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Exclusive – Meeting student welfare activist Nasir Khuehami

We spoke with student activist and National Convener of Jammu & Kashmir Students’ Association about his work towards ensuring the safety and security of Kashmiri students by coordinating evacuations, relief drives, and protests.

‘I am duty bound to try and help’, says Nasir Khuehami while echoing his motto as National Convener of the Jammu & Kashmir Students’ Association (JKSA) and advocate for the welfare of Kashmiri students across the globe.

At present, Nasir is pursuing a postgraduate degree in Conflict Analysis and Peace Building from the prestigious Jamia Milia Islamia University in Delhi.

Whilst Khuehami managed to carve a niche out for himself in the sphere of student activism, he shares that initially his parents dreamt of admitting him to a medical or engineering program. However, he had different aspirations and mentioned to Thred, ‘I wanted to do something extraordinary’.

So having seen the ground reality of Kashmir, the daily struggles of common people was something that always remained at the back of his mind. Hailing from a small settlement in Kashmir’s Bandipora district, Nasir describes himself as a ‘village boy’.

And when asked about his experience growing up in his hometown, he says that he has seen first-hand how the poor scramble to access district institutions; ‘DC (District Commissioner) se milne ke liye usko pachaas baar sifaarishein karaani padti hai’ (the common man has to submit several requests to approach the district commissioner), he says.

With a finger on the pulse of the valley and a determination to find a meaningful purpose in life, he moved to an Indian state not very far from the valley- Uttarakhand. Here, he pursued an undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University.

During this time, Nasir was also doing a few social work projects and contributing to local newspapers on topics such as politics, education, and tribal affairs.

But, nothing prepared him for the harassment of Kashmiri students that he was about to witness. He even shared an instance from his own time as a student, saying, ‘Even in my practical exams, I was asked, “Do you think Burhan Wani (separatist leader) was a terrorist?” So, I told them I am not able to respond to this question. But somehow I was forcibly asked to respond.’

When Khuehami resisted, he was told that his marks would be deducted accordingly.

In 2016, when certain Kashmiri students were harassed and thrashed by goons from the right-wing organisation Bajrang Dal in Dehradun’s Combined (P.G.) Institute of Medical Sciences & Research, Nasir was determined to avail justice for them.

So, he dialled Fairoz Khan who was the NSUI (National Students’ Union of India) National President at the time; he also spoke to then Inspector General of Police CID in Kashmir, Abdul Ghani Mir, asking him to intervene.

Credit: The District

‘I was able to address this issue at 11:30 pm’, says Khuehami.

Not long after, he was contacted by CIMS Director Dr Jaduan, who provided a handwritten letter, stating that Kashmiri students would not be targeted in his university, even granting them a two-month-long holiday to reunite with their family.

‘This is where my activism journey started. But after some time, I thought to launch a student organisation apart from my journalism so that it will give some sort of a voice to Kashmiri students where they will be able to raise their issues with relevant and concerned authorities.’, says Nasir.

So, he launched the Jammu & Kashmir Students’ Association (JKSA) unofficially in 2017. And only a year later, he decided to expand the organisation, setting up contacts in several universities across the country. With this, JKSA began their country-wide journey to ensure the safety and security of Kashmiri students.

‘2018 main jab Asiya-Neelofer ka case aa gaya (In 2018, when the Asiya-Neelofer case was brought to the public eye), I decided to organise a protest in the main city’, says Khuehami.

This was when India witnessed widespread outrage surrounding the rape and murder case of Asiya and Neelofer from Shopian in Kashmir.

In light of this, he organised a protest in Uttarakhand comprising over 700 people, both Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris.

When Thred asked Nasir about any obstacles he faced in this regard, he said, ‘Aap Kashmir ke naam pe, Kashmiri ho ke, non-Kashmiriyo ko mainland India mein mobilise karte hai… yeh bohot kathin kaam hai (In the name of Kashmir, being a Kashmiri and mobilising non-Kashmiris in mainland India is a challenging process)…I was harassed by security agencies’.

Then, on the 14th of February 2019, a convoy carrying 40 Indian security personnel was attacked by a suicide bomber in Kashmir’s Pulwama, severely heightening the concerns of students outside the valley.

Nasir shares, ‘[any political attack] ultimately has a serious impact on the situation on mainland India when it comes to Kashmiri students. Whenever there is any sort of a political development, Kashmiri students become a soft target.’

During this time, Khuehami was in his hometown in Bandipora. But after receiving several distress calls from Dehradun, he decided to book a flight ticket to the city and investigate the matter for himself.

Upon his arrival, he found that multiple students were being thrashed and evicted from their residence by their landlords. Along with help from international non-profit humanitarian organisation Khalsa Aid, Nasir and JKSA were able to evacuate nearly 10,000 students and send them back home.

Today, JKSA has units in Bangladesh, China, Ukraine, the United States, England, and Moldova, among others. With the help of this widespread network, they have played an integral role in not only availing justice for hate crime victims and organising demonstrations but also providing crucial data to the authorities during humanitarian emergencies.

For instance, during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the authorities in Kashmir were unaware of the precise number of their students who were stranded in Ukraine. As a result, the government spokesperson and the government media advisor reached out to Nasir, enquiring about these students.

Within 24 hours, all relevant data relating to the 145 students stranded, such as their name, parents’ details, course, and the location that they were stranded in, were provided.

Upon issuing this information, Nasir even wrote a letter addressed to the J&K government, stating that once the evacuees return to national capital New Delhi, their accommodation in transit and logistics must be arranged free-of-cost. To this, the authorities responded positively and took care of all the necessary amenities.

Similarly, when the Taliban took over control in Afghanistan, Nasir received a call from the Lieutenant Governor at around 11:20 pm; this time too, the government took data from the JKSA for 4-5 students and professors.

But the growing recognition that Khuehami was receiving did not come without cost, especially after he started to express increasingly critical opinions of the ruling party in India.

Looking to pursue a graduate degree in the UK, Nasir had submitted his passport, facing a prolonged delay in receiving it. When Thred asked for an update on this, he said, ‘I received it (passport) in the month of May, after a period of one year and two months.’

In another interview to the Wire in February, Nasir implied that a civil administration officer had suggested that he refrain from speaking up against the regime if he wishes to obtain his passport.

‘This year, I secured an admission in two different universities- SOAS and London School of Economics and Political Science. But, I have decided to defer my admission…I got an admission in international politics in SOAS and global politics in LSE’, says Khuehami.

However, he is currently undecided on his final choice and plans to defer his studies to the next year citing ‘personal reasons’.

In addition to these challenges in his academic career, Khuehami shares that he received an offer from a prominent sensationalist and right wing news channel in India to participate in their debate, with his accommodation, flight, and ticket offered to be taken care of.

Following increasing pressure from such offers, he claims that he had to eventually resort to changing his SIM card to avoid being contacted. He says, ‘I am a person who will call a spade a spade…Main apna zameer nahi bech sakta hun, bure waqt mein, main iss tareeke ke kaam nahi kar sakta’ (I cannot sell my conscience, I cannot do things of such nature even in bad times).

However, those aware of the intricacies of political activism in India would recognise that these are the struggles that young activists such as Nasir Khuehami undergo whilst standing their ground.

Moreover, despite these unprecedented times in India, Nasir and his colleagues at JKSA hold themselves to be “duty-bound to help” and strive in their cause.

So if you would like to educate yourself further on Kashmiri student welfare and stay informed on such updates, you can follow Nasir’s Twitter account where he tweets daily about the conditions of Kashmiri students.