What is the origin of language? This is the first thing I was asked by a teacher during my first class at Kashmir University. I could feel my heart racing like a frightened rabbit. Over the past five years, I had studied Commerce and did not have much comprehension of Social Science questions.
I dissolved everything I had studied within myself to manufacture an answer. It curled up in a one-liner. “Since the dawn of civilisation,” I replied. Truth is I didn’t know what it meant. But it was such a relief.
I vividly remember the morning I walked through Sir Syed Gate of the KU first time. I never dreamt of the Oxford or the Cambridge. As an average student, all my cravings had just met their destination.
During the first days in the KU, we were often told in class that we were “the cream of our society”. Like every other student, I nurtured this delusion for a while. I was fascinated by these buildings, the landscape, and other architecture. It took me quite a while to understand that universities are merited by their academic standard. And as the time passed by, I realised that this four-wall campus was a compulsive mirage.
There is incoherence between how students think, how teachers think, and how the administration wants everyone to think. I remember the anger and helplessness of students towards the killings of civilians by government forces during the 2008 and 2010 uprisings in Kashmir. But I don’t remember an occasion when a teacher would have felt remorse about these killings. Well, all of us have a certain social and political idea, and we have a right to defend that idea. But when somebody’s son lies dead in the pool of blood, you shouldn’t cry about the unavailability of biscuits in the market.
Coming to Jamia Millia Islamia was an altogether different experience. Before anything else, there was a contrast between how we think of our future. Back in KU, let me be honest, students are vague and aimless about their future career prospects. But such things are doomed to happen when you don’t find inspiration in the surroundings. Because of this, so many Journalism students take bank jobs. The students in Jamia, as much as in other universities in Delhi, on the other hand, have a clear academic (or professional) aspiration.
In Indian universities, there are circles of political activists – mostly inspired by the unsuccessful Left – that woo Kashmiri students to paddle their canoe. Gullible students, unfortunately, fall prey. Being a Kashmiri student in Jamia, or anywhere in India educational institutions, is very vulnerable. If you show even modest adherence towards the pro-India political idea, you are adored and promoted – even when you are not capable of delivering. Not so long ago we saw that in JNU, now we are seeing the same in AMU.
Over the years of my stay in Delhi, I have observed that nobody exploits Kashmir more than the Indian Left – and of course, ABVP, the other way around. Then there is other equally ingenuous group who don ‘cultural Kashmir’ up to their ego. I never understood what is cultural about the cycle of killings and mayhem in Kashmir. So, the ambitious ones relish being here; others befriend a stifling-silence.
The students of KU have always been politically more conscious than those who study in the Jamia or elsewhere in India. Despite the administrative repression, KU students were united by collective grief. But in any social setting, surroundings shape the priorities of people. My stay in KU witnessed no sense of academic competition. Most of my decisions were the craft of situation outside the campus. I was a Commerce student and somehow landed in Journalism. I never understood why and how did all that happen. During the first two semesters, I did not even understand much of what was being taught. Yet, I kept defending that my choice to study journalism was a conscious decision. It was not. And truth is this was the case with most of my friends.
Academically, the Jamia is decades ahead of the KU. In KU, academic culture is essentially influenced by the wider politics surrounding the place. Hence priorities shuffle. My time in KU saw teachers very hesitant in acknowledging research topics which were politically sensitive. It was a surprise to realise that hard-core research on Kashmir was done in Indian universities, not in Kashmir-based universities. Teachers in KU, of course, have arguments in defence of their helplessness. And possibly, they are only partially responsible for this. But such a situation explains a larger frame of things. As an educational institute under the perpetual influence of diktats flowing from a non-academic hegemon, academic excellence takes a backseat.
If universities produce revolutions, then people of Kashmir ought to pin their hopes elsewhere. KU, the way I know it, is a campus of dead conscience. And revolutions do not thrive on deadwood.
There are, of course, huge buildings, emerald green lawns, a six-storey multi functional central library, and few committed academics here and there in the vast campus of KU. But committed people have always stood alone – and alienated. All of this, however, isn’t entirely a problem of individuals working there; this place is a sedative that is sullying Kashmir’s conscience.
—Iqbal Sonaullah did his Masters at KU and is pursuing PhD in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
The piece appeared in January issue of Kashmir Narrator. For subscribing to hard copy, contact KashmirNarrator@gmail.com for details