On March 2, 2013 a Kashmiri student hanged himself in the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. A perusal of the stories online about this offers multiple explanations. Among these, the dominant ones are: Mudassir Kamran was a Kashmiri nationalist killed by the police and now another martyr to the cause, as most of the reports from Kashmir claim. The other is that he was a mentally imbalanced homosexual tormented by his obsession with another male student, as EFLU authorities claim. Where does Mudassir Kamran’s story start and where does it end?
Two things are clear in the muddied waters over his dead body: that he was pushed to this act by a callous and insensitive University administration and that an implicit homophobia and a disavowal of the questions around mental health produce silences that obscure our access to any clarity on the ‘case.’
There is usually no discussion around homosexuality on EFLU’s campus and there is a history of violence against faculty members and students who represent or discuss it, from the denial of jobs to the tearing down of posters of LGBT Reading Groups. At the moment, however, there is much discussion on the subject on campus. However, a campus that discusses homosexuality only in connection to violence is a space that does not and cannot allow for any kind of healthy identification with gayness or non-heterosexual practices of love and friendship.
Waseem and Mudassir had been roommates and ‘close friends’ for years both in Pune and Hyderabad. Conflicts apparently began in EFLU when Mudassir began asking questions like "Where were you?" and "With whom were you?" of Waseem when the two were not together. Waseem started feeling monitored and expressed his anger at such questioning.
"I am not your wife, and you are not my father," he is reported to have said. Soon Waseem spoke of being stalked by Mudassir and “provoked” to physical fights. Mudassir had also expressed his ‘love’ for Waseem and at some point this ‘love’ became unacceptable. Waseem wanted students to help him with this intense disturbance that Mudassir, in his turbulent state of mind, was creating and eventually approached the University establishment.
It is important to note that both did not have a specific language for this relationship and were eager to distance themselves from a homosexual identification. Waseem claimed he was extremely uncomfortable with Mudassir's desire that seemed to cross the boundary of male friendship. But this was only after the violence had begun.
In his interaction with the administration, Waseem’s position was curiously contradictory. He claimed he simply wanted Mudassir to stop this behaviour. He wanted teachers and administrators to counsel him, talk to him, send him home or make him understand that he shouldn't be violent towards himself or anyone on the campus. He did not want Mudassir rusticated or expelled. He was even willing to be ‘friends’ with him again if the violent outbursts stopped. Waseem had also told the Proctor and senior faculty members that there was a real danger of Mudassir committing suicide.
What position can be attributed to Waseem? When did a “close friend” turn into someone who “needed help”? Waseem was very anxious about the rest of the campus perceiving him as a gay man. "My friends look at me suspiciously as if I am also that type of a person (sic)," he is reported to have said.
He would also often be found shaking with fear while reporting on the violence. Mudassir himself did not identify as a gay man either and already had other oppressions to bear as a Kashmiri Muslim. Both ostensibly had ‘girlfriends.’ What do we make of two men unable to even inhabit let alone name the nature of their relationship, a relationship which became a problem only when one of them articulated it in terms of violent outbursts?
At any rate, none of these explosive conditions were taken seriously by the administration. All that they did was to give Waseem a separate room and membership in another mess. Memos and ‘show cause’ notices were served to Mudassir which shows no sensitivity. Two unqualified faculty members ‘counselled’ and talked to him quite regularly but no professional help was arranged for him.
Even while this ‘case’ was being discussed by the authorities, it was being called one based on the 'homosexual issue'. This term did not need any clarification; it had the tacit approval of most of the people who knew of this ‘case.’ This term signified a link between violence, homosexuality and deviance.
The parallel explanation for the beatings and the possible reasons that had led an intelligent, conscientious student to resort to physical violence were to do with mental health issues. These two narratives blur into each but given both explanations, the University behaved unprofessionally and insensitively.
Even after his suicide, the university administration has been trying its best to 'prove' that Mudassir was gay. To counter this, his friends and a lot of students who have been protesting the administration's role in his suicide, have been invested in 'disproving' that he was gay. A lot of students have been saying that there was no evidence of his gayness, and that this is a 'maligning campaign' launched by the administration to 'insult the dead'. One student went so far as to call Waseem and Mudassir's 'problem' as an instance of "brotherly love".
These responses show the homophobia across the board. Why is it that homosexuality has to be always proved, and heterosexuality always self-evident, in no need of identification, always available? Why is it that to call someone homosexual is to malign or insult them?
With institutionalised homophobia from the administration to cultural homophobia among the students, including student organisations, how can one identify as gay even if one wants to? The university community represses, censors and makes it impossible for anyone to express homosexual desire and then we're told that Mudassir cannot be gay because homosexuality was not expressed.
As a Kashmiri, Mudassir would have been under intense pressure already, especially over the last few weeks since Afzal Guru’s hanging. Kashmiri students who have grown up and all their lives been in a context saturated with violence and abuse need contexts of support within the University.
Added to this is the pressure of being gay in an extremely homophobic society like Kashmir’s which would not allow the articulation of such desires let alone the adopting of an identity based on them. The public outing of the latter (the sexual angle is definitely part of the complaint) in combination with the former was a combination too heavy for Mudassir to bear.
The University – administration and students – have also been silent on the other large component of Mudassir’s identity and that is his being Kashmiri. What is it to be a ‘sane’ Kashmiri on an Indian University campus? What support systems did the University, and do Universities across the country, have for Kashmiri students and students from other militarized zones of state violence. How can Mudassir’s violent tendencies be seen as separable from the state’s violence in the region for decades now?
If gayness was the issue, why was the police needed? What was the sexual harassment committee doing? Where was the Gender Group? What are the available support mechanisms for gay people at EFLU?
If mental health was the issue, is calling the police the way to handle it? Where is the University counsellor? Where is the supportive mechanism for students already under pressure from the state?
If the two came together to cause violence, what needed to be done about it?
Mudassir's suicide has exposed the callousness of a university administration that hands over a Kashmiri Muslim student, suspected of homosexuality-based criminality, to the police. All that the Proctor made of this complex situation is a disruption of the law and order situation on the campus. All that he did was hand Mudassir over to the police which is the most brutal way to deal with a delicate situation and mental state.
It has been reported by multiple eyewitnesses that the Proctor had called Mudassir a “mentally disordered rascal.” Students have protested against such name-calling, especially because Mudassir was very deeply affected by it. He reportedly kept sobbing after his arrest and asking his friends if he was really insane. Student organizations ensured that he was released from the police station but he hanged himself the next day.
What is it to be homosexual on an Indian University campus? What is it to be a ‘sane’ Kashmiri on an Indian University campus? What is to be ‘sane’ in the structures of patriarchy, compulsory heterosexuality, religious formation and violent nationalisms (Indian as well as Kashmiri) all of which affected both Waseem and Mudassir and affect us all?
How does one begin to mourn subjects so blocked by these structures and by a University – administration and students – unable to empathise with these blocks that it makes them take their lives? The gay subject and the Kashmiri subject appear beyond our languages of mourning only because we refuse to enter the protocols of their consciousnesses.
Mudassir was both. Our refusal to enter into a dialogue with him has caused his death. We are also responsible for his death. Those who protest his suicide and erase his sexuality as much as his Kashmiri identity must realise that they are doing exactly what the University did.
Mourning Mudassir must involve mourning the death of our own political consciences and the death of own ability to deal with difference.
Picture: Kashmiri protestors throw stones towards policemen during a spontaneous strike to protest the death of the student. (Photo credit: AFP)
Co-author: Samia Vasa is a PhD student at English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad .
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Ashley Tellis a is a freelance editor, journalist and academic-at-large based in New Delhi