Deepika Sharma, left, addressing students at a remembrance meeting for Kashmiri Hindu exodus victims held at Hindu College on 20 January 2020

A video of Deepika Sharma, a third-year undergraduate student at Hindu College of Delhi University, was recently shared widely on social media.

The video showed her breaking down while giving a talk on Kashmiri Hindu exodus because of heckling by “Leftist” students.

On 19 January 1990, the minority Hindus and Sikhs living in Muslim-majority Kashmir were driven out by Islamists, amid slogans of ‘Ralive, Tsaliv or Galive’ (either convert to Islam, leave the land or die).

“These exhortations urged the faithful to give a final push to the kafir in order to ring in the true Islamic order,” is how Col Tej Kumar Tikoo described the reverberating war-cries in his 2012 book, Kashmir: Its Aborigines and Their Exodus.

The dominant political discourse in India has largely tried to suppress this dark chapter of independent India.

Deepika Sharma, a third-year undergraduate student at Hindu College of Delhi University, says she knew this when she decided to hold a remembrance meet for those victims in the college this week.

A video posted by Sharma on her Twitter timeline, where she is seen breaking down while giving a talk on Kashmiri Hindu exodus because of loud slogans raised against her, received nearly 2,000 retweets and even more reactions.

“In the mainstream discourse as well as in university spaces, this subject is almost never brought up. Campuses see many discussions on many subjects, but none on the Kashmiri Hindu exodus,” she tells Swarajya.

It didn’t surprise her that her call for the remembrance meet was met with a cold response from fellow students. “Many said they supported the event in principle but could not show it publicly for fear of harassment. I knew this, but I had decided that even if five students turn up, I will go ahead with the plan.”

Sharma shared with this correspondent several WhatsApp exchanges with her classmates. The messages show that many students did not join her event for fear of being labelled ‘Sanghi’ or ‘Bhakt’ and of being isolated.

The year 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the fateful day. As 19 January was a Sunday and college was closed, Sharma scheduled it on the 20th.

She says that she, along with a batch mate, prepared a poster and circulated it on social media and college WhatsApp groups on 19 January.

A recent alumnus of the college, Akriti Raina, wrote a personal account of the tragedy and offered it to Sharma to read it aloud at the remembrance meet.

On the same day, however, the 'Leftist students' scheduled a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR).

The venue for both events was kept in an area called New Academic Block, where student gatherings usually take place.

Sharma says she began receiving calls from the other group almost immediately after making public her plan on Sunday. “They began to put pressure on me, saying I should postpone it to some other day, but I was adamant that I had to do it on 20. I of course preferred 19 but that wasn’t possible,” she says.

Sharma says the anti-CAA group had kept the time as 11 am and thus, she scheduled her event at 10.30 am so the area could be made available for the other event.

She says that when she entered the college around 10 am on 20 January, she was met with hostility and taunts by fellow students.

“I saw a group of 35-40 students, all belonging to Left outfits like AISA and SFI. They looked at me with hate, taunted me and even followed me to the venue.”

“They were holding a lot of placards. They were written in Urdu and I could not decipher what the placards said,” she says.

“When I reached the venue, I was surprised to see some journalists already there. The anti-CAA crowd had gathered DU student reporters too. Such is their ecosystem. On the other hand, I and my batch mate were completely on our own.”

Sharma says that a few faculty members approached her and requested her to cancel her talk to avoid a “clash”.

“I stood my ground. I in turn insisted that the faculty should not only let me go ahead but encourage me. I argued that it’s always people like us who are made to shut up where Leftist students always have their way,” she says.

Videos show that Sharma began her talk by telling a thin gathering that the purpose of the meet was not to raise any slogans but to share a simple message that Kashmiri Hindus kept ‘education above guns’.

She then read out the letter.

In between, however, a crowd began to raise chants to interrupt the talk and malign the gathering, she says. “They began shouting ‘Islamophobia Islamophobia’, ‘Jai Bheem Jai Bheem’, ‘Savitri zinda hai zinda hai’ and ‘Periyar Zinda Hai Zinda Hai’. They were bullying and heckling. They wanted to shut us up,” she says.

Sharma broke down but continued to read out the letter.

After Sharma shared the video on social media, many users said it shows the “hypocrisy” of the “Leftists”.

“Yes I broke down. It was because of both the emotional letter I was reading and the sheer hostility I was being subjected to,” she says.

“I am, however, proud of what I did.”

“The Leftists hold remembrance meets for Rohith Vemula but have never done it for Kashmiri Hindus even when Rohith was just one victim while Kashmiri Hindu victims number in thousands. This generation needs to know what happened to them,” she says.

Sharma says that some of the anti-CAA protesters in her college had used the hashtag ‘Free Kashmir‘ while publicising their event on social media. “This shows their real intentions. They stand for separatism, which is the same sentiment behind the exodus of Kashmiri Hindus,” she says.

Sharma says she has never had it easy in the college and the episode is only going to make things worse for her.

“The Leftists target me for being from the Brahmin caste. They object to my holding a post, which I have got not because of my caste but because of my work,” she says.

Sharma is president of the women development cell in her college. Her role requires her to look into sexual harassment complaints and other grievances of women students.

She says she is also targeted for wearing kalawa and sporting tilak.

“They call me a Brahmin supremacist. Now, they have stuck another label on me — that of being an Islamophobe.”