SRINAGAR: They meet regularly, avoiding the watchful eyes of police. Without any leader, they ponder on the issues of ‘injustice’ and ‘oppression’, and seek consensus over a programme that may signify ‘resistance’. And then, the programmes are executed, surprising everyone including the authorities which have been keen to crush student activism in Kashmir.
This is how the Kashmir University Students Union (KUSU) has been operating for almost a decade despite a ban by the authorities. The body is emerging as a “brotherhood” of postgraduate students and scholars.
“More than a union, KUSU has become like a brotherhood system that is held together by the idea of resistance against injustice and oppression. Year after year, students go on becoming part of KUSU, replacing the departing lot. And despite the ban, KUSU continues to raise its voice for justice and against oppression in Kashmir and beyond,” senior members of KUSU told Kashmir Reader.
KUSU came into existence in 1992 as one of the first two students’ unions formed in the Valley in the initial years of insurgency against the Indian rule. A decade later, when the Valley had already undergone two Assembly elections, this not-so-active union was banned on pretext that politics cannot be allowed to flourish in the Valley’s highest seat of learning.
The union was revived in 2005 with an aim to provide a platform to students to make themselves heard. The state, however, didn’t lift the ban except for a brief period in 2007-08 when the union was recognised officially. And then the ban was re-imposed in a harsher way that involved bulldozing of the KUSU’s office inside the campus and harassment of its members involved in protests against the state.
Since the ban, KUSU has been working as a faceless body in an organised manner that seems to be the secret of its survival.
“We have around 40 to 50 organising members at present, but there is no office or office bearers. None of the members is an outsider, and there is representation for almost every department of the varsity,” the members explained about the union’s working.
“We meet once every week at different spots within the campus. We have a strategic system in place between us for arranging these meetings, but we can’t reveal details of this system to media. The members discuss the prevailing issues of injustice or oppression in Kashmir or any other Muslim region. Then, everyone puts forth his or her idea to protest against it, and the protest programme supported by the majority is approved and executed.”
What sounds simple actually takes some doing given that university administration has put in place multiple policing teams to curb the banned activities on the campus.
Every time there is consensus over a protest programme against any issue, KUSU constitutes teams that are distributed the work for easy execution of the programme.
“Our programme to commemorate the Shopian rape and murder incident was decided upon a month ago. Then, we formed teams and gave tasks to each one of them. Like a team was asked to prepare posters, another team was asked to work on signature campaign and so on. That’s how we executed it,” the members said.
“The little money required for the activities is collected through voluntary contributions from the members. Administration keeps a track of all our activities and acts against it. For instance, when we raise posters, the authorities bring them down immediately. We thus have to work consistently to make our programmes a success,” they said.
KUSU has been maintaining its existence through a consistent inflow of students, who, the members say, come seeking membership in the union.
“Every year, the new comers in the university join us. We (the senior members) don’t go looking for students, but the new comers themselves seek to join driven by their own ideas of resistance against oppression,” they said. “Every time the final years students are about to leave, the new comers are ready to take their place. That is how KUSU has lived all these years.”
Of late, the varsity authorities have turned a blind-eye towards growth of student bodies of pro-India political parties in the campus. In last couple of years, at least four student bodies belonging to Congress, National Conference, Peoples Democratic Party, and Peoples Conference flourished in the varsity while the authorities’ commitment of “not allowing any kind of politics on the campus” was reduced to a myth and applicable only to activities of KUSU.
However, KUSU is surfacing as the only vibrant voice on the campus while all other student bodies seem to have disappeared suddenly.
“After NSUI announced its Kashmir chapter, the names of its members from KU was displayed on the website of Congress. When we checked the list and met the students, most of them said they were offered higher grades and other benefits by the authorities against joining NSUI. And many of them later withdrew their association with the students body out of their own realization,” KUSU members said.
“The other student bodies met the same fate. They announced their student bodies and later there was no activity from them in the campus.”
Of late, KUSU has, in fact, turned vibrant. Besides protesting against human rights violations in the Valley, the banned union has been actively opposing any “oppressive” activity on the campus, not without response from the authorities of course.
“Last time when there was a protest against controversial shooting of a film in the campus, many suspected KUSU members were harassed by police and army. The forces raided houses of many students in south Kashmir, and harassed them,” they said.
The ban has limited the scope of KUSU, nonetheless. The union has reduced its domain to ‘injustice’ and ‘oppression’ while the students’ issues related to, for instance, academics have been ignored, and deliberately so.
“We don’t have an agenda to limit ourselves to Kashmir issue alone, but the fact that we aren’t officially recognised makes us stay away from other issues concerning students. Like if we raise issue of admission or accommodation before the varsity authorities, they will refuse to listen to us saying that we have no existence. We have seen it before,” they said.
“Committed to work” students and scholars of KUSU have on their list of priorities the data collection about incarcerated students of the Valley. And they “promise” to work in future like the way they have till date.
“Usually, every youth protesting in Kashmir is dubbed as ‘wayward’ by the state. But here we are scholars and postgraduate students raising voice against all kinds of injustice and oppression. So, our activities carry weight as the state cannot dub us as ‘wayward youth’,” the members said.