Two weeks ago, women students at Central University of Kashmir, Ganderbal, got to know that their hostel rooms have been temporarily occupied by political workers and panchayat representatives. In haste, a group of five-six students went to the hostel to check if their belongings were safe. They had evacuated their hostel in March this year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, as soon as they entered the campus, they found army personnel guarding the gates and a few barbed wires installed at some places. According to them, they had never seen something like this inside the campus before.
The students say that they were not allowed go inside initially, despite showing their ID cards.
After making several requests, the personnel escorted the students to the hostel area where the students collected their keys from the hostel attendant. When they went to their respective rooms, they found their doors unlocked.
“We were shocked to see that our beds were not there and our mattresses were lying on the balcony. I saw my clothes, pillows and cushions thrown around and unidentified shoes on the balcony. One of my clothing items almost looked like a pochhaa,” said a student.
According to local news reports, a dozen BJP political workers and panchayat representatives of the region were moved to the hostel during the pandemic to ensure their safety, following a spate of attacks. But the university, students allege, did not inform them about the same.
“I have no problem if someone is taking shelter in my room, for which I pay the fee. I also have no issues if someone else is using my blanket and bedsheet, but why did the university not tell us anything about it?” asked the student. “And even if they didn’t inform us, why have my stuff been thrown out like this and damaged to an extent that they can never be re-used? If they didn’t want to touch our stuff, they could have called us.”
Some items damaged, others missing
The above student’s roommate had left two bags full of books and notebooks inside her locker before leaving the hostel. But when she checked it, the bag had fungus all over and all her books looked like they had been soaked in water. And her medicines, which are very expensive, are also missing.
“All my notes are of no use now and I also can’t find my medicines. I will have to travel to a far away market to buy them again,” said the student. “Even today, I spent the whole day trying to dry my books to see if they can be re-used, but they are still in a bad condition.”
Students say they have always kept their luggage inside the lockers during vacations, but it has never looked like this. “The staff are saying that they [luggage] may have been damaged because of the moisture, but it almost appears that our stuff was taken out of our lockers, thrown outside (probably in the rain), and then kept back. This is an absurd explanation,” the student said.
When students went to complain about the situation to the attendant, the warden and the chief warden, they said that they were not aware about the same. “Before coming to the hostel, we had called the warden to ask if our stuff was safe in our rooms, but she assured us that everything was fine. And now she is saying she wasn’t aware. Isn’t it contradictory?” the student added.
According to a local reporter, there is resentment amongst the faculty and other staff members as well with regard to the occupation of the hostel rooms. The staff were initially told that the rooms were being temporarily taken over to treat COVID-19 patients. However, they later found that the rooms were occupied by political workers and panchayat representatives, and wanted to take up the issue with the district administration for the “breach of trust”. The reporter also added that the staff and faculty had also raised objections over security guards roaming around the campus.
On the other hand, deputy commissioner of Ganderbal (the area where the university is located) Shafqat Iqbal was quoted by Kashmir Reader as saying, “The university is closed right now. We can use it for any purpose. Don’t politicise the issue.”
LiveWire tried contacting the college’s registrar several times, but the phone calls went unanswered. This story will be updated as and when they respond.
‘What about our safety?’
Students, on the other hand, are demanding monetary compensation from the administration for their losses. Students pay Rs 7,000 for six months as their hostel rent and they have also paid Rs 1,000 as security deposit.
“A lot of times my parents have advised me to rent a flat elsewhere, but I always refuse because I feel safer here in the hostel. But now I don’t,” said the student. “If they are allowing anyone to take over our rooms without informing us right now, they can do the same in the future.”
Another student from the boys hostel said that when his friends, who recently passed their Class 12 exams, came to know about this incident, they got really scared.
“No student would like to study in an institution like this. My friends told me that they don’t wish to take admission after hearing about this incident, because the university almost looks like an army camp now. It’s scary,” he said. “Kashmir is already a politically volatile state and if you terrorise our campuses like this, and violate the privacy of the female students, how will we able to study?”
His classroom, he said, now has a bed and all the chairs and tables have been removed.