Two days after the Union government decided to revoke Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which gave autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, Rajesh* was headed to his weekly meeting. A student of the Tamil Nadu Central University in Thiruvarur district, Rajesh and his friends are civil service aspirants who have been taking part in a weekly study circle. The Freedom Speakers study circle helps the students keep abreast of current events even as they prepare to crack the competitive Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam. However, shortly after they gathered, the college administration arrived at the classroom and asked them to leave. Why? Because they were discussing Article 370.
Rajesh and fellow students say that they were discussing the history of Article 370, as they would every current event, every week. Curiously, last Wednesday’s discussion alone irked the administration.
Celebrations, solidarity posters
Rajesh alleges, “As soon as the government announced the abrogation of Article 370, the faculty and students belonging to the Hindi department and the School of Social Sciences were celebrating. They belong to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP, a right-wing student outfit) group in college. They distributed sweets on campus, inside the departments and they took group photos. The administration says that we are an apolitical institution but no action was taken against the faculty or students who celebrated.”
The move by the Centre to remove Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was met with protests even as Kashmiris were and continue to be under lockdown with no phone or internet connectivity. On Wednesday morning— the day the study circle convenes each week— posters expressing solidarity with the Kashmiris appeared on the walls of the college. "To our Kashmir brothers and sisters, #WeStandWithYou" read one poster while another said, "Defend Article 370 of the Constitution". "Some nights I wonder how will I meet my death. Then, I remember I am a Kashmiri and death will come to me as a bullet," read one poster quoting Kashmiri writer Farah Bashir. Angered by this, the management reportedly filed a police complaint to find the culprits.
‘No assembling for freedom of speech’
“Our study circle was being held the same day so they just linked the poster incident to our study circle and blamed us for it. When they came along with the police and asked us to leave, we refused saying we are only discussing the history of the Constitution. It was not a political discussion at all. They said that all forms of discussions are banned inside the campus. They warned us of strict action but we refused to leave. We dispersed only at 8: 30 pm when the discussion usually ends. While we were there, they took down our names and videographed us. The following day, Rajesh and 30 other students receive a memo which asked them for an explanation as to why disciplinary action should not be taken against them,” alleges Rajesh.
Denying involvement, the students allege that it could be an inside job, carried out by the ABVP, in order to frame them. “They have always had a problem with our study circle,” they allege.
Calling the presence of students at the study circle a ‘breach of conduct rules and established procedures’, the memo issued by the registrar reads, “It has already been instructed by the administration for observance of good conduct and orderly behaviour to maintain harmony in the University campus and further instructed to desist from assembling/ congregating in the name of student’s freedom of speech inside the campus since it is against the spirit of Ordinance No 42 issued under Section 6 of the Act and Statute. It had also been informed through circulars that anybody or group of persons who indulges in activities which is a threat to the security and integrity of India will not be tolerated and stern action would be taken against them including dismissal from the University without conduct of any inquiry followed by criminal action under IPC.”
While the incident has sparked a row on campus, media coverage of the incident has seen the naming and shaming of Kashmiri students of the University who reportedly did not participate in the study circle. Puthiya Thalaimurai and News18 Tamil, two Tamil-language news channels, have published the names of five students from Jammu and Kashmir along with their departments, hostel names and room numbers, exposing them to threats.
Speaking to TNM on the condition of anonymity, one of the Kashmiri students, says, “How can they publish all our details when we didn’t even participate? The administration knows us, even they are on our side and say that it is unfortunate. This is a violation of our privacy and a false accusation. The comments on these news pieces are threatening us. They are calling us jihadists and anti-national. We have given a complaint regarding this to the administration.”
TNM has reached out to the University and is yet to receive a response. This copy will be updated if and when they respond.