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8 Jan 2017

J&K youth highlight digital gap - Sangh outreach for students from Valley throws up thorny questions on Net curbs and trust

Kashmiri students at the RSS-backed outreach programme in Delhi on Saturday.
Picture by Imran Ahmed Siddiqui
Imran Ahmed Siddiqui, TT, New Delhi, Jan. 7: Kashmiri students mobilised for a Sangh-backed outreach programme today questioned the Narendra Modi government's "digital India" campaign citing the Internet curbs prevalent in their state.
Speaking to reporters, they also flagged the increasing attacks on them in the rest of the country since the current government assumed office.
Sangh affiliate Muslim Rashtriya Manch had organised the "Kashmiri students' conference" to bring them into "the national mainstream and involve them in nation-building".
"This event is nothing but a way of diverting attention from the real issues in the Valley," a Kashmiri student, Nazrul Islam, said outside Mavlankar Hall, the venue of the event near Parliament.
"This government has been flaunting its digital India campaign but at the same time it has denied Kashmiris basic Internet facilities. Who are they fooling?"
After the Valley erupted following the July 8 killing of Hizb militant Burhan Wani, the government had suspended all cellphone and Internet connections, barring a few thousand BSNL landline, post-paid mobile and broadband services. Most of the services have returned but the ban on pre-paid mobile Internet has not been lifted.
Inside the auditorium, the junior minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Jitender Singh, spoke about Modi's digital India campaign and other initiatives.
Although it was a Sangh event, journalists received the invite from the government's publicity wing, the Press Information Bureau.
Nazrul was among 350-odd Kashmiri students from various colleges and universities in north India who had been roped in to participate in the daylong programme. Among the speakers were Sangh official Indresh Kumar and some Muslim BJP lawmakers from Jammu.
After the programme, many of the students said they had been living in fear outside Kashmir because of the rise of ultra-nationalist groups.
"The government has remodelled the politics of ultra-nationalism, which has led to the harassment and attacks on students from Kashmir. The government has failed to ensure safety for us and this lack of trust is everywhere," said Farheen, 20, a BBA student from Mewar University.
Several others echoed her. They cited how Valley students were beaten up at a private college in Haryana in December 2014 for objecting to a student jumping a canteen queue.
In Meerut, some Kashmiri students were attacked after they had cheered for Pakistan during a cricket match against India. The university slapped some of them with sedition charges, which were later dropped following an outcry.
"With the rise of Right-wing groups, there has been a significant change in the attitude of some people. They look down upon us, taunt us and treat us as enemies. We cannot even go to the market freely," said Aquib Dhar, doing his BCA in Meerut.
Others said their Kashmiri identity came in the way of their obtaining mobile SIM cards. "Everyone thinks we are terrorists. When we give our identity cards, we cannot get local SIM cards to get in touch with our families back home," said Farhan, a BBA student at Mewar University and a native of Kupwara.
"We have no option but to pay local people sums between Rs 300 and Rs 500 so that they would get a SIM card issued in their names and hand it to us."
Some of the students who had been brought from Kashmir, however, said the outreach would help bridge the gulf between Hindus and Muslims. "We welcome the move. We support the government as long as the objective is to promote inclusiveness and bring Kashmiri youths into the mainstream," said a young man from Anantnag who is a member of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch.
He said an estimated 80,000 Kashmiri students studied in colleges and universities across the country.
"We are happy they have been pursuing their dreams and, at the same time, concerned about their safety," he said, requesting anonymity.
Indresh said the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, floated in 2002, now had more than 10,000 members across the country.
"We have been helping Muslim youths chase their dreams. This government is working hard to bring Kashmiri youths into the mainstream and the right path," he said.

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