“They want to keep the pot boiling” is a charge that comes up very often at the University of Hyderabad. As a new academic year begins, the fear is that July 2016 could to be headed the way of July 2015.

Last year, the prayer meeting for Yakub Memon on July 30 provoked an angry Facebook post by Akhil Bharatya Vidyarthi Parishad leader Susheel Kumar, which ended in him being allegedly assaulted by Ambedkar Students Association student leader Rohith Vemula and others in his hostel room.

Saturday, July 16, saw a meeting organised to discuss the Kashmir issue. Several versions of what happened at that meeting are doing the rounds.

University officials alleged that the 40-minute-long meeting eulogised Burhan Wani of the Hizbul Mujahideen, who was killed in an encounter earlier this month in Kashmir. The meeting was held without permission, said officials, where speakers also spoke of “Separate Kashmir” – something the security personnel posted there objected to, they alleged. There is, however, no video to corroborate the claim.

Students denied any Burhan Wani connection to the meeting. It was an attempt to malign the protesting students and faculty, they said. The meeting was organised only as a mark of protest over the killing of 40 Kashmiris and the blindings because of pellet guns, explained a Kashmiri PhD scholar who did not want to be identified. “There was hardly a crowd, only some 50 students,” he said. “But the ABVP thought the meeting was to indulge in anti-India talk”.

The confrontation

Zameer Ahmed, a PhD scholar who was an active participant during the Rohith Vemula-related agitation, said it was a bad idea to organise a Kashmir-related meeting at this juncture. “If they had asked me, I would have said: Don’t do it,” he said. “Why give the ABVP an opportunity to engage in another confrontation? But then the flip side is if you always keep quiet, you will never be allowed to talk. And the meeting was not about Burhan Wani. Why shouldn’t Indians speak about the killings of 40 Kashmiris and the blindings? There are a lot of independent minds out here,’’ Zameer said.

To talk or not to talk, remains a dilemma in young minds at the University. The fear of how what they say will be perceived always seems to lurk in the background.

The confrontation, as Zameer feared, happened six hours later – around midnight. Amol Singh, a 27-year-old MPhil student from Punjab, was assaulted near NRS hostel on campus. He was kicked, punched and abused by a group of motorbike-borne ABVP activists, who reportedly mistook him for Bilal, a Kashmiri student.

“’India kaa khate ho’ went the refrain, while they were hitting me and abusing Kashmiris,” said Singh, who is now nursing a muscle tear. “The pattern we are seeing here is that the ABVP is targeting Dalits, Muslims and Kashmiris.’’

The ABVP denied it was a case of mistaken identity and accused Amol of abusing their group while they were taking out a bike rally. The police have booked cases against both Singh and the ABVP leader Susheel Kumar after the latter alleged that Singh had abused him. “The University has received complaints from student groups and laid down procedures will be followed in dealing with the complaints,’’ said official spokesperson Prof Vipin Srivastava.

Unease on campus

Even as the University opened for the new academic year this week, a sense of unease prevails on campus. Partly because the elections to the students body are due in the first week of September and everyone expects both the Student Federation of India and ABVP, the main two student bodies, to keep the Rohith Vemula and anti-national narrative alive.

“Rohith Vemula will be the main issue in the elections,” M Krishank, a student associated with the Congress party said. “The Ambedkar Students Association will also try to make a mark, by saying it lost one of its own. The ABVP will focus on the nationalism debate,’’ he said.

On July 17, six months after Vemula hanged himself, students and faculty held a meeting to mark the occasion. The main targets were Vice-Chancellor Prof Appa Rao and Union minister of state for Labour Bandaru Dattatreya, who had written letters to then Human Resources Development minister Smriti Irani complaining against the Ambedkar Students Association, of which Vemula was a member.

Ahmed raised a pertinent issue, referring to the suicide of Bengaluru City Deputy Superintendent of Police MK Ganapathy. “It is ironical that the BJP in Karnataka went to town, demanding [state development minister] KJ George’s resignation, charging him with abetment to suicide,” he said. “Weren’t Appa Rao and Dattatreya also accused of the same?’’

The University officials allege that the July 16 meeting on Kashmir was organised with an intention to escalate tension before the Sunday meeting on Rohith Vemula.

Singh offers a different point of view. “The University is also making continuous attempts to throw out dissent, by removing the tents from the protest site, removing the Ambedkar portrait,’’ he said.

Keen to ensure that this academic year is not wasted as it was last year, the University is going after the 200-odd persons who, it argues, are unauthorised occupants of hostel rooms. The administration wants to purge the campus of outsiders, who it suspects foment trouble. It is also in the process of weeding out members of the administration who, it feels, have their own sympathies and leanings.

With a majority of the students, especially freshers, keen on a peaceful academic atmosphere, the University may find silent support for its tough posturing. The challenge however, will be to win the perception battle that the ABVP is treated with kid gloves on campus.