"The JNU Entrance Examination Centre at Srinagar stands cancelled", reads the diktat issued by the Jawaharlal Nehru University administration. And with that all the candidates who opted for Srinagar Centre are now allotted a centre in Jammu. What looks like a mere shuffle of exam centres for the applicants, if one would look deeper, is in fact a shuffling with the very possibility of they ever making it to JNU. Because that possibility for scores of Kashmiri applicants in fact now lies buried under a thick layer of snow that usually covers the highways blocking traffic on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. Only a select few would be in a position to afford the skyrocketing air-fare. And as such, in one stroke, JNU has shut it doors for scores of Kashmiri students denying them access to quality high education.
What the snow doesn't hide, however, is the fact that the move on the part of the JNU administration was deliberate. It is in tune with the model of denial, exclusion and discrimination that the JNU administration has been practicing with rigour off late. Only last year, the administration embarked on a massive seat cut that debarred thousands of students, particularly those from deprived backgrounds from having access to JNU. It stopped or altered the deprivation points given to students coming from the difficult social, regional and gendered backgrounds. This time the exclusion has been targeted specifically towards the students from Kashmir and North East with the cancellation of centres in Srinagar and Shillong.
The (ill)-logic of the University in cancelling the entrance exam centre in Kashmir includes flimsy arguments of winter setting in and winter vacations going on in. The fact, however, is that examination have always taken place in Kashmir in winter, be it the University exams or the state civil service exams. Thereby, such an arbitrary move only reeks of a motive that is to systematically side-line the possibilities of the already marginalized and oppressed voices to step into the institutes of higher education carrying with them their truths, their experiences and aspirations. It is only a brazen extension of the New Delhi's historical persecution of and discrimination against the people of Kashmir. Whether on the questions of their life or death, their opportunities or their aspirations for self-determination, the people of Kashmir have meant little value for the New Delhi.
Higher education's emancipatory importance is not only as a driver of social mobility because in a context of conflict like that we are faced in Indian administered Kashmir, higher education also provides a means for political elucidation and assertion. It is this assertion that the Indian state's functionaries both at the centre and state government level want to systematically choke. Ironically, earlier this year at a meeting where the CMs of all states were present, Mehbooba Mufti had appealed to the CMs of all states to reach out to Kashmiri students and Narendra Modi had in fact seconded it. But, of course these were plain rhetoric, as what is evident here is quite the contrary. Here, while the administration is hell bent upon keeping Kashmiris out, the PDP and the Chief Minister are maintaining an eerie silence. Or may be it is a conscious restraint on their part as they after all as junior partners have no say against their masters in the BJP-RSS. So, here is a CM who on one hand claims that education is a driver of peace, but on other hand turns a blind eye when so many young students will be deprived of their chance to write the entrance exams for one of the finest universities.
Be it, the former chief minister and father of the present CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed or someone like Sheikh Abdullah, they all sought higher education outside the state. The CM's own children are privileged enough to seek higher education in foreign land. It is rather shameful that when it comes to the question of the underprivileged and the deprived students of our state, the political elites does not seem to give a damn as their opportunities are choked, robbed and silenced.
All Kashmiri students are born to the lullabies of gunshots and explosions, grown up to the constant harassments under the shadow of the guns and bunkers. Some of them who decide to pursue further studies in mainland India are subjected to suspicion, attacks, abuses and discrimination. Yet, amidst all of this, their pride, aspiration and assertion remain intact and which is why those in power try to muzzle their voices. As I am writing this letter as a Kashmiri student studying in JNU, scores of other aspiring students of Kashmir will be deprived of this opportunity. How can those who claim to be the credible voice and 'elected' representatives of the people of Kashmir watch and wait in silence as time runs out?
(Baasit Abubakr, is a student at the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University)