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Within the span of not more than ten days there have been two incidents of Kashmiris being beaten up in Haryana. The first news came from Mahendergarh around the last weekend, and the second just a couple of days back from Mullana in Ambala district. In 2016 there were similar reports of Kashmiri youth being beaten up in a private institute in Jhajjar district.

In all these incidents there is, seemingly, a dual aspect involved – of inter-personal relationships as well as the socio-cultural-political angle – and interpretations vary according to the view one wishes to take. For instance, in the Mahendergarh case, the version of the Kashmiri students and that of the police vary –according to a report in The Tribune, the targeted students reported being beaten up by a group of unidentified people whereas the police version makes it out to be an altercation leading up to the Kashmiri youth being thrashed (http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/3-arrested-after-2-j-k-students-beaten-up-in-mahendragarh/538123.html). The incident in Mullana (http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/haryana/another-kashmiri-student-thrashed/540847.html) and the one in Jhajjar in 2016 (http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/Kashmiri-students-%E2%80%98beaten-up%E2%80%99-in-Jhajjar-college/article15004937.ece) were reportedly a result of arguments degenerating into the beating up of the Kashmiri boys.

It is quite obvious that below the seemingly inter-personal character of such incidents, there is an underlying political aspect to these occurrences, a particular view of Kashmir and Kashmiris that invariably comes into play and culminates in the form of physical assault.

An interaction with a Kashmiri youth would probably – almost inevitably – at some point of time, be influenced by the viewof how Kashmir is located in one’s consciousness. What is of significance is how we negotiate this terrain. If one looks at it as an issue purely related to the possession of a piece of land, a territory without consideration of the human beings living there, without trying to understand their aspirations and desires and wishes, and the travails they have gone through, an interactive dialogue is likely to degenerate into something ugly. The nationalist perspective that dominates the ordinary Indian’s consciousness vis-à-vis Kashmir, constricts the scope for mutual understanding and dialogue.

And yet, a civilized dialogue rooted in the desire to be positively interactive and inclusive is inescapable, especially when an increasing number of Kashmiris are now coming to the mainland for studies. The Institute in Jhajjar that came into limelight in 2016 had around 70 Kashmiris studying there and a sizeable number study in the Central University in Mahendergarh and the private university in Mullana where the latest incidents have occurred. Given this situation, it would indeed be a sorry state of affairs if the sense of alienation in the Kashmiris increases by the day.

The situation has its own complexities also because in the larger socio-cultural context, interaction between various communities and groups has gradually but surely changed in a way that opportunities of intermixing have, instead of increasing, shrunk like never before.Biases and misconceptions especially about the minorities and marginalized sections of society hold sway. Having never met a Muslim, one could possibly be harbouring notions about them to which there would be no truth in actual fact. Having never been to Jammu and Kashmir, especially the valley, one fails to realize the deep-set resentment that aroundthree decades of violence, both the State’s and the militants’, has surely engendered in the people’s lives. A whole generation of children has grown up witnessing nothing but violence, unrest and State-repression. Until and unless we understand this, one can surely not be in a position to be in sympathy – let alone empathy – with the mind-space of someone from Kashmir. Educational institutions can possibly fill in this gap resulting from the lack of socio-cultural intermixing and healthy interaction.

My mind goes back to a group-interaction we had with an intelligent young girl from Kashmir sharing her experience of living in Haryana where she had come for her studies. There was an element of pain, at times even of distress, in the experiences she shared of her memories from her home-state, yet she was, broadly speaking, refreshingly positive and fairly appreciative of the time spent in Haryana in spite of the oddities she faced here and there. This, at that point of time, was a comforting thought, for that sharing happened somewhere around the time of the unrest in Kashmir following the killing of Burhan Wani. The fact that we had gathered to listen to her, and heard her out as she recounted the unhappy and bitter experiences of growing up under the shadow of the guns of the security forces that in actual fact increased a sense of insecurity rather than security, was something that she appreciated no end.

The bond of being human – and the complexity of being human – was what came out the strongest in this interaction with her. She echoed this as she shared the one unfortunate episode that shattered for herthe soothing peace of Haryana which was in sharp contrast to the unrest and violence in her home-state. Her peace and sense of belonging in Haryana lay shattered for her as she recounted the experience of witnessing her fellow-students transformed into divided caste identities during the violent Jat reservation stir of early 2016. And yet, she retains the vivaciousness of youth – but one also recalls her poignant remark to the effect that this vivaciousness is perhaps an attempt at regaining what was lost of it in her childhood!

Can we not be in empathy with these students from Kashmir, forced to come here for studies, given the conditions there – conditions for which we as a nation ought to share collective responsibility?

An educational institution is the space where one is supposed to learn to be sensitive – and sensible – in such interactions. To be in dialogue is to be able to give space to each other, try to understand the other’s point of view and negotiate and reach certain conclusions, even if the end-result be that we agree to disagree. Educational institutions are supposed to help in widening the mental horizons of students.To be able to create a society that is sensitive, sensible and rooted in empathy, we need an education where the curricular framework and syllabi especially of the social sciences, is sensitive to these requirements and conducive to the inculcation of democratic, secular values. We need to develop and nurture our educational institutions as spaces of healthy dialogue – and peaceful, even if assertive, dissent. Were we to have such education, we would be a society much more in harmony with the various streams of belief and modes of living than we are at present. We would not be assaulting Kashmiris even as we cry ourselves hoarse saying Kashmir is an integral part of India, and we would not have mobs attacking Muslims and other sections of society even as we call ours a nation of many hues embodying the Gunga-Jamunitahzeeb, a nation of multi-layered realities cohering and integrating as a single whole.

But there is a still larger issue involved, too. The Preamble to the Constitution we gave to ourselves is a page we need to go back to every now and then. It is we ourselves, “the people of India”, avowing “to secure to all its [the country’s] citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.”

We have, in the course of the past couple of years and more, been witness to the lynching of an Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh, a Junaid being put to death in a train covering the territory of the NCR, a Mohammad Afrazul and a Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan being killed mercilessly, and Muslims being beaten in Kasganj on the Republic Day. All these, as also the beating up of Kashmiri students in Haryana and RohithVemula’s death and the Una episode in Gujarat negates each one of these principles of the Preamble.

If we place the beatings of the Kashmiri youth in this larger perspective driven by a particular nationalist discourse that has been taking shape of late, they may well be interpreted as attacks not just on individuals but on communities with certain specific identities or a religion. Even if these incidents involving students from Kashmir are interpreted as being rooted in inter-personal circumstances, the larger discourse around nationalism does appear to be feeding into these seemingly isolated incidents. But at a far deeper level they areall attacks on the very fundamentals of our rights as citizens, on the very basis and spirit of our Constitution. And this, indeed, is becoming increasingly worrisome for the secular-democracy we declare ourselves to be.

Ramnik Mohan  is a freelance writer and translator based in Rohtak and actively engaged with social issues.

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