu), too, is being formed.

“This will improve our university. We need pressure groups to take up students’ issues,’’ vice-chancellor Wahid Qureshi said, adding that such activism must take place within the bounds of law.

The university is “encouraging’’ student politics for the first time since the early ’90s, when organisations like the Jammu and Kashmir Students Association and Jammu and Kashmir Students Union were born. They were affiliated to militant groups like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front and Jamiat-ul Mujahideen.

University sources said these bodies “were not democratically elected’’ and survived just a few years.

“Several students associated with these groups were picked up by the security forces, leading to frequent strikes. This was harming our institution,’’ a senior official said.

“These groups later disappeared and the university management for several years was reluctant to concede students’ demands for the right to form associations. It feared they might again dabble in separatist politics.”

Qureshi said the university had not banned but only “discouraged’’ the establishment of students’ bodies because of the “situation’’. The students now say their prime concern is their studies.

In the ’80s and earlier, the university had never witnessed violence although its student politics used to be vibrant, with intense rivalry between groups that raised various students’ issues.

The campus bodies were, however, not affiliated to political parties, and all-India unions such as the Congress-backed National Students’ Union of India or the CPM’s Students’ Federation of India never found a toehold.

The last time the university’s scholars had elected a body on the campus was in 1987. “We are delighted at Kursa’s revival. Its objectives are to promote academic excellence and a better environment for research. We have pledged not to align ourselves with any political party,’’ said Akhtar Hussain Malik, Kursa co-ordinator.

“Seventy scholars have left the university midway because of financial problems. We also lack research facilities.”

Irtif Lone, member of Kusu’s interim working committee, backed “student activism’’.

“We want to bride the gap between the administration and the students. Most of the 55 departments here support our initiative. But there is no room for politics.”

But politics isn’t so easily avoided. Two major reasons that have prompted the formation of these bodies are the transfer of a 50,000-year-old fossil to Jammu University and the construction of a guesthouse that threatened some of KU’s precious chinars.

“The fossil was discovered in Kashmir but taken away secretly by JU. When we wanted it back, JU students threatened an agitation. Then our university started building a guesthouse that threatened chinars in the famous Naseem Bagh. We need a collective voice to fight over such issues,’’ Lone said.

The campus guesthouse is occupied by the security forces, and the students want it back.

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