On 5 August, the Rajya Sabha passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, splitting the state into two union territories. The government also effectively revoked Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. In the aftermath of this, students at the University of Hyderabad attempted to organise protests and public discussions on the government’s moves in Kashmir. But the university prohibited protests and revoked permission for a panel discussion related to Kashmir. The police and the Rapid Action Force were also deployed on campus to prevent protests. Students and faculty I spoke to viewed this as an attempt to curb dissent and the freedom of expression of the student communities.
The day the reorganisation was announced, eight student organisations at UoH came together to protest the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir and the abrogation of Kashmir’s special status under Article 370. They also planned to burn an effigy of the home minister Amit Shah. The organisations included the Students Federation of India, Ambedkar Students Association, Muslim Students Federation, Dalit Student Union, All India Students Association, Students Islamic Organisation and the Jammu & Kashmir Students Association. The protest was scheduled to begin at 6.30 pm. Students gathered in large numbers at South Shopping Complex, a shopping space inside the university.
Soon after, a heavy strength of the police and the RAF entered the university, forced the students to disperse, and announced a notice issued by P Sardar Singh, the registrar of UoH. The notice was dated 5 August and published on the university website. It told students that the police had imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in Cyberadabad, which prohibits an assembly of five or more people. “It is to inform that all the protests and agitations are prohibited in UOH campus with immediate effect,” the university order said.
The same day, the police also dispersed a group of students from Jammu and Kashmir from the North Shopping Complex, another public place inside the university. The students had gathered to discuss the situation in Kashmir. Hadif Nisar, a Kashmiri student who is pursuing a masters in communication and is the president of the Jammu and Kashmir Students Association, was present at the spot when the police arrived. “Many of us were in a panic, there was a communication blockade,” Nisar said. “Many of us couldn’t contact our parents. So as president, I was addressing their problem, whether monetary or psychological. While we were discussing, the police came in and asked us to disperse saying that 144 has been imposed on campus, please disperse otherwise we will arrest you. Later, when the protest was to take place, the police again came in, disrupted the protest, and threatened the students. It was a complete attack on students’ democratic right to assemble in campus or register their dissent against the abrogation of [Article] 370.”
However, the next day, the Live Mint reported a statement from the Cyberabad commissionerate contradicting the university’s notice. “Section 144 is not imposed in Cyberabad limits as the situation is normal,” the statement said. On 9 August, the university issued another order stating that the 5 August order prohibiting protests and agitations on campus “stands withdrawn with immediate effect.”
But a few days later, the university revoked the permission for a discussion on Kashmir. The Social Science Forum, a student group from the social-science department, and Abhiyan, a cultural organisation, had organised a panel discussion with five faculty members, scheduled for 13 August. The discussion was titled “Kashmir: 370 and beyond.” Students associated with the Social Science Forum told me that on 8 August, Sarat Jyotsna, the dean of humanities, had given them permission to use the humanities auditorium for the discussion. However, students said that 45 minutes before the program was scheduled to begin, the dean cancelled the permission for the auditorium without any explanation. The police and RAF also appeared at the event site. Students responded by organising the talk right outside the auditorium. They said the police tried to intervene and stop the discussion by showing the cancelled permission letter.
“We have gone there as speakers,” G Vijay, an associate professor in economics at UoH and a member of the panel discussion, said. “And there was the police. The administration should itself come and communicate if at all they wanted to cancel the program. What they [the police] showed us was the cancelled permission letter for the auditorium. The program was not cancelled.” Despite the police presence, the students persisted with help from some teachers and the discussion continued outside the auditorium. The police remained present until the end of the panel discussion.