Published: 23rd October 2021
One year later, Kashmiri students accused of singing Pakistan Zindabad in viral video, long to be back in college
Ever since it all happened, the families of the students — comprising of daily wage earners — have been bearing the financial burden caused by COVID coupled with heavy mental distress of the case
Three Kashmiri students who were studying at the KLE Institute of Technology in Karnataka’s Hubballi were accused of sedition last year; their world changed just a month before COVID took the country by storm. More than a year after the incident, one of their family members says that there seems to be no way the students can resume their studies at KLE.
The three were civil engineering students at KLE when they were arrested in February 2020 for allegedly singing Pakistan Zindabad in a video. They were jailed for months until they were granted bail in June last year. During this period, the students were attacked and publicly heckled on multiple occasions after the incident, even by several lawyers present in the court premises.
Adil Ahmed Wani, the elder brother of the 23-year-old Aamir Mohiuddin Wani, who is one of the students tangled in the legal case, says that earlier this year the Visvesvaraya Technological University told the Karnataka High Court that the three students would be provided with an option of 20 colleges in which they can continue their education. “All India Council for Technical Education needs to be willing to provide them with a scholarship for that,” Adil says and adds that once the AICTE provides scholarships to students, they’ll choose any college from the 20 offered. The students were studying at KLE through the Prime Minister’s Special Scheme Scholarship (PMSSS) — specially designed for J&K students. It is to be noted that once the incident occurred, the AICTE withdrew the scholarship.
“There is no way the students can get back to the same college. It can turn out to be harmful to the students. Otherwise, the college is nice and we don’t want to bring ill-repute to it anyway,” Adil says.
Apart from his brother, Adil also took care of the two other students, Basit Aashiq Sofi and Talib Majeed Wani, when the case began. “All of their parents are daily wage labourers. Soon after they were arrested, COVID hit. We all know what happened to labourers during COVID. Their parents had no work leading to an ever-increasing debt burden coupled with the heavy mental pressure of the case,” Adil says.
Adil himself is a daily wage earner in Bangalore, he expresses gratitude towards all those who provided legal help pro-bono. When asked if it is possible to speak with the students — who are back in the valley now— he says, “The case is still in the court. Talking about everything that happened causes them immense stress.” The parents of the three can only communicate in Kashmiri.
Speaking to The Wire, the students said that the video was recorded in October 2019 but was intentionally leaked by someone on campus in the month of February — exactly one year after the Pulwama incident. “Around then (when the video was made in October 2019), Kashmir was under a complete communication blackout and we had not been able to get in touch with our family members. We would send our video messages to one local Kashmiri YouTube channel ‘Gulistan’ with the hope that it would eventually reach our families,” one of them told The Wire.
Another student told the digital platform that the video had been made in jest and never intended to be sent out. “We were just goofing around. We had sung some Kashmiri songs and had spoken a few lines in our local dialect. Later somehow, the video was leaked. It was tampered with and some Pakistani song was overlaid. We have no idea how that happened,” they made the claim to The Wire. It was the college that termed the video “anti-national” and turned the students over to the police.
The students were in Hindalga Central Jail in Belgaum for 109 days and it was only after the police failed to file a chargesheet within the stipulated 90-day period that the district magistrate court granted them default bail on June 11. While the initial bail condition restricted them within the Dharwad district limits, they appealed to the court and cited security reasons following which the condition was relaxed. “Their parents continue to purchase books for them, they tell them ‘you study, you keep practising and things will get better,’” Adil says.