Kashmir University: Ailing at 70

Kashmir University: Ailing at 70

As the KU turns 70 this year, Kashmir Narrator digs into the deep mess the varsity is mired in

In 1948, when Kashmir’s revered saint Meerak Shah Kashani laid the foundation stone of Kashmir University — then known as Jammu and Kashmir University — in anticipation of giving Kashmiris an educational platform to excel, not many would have thought that 70 years later, the varsity would become a “fiefdom of a privileged lot”, a “den of nepotism”, and “marred by ad-hocism.”

In Srinagar circles, the varsity remains an explorative subject among who’s who in the town. Apart from paralysed student politics, some of them were recently delving upon a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ pasted outside a coffee outlet in the KU campus which warned outsiders against trying to “vitiate” the varsity’s academic atmosphere. “There shall be no political and religious discussion in the coffee outlet,” the notice says, among other things.

Meerak Shah Kashani (RA) laying the foundation stone of Kashmir University in 1948 Photo: Kashmir Research Centre

A day later, the notice was taken off, as the Chief Proctor office was trying to “present it in a more compact form” so that it must not become a butt of ridicule. “No one is against debates and discussions in the campus,” Naseer Iqbal, the Chief Proctor tried to set the records straight. Iqbal is waiting for the time when KU will be “at par” with JNU, DU and other universities. Then only, he says, the KU can afford a students’ union.

Interestingly, students have been long barred from forming a union, when even KU clerks have one, to press for their demands. The blanket ban results in mechanical feedback from the students with no critical outlook. The ban, as the banned student body, Kashmir University Students Union (KUSU), has long contested, is nothing but “occupational tool to throttle the campus dissent”. Previously, whenever the authorities faced the campus brouhaha, the “rabble rousers” were hounded on more than one count and level.

“Students are the main stakeholders in a university, not the administration,” says Prof Mushtaq Siddiqui, the Vice-Chancellor of Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora. But in the backdrop of recent flare-up between the JNU students and BJP-affiliated ABVP, KU’s former VC Prof Abdul Wahid Qureshi, reckons student politics destroys an institution.

But how can one assess the performance of a campus bereft of student activism?

“Performance is a perception, and perception is build over the years,” says Prof Jalees Ahmad Khan Tareen, who headed the KU from 2001 to 2004. “If the student produced by a particular university is esteemed, then that university is performing well.”

Consider a fellow from Harvard University, Prof Tareen continues. “The moment he says he is from Harvard, you start admiring him. The reason is the institute he comes from is performing well. But perception doesn’t come overnight, it is a gradual process. To perform well, you need to have a high-quality and committed teachers and proper infrastructure.” (Read interview with Prof Tareen here)

Prof Siddiqui enumerates two main points to check the progress of a university: feedback of the students and standard of research. A KU research specimen, however, highlights its academic affliction — at a time when the universities of other conflict zones are producing ground-breaking researches.

For example, a 2005 research on the human rights position in J&K by Anjum Ara, Assistant Professor at Political Science department, under the supervision of Prof Asifa Jan, present Dean Research Social Sciences, lists the major massacres in Kashmir like the Gaw Kadal massacre, Zakura massacre, Hawal massacre and others under the heading “Who violates human rights in Kashmir?” The researcher has quoted former J&K Governor KV Krishna Rao who blames “Pakistan-sponsored proxy war” for the human rights violations in Kashmir.

“The terrorists world over (make) false charges of human rights abuses and forc(e) people to make false complaints to prevent security forces from carrying out their duties,” the researcher says. “The National Human Rights Commission has established false report of violation of human rights by security forces. The terrorists have murdered innocent people women and children and even disabled persons in the name of Azade (sic).”

The researcher has not talked to the eyewitnesses, survivors of these massacres. All she has done is copy-paste and paraphrase few Times of India reports.

To counter such bogus and biased research, an attempt was made in 2002 when a former Law teacher Sheikh Showkat Hussain started a one-year course in Human Rights. But the course was winded up within a year, after KU authorities feared that it was risky to expose students to some academic understanding of human rights and related law in a place like Kashmir.

Prof Khurshid Iqbal Andrabi, VC KU
Photo: Faisal Khan

Singled out for his reluctance for not standing up to the Indian national anthem during convocations and other programmes, Prof Andrabi stands accused of “spreading radicalisation” in the KU, says a notice — accessed by a KU official — sent to Governor’s office by Ministry of Home Affairs

The former Dean Academics at the KU, Prof Ashraf Wani, told me in an interview last year, “If you to do a survey at Kashmir University about what the academia has been doing here,  all the hidden truths will be out. I mean the image public has of academicians will be shattered. Research done by academicians is irrelevant and substandard.”

If only the iron curtain put by the authorities is raised up, the hidden secrets will be open to all.

The seven-decade-old KU cannot think what a two-decade-old Open University of Catalonia (OUC) has done. Despite the ongoing contention between Barcelona and Madrid, the OUC offers PG courses in Armed Conflict and Conflictology.

Can KU offer a PG course in Conflictology? I pose this question to Prof Hameeda Nayeem of English department at KU. What she says sums up the notion as to how free the educational institutes in Kashmir are: “It’s beyond the power of a VC to allow even a students’ union in the campus, not to say starting a course like Conflictology!”

When a student from KU was detained by the police in February 2017, Prof Hameeda says, even a Superintendent of Police did not respond to VC’s call. If this is the case with the VC of the top varsity of Kashmir, one can imagine the worth of the heads of other educational institutes here.

Even the KU’s VC Prof Khurshid Iqbal Andrabi has made no bones about it. In an interview in 2015, he falls short of necessarily calling KU an “institution”, where his priority would be to “institutionalise the things” taking a shape over the years. This comes from a Harvardian VC, who has earlier served as Dean Research at the same university.

After singlehandedly transforming the Biotechnology department from a single room to a full-fledged department enjoying great respect in India, Prof Andrabi’s appointed as VC had raised ‘new hopes’. Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister, chose him to be at the helm despite being the least favoured among the three short-listed candidates for the VC post including Prof S W A Naqvi, Director National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa, and Prof Javed Musarrat, Department of Agricultural Microbiology, Aligarh Muslim University. Many had hoped that Prof Andrabi would succeed in looking up the academic and research set up of the university.

To begin with, many praise him for his simplicity. People close to him say that he has not even an iota of arrogance of the chair he occupies. He still greets and meets his friends like he used to do prior to becoming a VC. He neither took the ‘Y-security’ nor the VC lodge. Besides ending the ‘Eid Salaam’ culture, he regularised 362 ‘helpers’ that was a baggage from the previous tenure of “corrupt” VCs like Riyaz Punjabi. After abolishing winter vacations in 2015, Prof Andrabi proudly said that no earlier VC has made the university function from 8am to 8pm during the winters. He also empowered students by subjecting the result to student evaluation. He stood behind them when it mattered the most.

When a research scholar Aala Fazili was detained by the NIA in September 2017, Prof Andrabi “vouched for his credentials” and took a serious note of his arrest, says a varsity employee. “No other VC would’ve dared to do this,” he says.

But many consider these things as the ‘business usual’. His detractors even say, “Prof Andrabi is only treating the coughs and cold of a patient — otherwise suffering from cancer.” Some disgruntled students even label him “collaborator” for hosting an army top brass in the campus. But even then, Prof Andrabi remains a thorn in a flesh for the Raj Bhavan.

KU Chancellor, J&K Governor NN Vohra, directed constitution of a search committee for appointment of new VC on 8 September 2017. The order was seen as open violation to the Kashmir and Jammu Universities Act, 1969, which was amended in 2015, when the tenure was extended from ‘three years’ to ‘five years’ to VC.  Though the judicial experts say an amendment made in an Act is retrospective in nature, the question arises: can the Chancellor terminate the VC from the office?

“It’s the prerogative of the CM” — KU’s pro-chancellor — “to either allow the incumbent VC to complete his five-year tenure or to suspend him any time,” the law says.

Prof Mehraj-ud-Din Mir, VC CUK

In 2017 again, the VC converted a Placement Officer post in one of the departments into a Medical Officer post to adjust Dr Iqra Mehraj, daughter of Central University Kashmir’s VC, Prof Mehraj-ud-Din Mir. Dr Iqra was appointed on temporary basis as Medical Officer in the pay-band of Rs 9300-34800. The post was not advertised, though.

Many believe that all this campaign appears sponsored as Raj Bhavan never wanted Prof Andrabi as the campus chief in the first place. “There was an odd equation from day one between Prof Andrabi and the Raj Bhavan,” a top official at the university says. But the Governor had to concede after pro-Chancellor, the CM    the highest authority to make the selection    chose him.

Singled out for his reluctance for not standing up to the Indian national anthem during convocations and other programmes, Prof Andrabi stands accused of “spreading radicalisation” in the KU, says a notice — accessed by a KU official — sent to Governor’s office by Ministry of Home Affairs. It alleged that he is “strengthening the roots of Wahabism” at the university. The notice asked the VC, the official says, to take action against a particular faculty member who’s ‘behaving like a separatist voice in the campus.’ (Prof Andrabi turned down repeated requests from Kashmir Narrator for an interview).

But Dr Muheet Ahmad Butt, a vocal critic of Prof Andrabi and recently-elected Kashmir University Teachers’ Association president, says that it’s a face-saving attempt by the present men at the helm. “Religion card is often used in such situations,” says Muheet, who teaches at varsity’s Computer Sciences department. “To hide the mismanagement of the authorities, people often invent weird things. It’s to hide the tussle between the present VC and the bureaucracy which is proving very detrimental for the university.”

Read article: Campus of the dead here

One needs to remain subservient to the authorities, Muheet believes, in order to run the affairs of an institution like a university smoothly. “For your personal gains you take the matter to the court, while you remain a mute spectator when the affairs of the institution run into rough weather,” he says, referring to Prof Andrabi’s decision to fight the extension of his tenure in court while the fact remains that the autonomy of the KU is being constantly eroded and no one bats an eyelid about it.

Prof Ashraf Wani
Ex-Dean Academics, KU

If you to do a survey at KU about what the academia has been doing here, all the hidden truths will be out. Research done by academicians is irrelevant and substandard

Prof AM Shah
Dean Management studies, IUST

Had the faculty shown some spine to speak against the move, says Prof AM Shah, who served as interim VC at KU after Prof Talat Ahmad resigned from the chair in 2014, “the university wouldn’t have to cut a sorry figure by scrapping the same decision a year later owing to bad handling.”

Amid this drama, scores of KU’s research scholars are ruing to have taken up research at the varsity. They complain about lack of freedom to undergo a quality research and say they’re bound to follow the set norms — which might violate the very essence of research. “We’re categorically told that the research shouldn’t hurt the State sentiments,” a euphemism for not writing against the status quo, “otherwise the research will not be accepted,” says a researcher in Social Sciences school who fears reprisal if he/she identifies himself/herself. “This attitude from the supervisors has forced us to touch irrelevant topics, rather than the pressing ones which need to be delved deep.”

The varsity’s controversial iron curtain academic attitude on Kashmir’s conflict-related research is notoriously famous. Kashmiri students might be pursuing research on various aspects of Kashmir conflict, its insurgency and abuses committed in the name of counterinsurgency, in universities across India, but such research is still being considered as ‘taboo’ in the KU. One research scholar equates this behaviour with State’s conduct of revamping various torture centres in the name of face-lifting, thus denying Kashmir its Auschwitz. “When you deny research based on real events,” says Gowher Bashir, a former research scholar, “you’re naturally robbing a nation of its history. It’s akin to dismantling and redoing structures where till yesterday Kashmiris would be tortured to death. I don’t think, coming generations will forgive KU authorities for this.”

One of the researchers had established in his/her research that at many places the government forces coerced the local population to vote in the 1996 general elections in J&K. The researcher was asked either to remove this passage or to “wait till eternity” to submit his/her research.

Another researcher at the English department was asked to delete the portions related to Kashmir in the research. This happens in most of the departments of Social Sciences. Prof Asifa Jan, Dean Social Sciences, KU, is too busy to talk about the research done in Social Sciences regarding Kashmir conflict. The moment she hears these two words — Kashmir Conflict — she immediately excuses herself for speaking due to the paucity of time.

It’s argued that it’s an obligation of every university to contribute to the society and to address the main problems faced by it. In the local context, what can be the better services rendered to Kashmiri society by offering possible solutions to the decades-old Kashmir dispute and build a narrative to press the parties concerned for its peaceful resolution. But how much research has been done in this sphere? Negligible.

Prof Andrabi offers a strange explanation when asked why the KU cannot afford research on Kashmir conflict. The university, he says, is in need of “experts in the field to guide such studies” which will otherwise “backfire for want of expertise”.

“There’re no experts available in the field who could guide the research scholars in tune with the requirements for quality research,” he told a group of students of KU’s Institute of Kashmir Studies in 2016.

While Prof Hameeda confirms that not much research has been done on Kashmir conflict and that research on ‘resistance literature’ in the English department is now being encouraged, Prof Muhammad Hussain, Dean Law School, fails to recount whether any research has been conducted on the legal issues of Kashmir conflict.

“Some people have touched some aspects of it like Article 370 and other things,” he says, “but I don’t remember if any research has been done on the issue itself.”

The quality research produced by a university is one of the biggest factors that determine its growth. Prof Wahid Qureshi says: “Not only quality research but also its relevance to the society.” Relevance to the society is an important phrase to be thought about. The immediate concern of the Kashmiri society is to see the end of the imbroglio, the conflict, they’re caught in for the last seven decades. There’s some research done on topics like militant upsurge in Kashmir, human rights position in Jammu and Kashmir, but hardly any researcher has touched the main subject.

However, the varsity’s failure of producing relevant research hardly derails the make-believe campus image. Most of the workforce keeps boasting about the National Assessment and Accreditation Council’s Grade-A for the university—otherwise seriously reviewed by universities like JNU, DU and Jamia Millia Islamia.

Prof Hameeda Nayeem
English Department, KU

It’s beyond the power of a VC to allow even a students’ union in the campus, not to say starting a course like Conflictology!

Dr Muheet Ahmad Butt
President, KUTA

To hide the mismanagement of the authorities, people often invent weird thing. It’s to hide the tussle between the present VC and the bureaucracy which is proving very detrimental for the KU

NAAC evaluates an institute’s curricular aspects, teaching-learning and evaluation, research, infrastructure, student support, governance, leadership, management and innovation, and grades it accordingly. However, in case of KU, NAAC has set an additional parameter. In 2005, it published Assessment Reports of fifteen A-grade universities including KU. Regarding KU, the report says, “Although knowledge and skill development would enable [Kashmiri] students to earn their livelihood, theyre supposed to imbibe and inherit true nationalism in a country like ours where social, economic, linguistic, religious, cultural and technological diversity is immense. In this context the university has successfully pursued its objectives through progressive measures.” (Explanation added)

NAAC, notably, hasn’t set this objective for any other university across India. That may be the reason why “all affairs” of university need to be ratified by the Raj Bhavan so that the very thought of “anti-nationalism” may not creep into the mind of a student.

And now, a recent directive passed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) will help the KU authorities to pursue this objective with renewed freshness. The UGC has directed all universities across India to arrange different programmes to generate awareness among the youth about the “sacrifices” made by the armed forces.

Amid all this, KU authorities continue to emulate the “outdated academic and research pattern” of some Indian universities—when its vision clearly states that the varsity aspires to attain the status of an internationally reputed institution of excellence in teaching, research and extension. The varsity may have figured among top 100 universities in India under National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF-2017), but the university looks “like a Construction Company” which has been slowly watered down under the debris of publicity stunts and public relation exercises. “Yet another disease that infested my institution was that of Intellectual Lassitude,” a teacher at Media Education and Research Centre, KU, once wrote in her regular column in Greater Kashmir. Interestingly, the same media teacher is tight lipped today to confirm whether her description of KU still holds good for it even today or not. One may ask whether the “intellectual lassitude” has overwhelmed the author too after joining the varsity?

KU’s problem lies in its sugar-coated culture — where the authorities want to hear only good things about the university from people associated with it, says a faculty member, wishing anonymity. “No employee dares to take the administration head on here and survive the fallout. There’s an iron-curtain that forbids dissent by any employee.”

No room for dissent has already ended the critical feedback mechanism from the faculty to the policymakers, which is pivotal to the growth of any institution. This has already dented the campus functioning.

The gates of KU named after Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the visionary reformer, and Maulana Rumi, the poet of free spirit, are often shut on the dissenting students Photo: Faisal Khan

In 2016, Prof Andrabi introduced the supplement shift for almost all streams. However, no faculty member asked whether there’s adequate infrastructure for implementing it. “No one wants to stick out like a sore thumb,” says a Social Sciences teacher. “Many departments were not ready for it, yet nobody wished to oppose it. No one wants to say no to the authorities.”

But had the faculty shown some spine to speak against the move, says Prof AM Shah, who served as interim VC at KU after Prof Talat Ahmad resigned from the chair in 2014, “the university wouldn’t have to cut a sorry figure by scrapping the same decision a year later owing to bad handling.”

He adds the introduction of Choice Based Credit System to the list of mismanaged affairs of the varsity. According to him, this system is good for the students which was “badly handled” by the KU authorities.

However, Prof Hameeda gives a different view on this issue. Actually the UGC had forced upon the university to introduce Choice-Based Credit System—“otherwise all funds will be stopped by it,” she says. It seems that it was a Catch-22 sort of situation for the VC.

In this melee, the worst sufferers are the students. Come 2018, there will be no fresh batch of college graduates seeking admission in the university. The previous batch is still languishing in their fourth semester.

“We, the students of BSc nursing batch 2014, appeal University of Kashmir to take our examinations of our second year,” a group of students lately posted this on Facebook. “We’ve joined the course in 2014 and are still in our second year. The students of other courses have completed almost their Masters and yet our two years haven’t been completed. Through this post we request you to take our examinations and compensate our lost time as much as possible…”

Such situation never existed before — not even during the turbulent ‘90s, says Prof AM Shah, who also held the position of Controller Exams at KU. “We had done away with the annual examination system and replaced it with semesters,” he says. In each year during graduation, the students had to appear in two semesters, out of which one semester was supposed to be conducted by the college in July and the other by the university in November. “But colleges asked the university to conduct both the exams,” says Prof Shah. “The present VC readily agreed. Already overloaded, the examination section failed to conduct the exams, resulted in delay.” Notably, the post of Controller Exams at KU was always held by a faculty member. But presently, it’s headed by Mohammad Yousuf Bhat who is from the non-teaching staff.

But now, many are demanding an end to this semester system and replace it with old annual examination system. Even the Colleges Teachers Association (CTA) recently appealed the Chief Minister, the Governor and the Education Minister in this regard.

“Semester system is good,” the Controller Exams says amid raging controversy, “and we’ve to mandatorily follow it as per the UGC guidelines.” But the CTA argues the semester system has failed in Kashmir due to climatic and other unavoidable circumstances, a euphemism for the ongoing conflict. “If this trend continues,” the CTA warns, “the degree which is supposed to be completed in three years would be completed in six years…”

At the same time, the varsity is grappling with illegal appointments. Earlier when Prof Andrabi regularised 362 ‘helpers’ in the university on 1 June 2017 in the pay-band of Rs 4440-7440, one “blue-eyed” namely Mrs. Shabina Afzal Makhdoomi was selected as Legal Assistant against the pay-band of Rs 9300-34800 on the same day. Taking cue from her appointment, three Junior Professional Assistants (JPA) approached the court for their selection in the higher pay-band.

In 2017 again, the VC converted a Placement Officer post in one of the departments into a Medical Officer post to adjust Dr Iqra Mehraj, daughter of Central University Kashmir’s VC, Prof Mehraj-ud-Din Mir. Dr Iqra was appointed on temporary basis as Medical Officer in the pay-band of Rs 9300-34800. The post was not advertised, though.

In the Construction department, a junior engineer was appointed in 2016 but given retrospective effect from 2009. Again the post was not advertised.

Amid all this, Prof Muheet says there’s nothing wrong with the functioning of the university. “All the people associated with the varsity are playing their part for the betterment of the institution,” he says. “But what the university lacks is a sincere leadership.” The remark itself reflects the denial — otherwise permeating the campus and its affairs.

Sadly, seventy years later — both Kashmir University as well as Kashmir conflict — continue to linger on, amid the growing struggle of young to undo the institutional interference. But till the twin post-colonial era creations last to the chagrin of countless, the struggle within and outside the campus will continue.

The piece appeared in January issue of Kashmir Narrator. For subscribing to hard copy, contact [email protected] for details

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    By: Aasif Sultan

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