NIT srinagar protest
Outstation NIT students hold protest in Jammu demanding campus shift Picture: Students stage a demonstration to press for shifting of NIT Srinagar outside Kashmir valley in Jammu, on April 12, 2016.IANS

Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani met with a group of out-of-state students from the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, and assured them that their demands for an external evaluator for the final exams would be met. The institute had witnessed massive protests over a cricket match in March, following which the protesting students refused to take their exams, accusing the faculty of discrimination.

On March 31, what is usually known as a gentleman's game led to a major altercation at NIT, where Kashmiri students clashed with their counterparts from outside the state over an India-West Indies semi-final match in the recently concluded T20 World Cup cricket tournament. The protests centred around allegations that local students calling for "azadi" cheered against the Indian cricketers – separatists say a section of the troubled state's residents wants freedom from Indian rule – while students from outside the state were chanting "Bharat mata ki jai" in support of the Indian team, which eventually lost.

"When people shouted for West Indies it did not go well with the outstation students," a third-year Kashmiri student from NIT told International Business Times, India, on condition of anonymity.

Another final-year student from the state from NIT told IBTimes India that he saw students breaking window panes of lecture halls. The student also claimed that out-of-state students misbehaved with the college administration and the police.

Nearly 200 students were involved in the week-long protests, which sometimes turned violent. The state police took control of the campus April 5, and classes resumed after a meeting was convened with the students and college authorities in the presence of the police. However, the police presence on campus and their alleged behaviour toward students — the latter were reportedly lathi charged by the police — was met with displeasure, and triggered demands for action against the police and college authorities, and a call for the NIT campus to be moved out of Srinagar.

The students from outside the state claimed they could not take their final exams at the scheduled date along with the local students citing ongoing tensions between the two groups.

However, Irani Wednesday rejected the group's demand to shift the NIT campus to Jammu, stating that the region is an integral part of India. Irani also said the government would act against the staff or faculty members if they were found guilty of any wrongdoing.

NIT's main campus is situated in the state's summer capital Srinagar, which lies about 300 kilometre north of the city of Jammu. The state has historically been the focal point of strife between separatist groups either demanding independence from India or calling for the region to be a part of India's neighbour Pakistan.

"Eventually, the process changed discourse from the cricket match to administration issues, and many non-locals joined the protests. On [April 10], they started leaving the campus. Initially they did not want to leave, but after the lathi charge they demanded to leave," the third-year student said, adding: "Not everybody was involved, but everyone was affected."

A two-member MHRD team, which arrived on the campus April 4 took stock of the situation and permitted non-local students to take their exams at a later date. Within the next two days, about 1,300 students out of the total student population of over 2,500 had left the campus.

A final-year female student from Uttar Pradesh told IBTimes India, on condition of anonymity: "Everybody left, I don't think anyone took the exam."

Despite noting that safety was "never an issue in NIT" and that the out-of-state students "were on good terms with the locals," she added: "Some of us left due to peer pressure, some on moral grounds. It was not right for us to take the exams after what happened there."

However, most of the protesting students have now expressed a desire to return to the campus to take their final exams after the MHRD gave them the option to take the exams at a later date. But it's not clear when the exams will be held, according to a student who spoke to IBTimes India.

On Tuesday, newly appointed Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was quoted by ANI as saying: "These are our children. It is our job to provide them security. I'm confident they will come back, Kashmir is their home."