The Srinagar NIT scholars shared memes making light of the fact that Eid coincided in J&K and Pakistan. But a fellow student found them ‘anti-national’ & filed a complaint.
Srinagar: The National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar has formed an internal committee to look into a complaint against 14 Kashmiri research scholars who have been accused of posting “anti-national” memes on an official WhatsApp group for the institute’s researchers.
The institute, it is learnt, has also decided to halt the fellowships of the scholars, even though the university officially denies it has taken any such action.
The incident centres on certain WhatsApp messages regarding Eid-ul-Fitr, which was celebrated in Jammu and Kashmir on 24 May, the same day as Pakistan and some other countries, and the rest of India on 25 May.
The date for Eid-ul-Fitr varies with the sighting of the new moon by local religious authorities. As the new moon this year was sighted in Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir on 23 May, they celebrated Eid the next day.
According to the complaint, accessed by ThePrint, the research scholars, besides exchanging ‘Eid Mubarak’ messages in the official WhatsApp group, also shared memes poking fun at the fact that J&K was celebrating Eid with Pakistan instead of India.
Some NIT scholars said the memes were meant to be jokes. They said the memes were shared after residents of Jammu & Kashmir were vilified on social media once it emerged that Eid date in the union territory would coincide with that in Pakistan, which claims Kashmir to be its own territory. They also called the administration’s response outsized compared to the nature of the episode.
“When to celebrate Eid depends on the moon sighting, so why should anyone object to that and, second, some memes were shared among friends and colleagues as a funny gesture. Does it warrant such a response?” an NIT scholar asked.
Memes kick up row
The memes in question include a famous scene from Sanjay Dutt-starrer Hindi film Munnabhai MBBS, depicting protagonist Munnabhai’s close companion Circuit as saying, “Bhai ne bola karne ka matlab karne ka (Bhai has said you ought to do it, so you must).”
In the movie, the dialogue seeks to represent Circuit’s efforts to execute all of Munnabhai’s instructions. In the meme, it was supposed to make light of criticism about the Eid date coinciding in J&K and Pakistan, NIT scholars said.
The screenshots sent by the complainant also include a popular meme that invokes a common joke among Muslims regarding the belief that “shaitan” or the devil remains chained during the month of Ramzan. The belief is meant to convey that sins ebb during the holy period.
The meme shows a man dressed in orange pyjamas sleeping on his bed, beside a new set of clothes and shoes.
While the original meme was meant to make fun of the fact that several people were excitedly waiting for the Covid-19 lockdown to end, the Kashmiri version gives it a twist.
The meme shared on the group sought to depict the man in the photo as the devil waiting for Ramzan to end so he can go out.
Another meme cited by the complainant included a still from the popular Turkish series Dirilis Ertugrul, with a caption underneath saying “Eid Mubarak”. It wasn’t immediately clear why this meme was found offensive.
In his email to the NIT authorities as well as the Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ministry of Home Affairs, the complainant has interpreted the meme as an attack on a particular religion because the man is wearing orange pyjamas. The colour saffron is often associated with Hinduism.
The complainant has sought suspension of the research scholars and also demanded that their scholarships be stopped and an inquiry be initiated against them.
An internal communication of NIT dated 25 May suggests that the dean of academic affairs, Kowsar Majid, on the direction of director Rakesh Sehgal, subsequently called for the 14 research scholars’ fellowships to be halted. However, the premier engineering institute told ThePrint that they had let the students off with counselling.
NIT registrar Professor S.K. Bukhari said the management had not taken any action yet but had advised and counselled the students to use the official WhatsApp group for academic purposes and not share posts others might find objectionable.
“It is not a major issue. Some scholars posted material found objectionable by an individual. We haven’t taken any action yet but we have advised and counselled all the students to be respectful to each other’s sentiments,” Bukhari told ThePrint Tuesday.
However, the scholars said the NIT’s decision to take action against them was a “disturbing development”.
“It is disturbing to see the management take the exact decisions recommended by the complainant, who is himself a student. To stop our stipends based on sharing of memes is beyond humiliating,” said a second NIT scholar.
“We are in this institute because we have qualified competitive exams, no one did a favour to us by admitting us here. Our work not only helps our careers but also helps the institute build its name. The scholars here have chosen research because they have a passion for it despite being paid low stipends. And today we are being told that your ‘hefty’ stipends have been stopped. We are not beggars,” said the scholar.
With inputs from ThePrint