Meerut Sedition Drama: Kashmir's Educational Activist Rabia Strikes A Balance

Meerut Sedition Drama: Kashmir's Educational Activist Rabia Strikes A Balance

9 March 2014
India Today
Vrinda Gopinath

New Delhi: It is with mixed feelings that Rabia Baji, the motivator of the hundreds of Kashmiri students enrolled in universities throughout India, receives the news that the sedition charges slapped on her wards studying in Swami Vivekananda Subharti University (SVSU) was dropped. 'I cannot fathom why the Uttar Pradesh administration took such a drastic step in the first place, especially when university authorities were told that the parents of the offending students were willing to come and apologise for their behaviour. It has unnecessarily provoked a volatile situation where now the Prime Minister's Office, Pakistan, even Britain has got involved,' Rabia deplores. The social activist is referring to the chain of events, including the PMO's intervention that got the UP govern-Educational activist Rabia gets it right on Meerut ment to withdraw the sedition charge, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba coming out in support of the suspended students and Britain asking that Kashmiris on both sides be given identity papers that simply say 'Kashmiris'. Rabia Baji is the chairperson of the All India Centre for Urban and Rural Development (AICURD) - an NGO dedicated to the peace process in the Kashmir Valley. The activist has taken on the task of enforcing the scholarships for higher studies initiated under the Prime Minister's Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS), for Kashmiri students. Accept misdeed Launched in 2010, the Rs.1,200 crore worth scheme was meant to annually assist 5,000 students for enhancing their employment opportunities and formulate a job plan in the Valley. The PMSSS was aimed at helping students from lower income families. Rabia is unequivocal in accepting the misdeeds of the erring students who provoked the outrage of the students in the Meerut campus. 'I can understand the fury of the students at this kind of provocation. After all, the Kashmiri students have come to the Indian dominion, get their fees paid, hostel taken care of, allowances given, the university has welcomed them with open arms… so it is unforgivable. It was clearly deliberate and inciteful,' she says. Future at risk She waves off suggestions that support to the Pakistani cricket team should be taken in the spirit of the game, saying that these are special circumstances in an extraordinary situation given the Valley is in. 'I agree no one should be castigated for cheering a team, and wish the Indian students were more generous. But this is a hardearned endowment and scholarship,' Baji says. 'There are hundreds of Kashmiri studying under the PM's programme in several universities all over the country. And, we cannot let an incident like this threaten and put the future of these children at risk,' the activist says. She, however, admits the university officials could have castigated both sides to show an even hand and to teach a sense of fair play. For Rabia and her non-government organisation, the PMSSS has had its fair share of controversies in the last four years since its inception - including spurious NGOs that sprang up to dupe students with fake admissions, misguiding them and taking bribes and cuts from the scholarship; expulsions due to non-payment of fees, abrupt termination of study for lack of certificates; tardy release of funds from the HRD ministry, among others. Education aid It took the doughty Rabia enormous efforts to liaise with the PMO and the HRD ministry to streamline selection of students and admissions in reputable institutes. 'We simplified the admission process by getting AICURD certified as a nodal agency. We gave every student an ID card, helpline telephone numbers, and authorised our volunteers to intervene on behalf of students in any crisis. Most importantly, we liaised with the government to ensure that funds were released on time to pay fees and other expenses...' Born Nirupama Kaul, Rabia was drawn to Islam in the late 80s. In an act of rebellion against her disciplinarian father, she had left her house in 1989. 'No one in the family knew. And I was the only Pandit going back at the time when the Pandit exodus out of Kashmir had begun,' she recollects. Her entrepreneur husband and her now live in Srinagar with their two sons.