New Delhi: Seventy-four days after students were evacuated from the campus of the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar – as the government in August downgraded Jammu and Kashmir's semi-autonomy and imposed a security and communications lockdown – the session at the prestigious campus is all set to restart Tuesday.
The announcement, made by the Human Resources Development (HRD) Ministry last month, was later sent to all students as a circular and was also uploaded on the NIT Srinagar website.
While the residents were relieved Monday after the long communications embargo was relaxed with the government resuming postpaid cellphone services in the region, many students from outside the Valley fear that the worst of the security threat still may not be over. They have decided to wait and watch, choosing not to rejoin college immediately.
Afreen, 19, is a second-year engineering student who currently lives with her relatives in New Delhi. She is waiting for a word from her father in Srinagar. “My father works in Kashmir and he had go back for work last week. I was waiting for him to call and tell me what the situation is like before I book my tickets. I did manage to speak to him, but we are still not convinced that eveerything is completely safe,” she says. “I will wait for another week. Then I will see if I should book my tickets or not.”
Tensions have escalated in Kashmir since New Delhi’s surprise decision to abrogate Article 370, followed by the move of sending in tens of thousands of extra troops, detaining thousands of people and blocking cellphone and internet services.
During the 70-day communication blackout, reports of large-scale street demonstrations morphing into violent protests emerged from many places. With postpaid mobile networks being opened for the general public, students are hoping information from the valley will be easier to get. Landline phones were restored in the region last month, but the ban on more than 2 million prepaid mobile connections and internet services will continue.
Established in 1960, NIT Srinagar has become a symbol of government's efforts to help Jammu and Kashmir to integrate with the “mainstream”. So, on August 3, when all students were carted away in buses, they knew something momentous was in the offing.
Pooja (name changed), an NIT student from Jammu, remembers the day all too well. “We found out a day before we were asked to vacate the campus that something big is about to happen. We were put into buses and eventually made to leave the Valley altogether. Since then, there has been no update on the situation there,” she says.
“I don’t think it’s safe for me to go back. After all, I am from Jammu and there are tensions between the people of Jammu, and Kashmir,” Pooja says.
Many others are convinced that they no longer want to continue their education in Kashmir. For Delhi-based Sagar Prasad, the memory of massive protests that erupted after the killing of Burhan Wani in 2016, serves as a reminder. “Since then, things have been tensed. Even if the situation improves now, it will be temporary,” he says.
“I have been trying to get a transfer out of Kashmir, but it’s not that easy. If I get into another NIT, I will go,” Prasad adds.
Sources in the HRD ministry said that the total strength of NIT Srinagar is around 2800, of which around 1800, are hostel-dwellers. All of them will be expected to return for the session.
The J&K administration is convinced that it is completely safe for students to return to the Valley, with the state police assuring that there is nothing to worry about. Munir Khan, ADG in J&K police told News18, “Why should anybody worry? We have reviewed the overall security situation in the state before taking this decision."
“Please be assured that J&K Police is well equipped to handle the situation,” he says without divulging the exact details of the security preparations made by the administration.
While the government has eased some restrictions and encouraged students to return to school and businesses to reopen, Kashmiris have largely stayed indoors in an act of civil disobedience. The authorities have put out newspaper ads aiming to send across a message of normalcy in the region. A full-page advertisement in Friday's Greater Kashmir daily urged people to reopen their shops and send their children back to school.
However, some students are just not convinced. “We have been trying to get out of Kashmir for a long time. We can study in either Jammu or Leh, but studying in Kashmir is very difficult. Consider my situation. I am a student of computer engineering. How will I function without the internet? What do they expect me to do?” Prasad says.
Pooja has decided to wait till Diwali and see if the situation in the Valley improves. “This will give me a chance to be with my family during the festive season. It will also allow for things to calm down,” she says.
“I don’t think right now is the right time to return to Kashmir,” Pooja adds.