31, Oct 2017 | Sushmita
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” Audre Lorde
While the Indian government continues its cynical assault on institutes of learning and higher education, the Indian student movement shows us that another world is possible.
In the past three years and ten months since the Modi government came to power one notices a landscape brimming with student agitations and rebellions. There has been a multi-pronged attack on the public university systems and education at large.Though it would be wrong to say that the crisis started only when the BJP government came to power, it is certainly true that the violence that the proto-fascist government has unleashed on intellectuals, academia and activists in merely two years of being in power has been unprecedented and unseen in recent years. The coming to power of the newly elected government has accelerated the historically continued exploitation and oppression of the Indian peoples. Economically, corporates and foreign multinationals have been given the upper hand in exploiting our natural resources and workforce, by directly and indirectly subsidising them and modifying laws in their favour. Politically, all voices of dissent are swiftly being suppressed using the ‘anti-development’, and even worse, the ‘anti-national’ and ‘terrorist’ tags.
In this environment of reigning fear and oppression, students and all progressive students’ movements have especially come under attack. The government has already cut down the educational budget, education system has been saffronised and a huge call for privatization of education has been given. Students — already under pressure from high competition, not enough seats and bias – have been regularly committing suicide in the name of ‘different pressures’. Students from more marginalised backgrounds are being more and more discriminated, female students are being sexually harassed. Attempts have been made to systematically crush students’ movements and politics in most of the Indian universities, students’ unions and organizations are banned.
Students and young minds are increasingly seen as just the new work force that joins every year in the industry. They are trapped in repaying their educational loans for the costly, university courses that are supposed to be fully funded by the state.
And since students and youth have been at the forefront of many struggles, today their voices and struggles are being crushed by the different agencies of ruling classes.
We take a look at some of the prominent agitations (Below-insert reference to fact sheet) and assaults that have taken place, to document the developments, log in the seriousness of the attacks and most critically, showcase the resistance.
The assaults could be classified into three broad categories,
Firstly, the attempt to put Sangh loyalists in positions of power and authority in educational institutions. When and if the BJP is in power, appointments from the ranks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation, that does not believe in the Indian constitutional framework (of equality and non-discrimination) are being consistently made in positions within the central or state governments. If they are not in power in a state, this is done indirectly, by pressurising heads and senior personnel of central and state universities and research institutions; by influencing bodies that are empowered to determine the content of textbooks for government schools at central and state levels; cultural academies, archival centres, research and training institutes.
Another noticeable and new trend that has started with the coming to power of the BJP government is that of heavy militarisation of campuses, especially to avoid and suppress dissent. Two stark examples come to mind. In the first incident, the right leaning VC of JNU, Jagadish Kumar asked for the installation of an army tank. This was only symbolic of what has been ensuing and what is to come in the future. In a befitting reply, the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students union replied “JNU, or for that matter any University is an Institutional space to further develop ideas and deliberate on issues. Army tanks are not for spectacle. Nationalism cannot be infused through beholding instruments of war. The Vice Chancellor and his idea of a tank in University is not needed to instill patriotism. Patriotism is not to be enforced upon.”
More recently, when women students in BHU sat for protests against the sexual harassment of a fellow student, demanding that the GSCASH (the body against sexual harassment) be made active and gender-sensitive; gender sensitization of all administrative personnel on the campus should happen, that the discriminatory rules, discriminatory curfew timings, and a ban on non-vegetarian food) for women’s hostels be scrapped; street lights should be installed on the campus; and other measures to ensure that women students can walk freely and without fear on the campus, then the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) administration thought the best way to deal with this was to militarize the campus heavily. Similar was the situation in Hyderabad Central University, when VC Appa Rao returned through a meticulously planned move. Appa Rao was booked under the SC-ST atrocity case after Rohith’s institutional murder and sent on an indefinite leave.
The return of this VC, on the 22nd of March 2016, even while the inquiry against him was on, sparked off fresh protests, in which students were again brutalised and terrorised by the police. While women students were molested, Muslim students were thrashed more severely calling them ‘anti nationals’ and ‘Pakistanis’. The students were arrested and taken to unidentified locations in the police van. Students on the campus had to face severe crackdown from the side of administration in which the electricity, water and food supplies were cut for for a long period. Internet connections were disconnected, ATM cards suspended and a complete media blackout followed where even the bigger media houses could not enter the campus to report the brutality that was unleashed.
Un-remorseful about the widespread student protests, the Modi regime has been conferring awards on Vice Chancellors students are protesting against. The University of Hyderabad (UoH) vice chancellor Prof Appa Rao Podile was awarded ‘Millennium Plaques Honour’ by Prime Minister Narendra Mod for his “ key” role in development of science and technology !
At a recent workshop called ‘Gyan Sangam,’ held by RSS-affiliated Prajna Pravah at the Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Technology and Management on March 25 and 26, national convener J. Nand Kumar told reporters that the academics had “resolved to make an effort at their level” to develop a “Bharatiya” perspective in education.“This is a time of revival of nationalism throughout the world. All intellectuals here (in India) should also come together to nationalise our education system,” he reportedly said. This revivalism consists of going back to a mythical era which does not have a scientific basis and out-does critical and progressive thinking. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said, “This seminar is not organised to raise an alternative narrative but to raise the true nationalist narrative in our educational system”
Second the violence perpetrated by right leaning student organisation, ABVP, which is also the student wing of the ruling party in dispensation. ABVP has been emboldened with the coming to power of this government. It has assumed, by its own accord, the role of promoter of unquestioning loyalties towards the ‘nation’ in Indian universities. They are willing to engage in extreme forms of violence too, to this extent. And more often than not, most of their violent acts have continued with impunity in the absence of any administrative action. On 21st September 2016, Central University of Hariyana, Mahendragarh, staged a dramatized play on Darupadi which is an adaptation of the famous writer Mahasweta Devi’s story Dopdi. The story has been written in the language of Dopdi Majhen, an Adivasi character which talks about the violence perpetuated on Adivasis by security personnel in many parts of the country. ABVP members promptly held a protest alleging that the play was ‘anti-national’ for holding Indian soldiers in negative light.
Pramod Shastri, president of ABVP’s Haryana unit, said, “Our army personnel were portrayed as rapists..it seems unruly elements have entered the university. It seems those involved in the unrest at JNU, Univeristy of Hyderabad, Jamia and FTII have taken admission here as part of a plan and are behind this “
This is a dangerous trend that flies in the face of fundamental freedoms and also recent Supreme Court judgments. Any contrarian discourse expressed through college magazines or any literature brought out by students is also censored: for example, magazines like Widerstand brought out from Pondicherry were burnt by ABVP and its copies withheld by the college administration under pressure.
In a similar manner ABVP students screened the film “ Buddha in a Traffic Jam”, the permission for which was denied by the administration on Jadavpur university campus. The students not only screened the film but also indulged in violence and molested students who opposed the screening. We saw a similar trend in JNU, HCU, DU, Jamshedpur and other university campuses.
Third is the attempt to curb basic rights of students. There has been a massive assault on the fees and scholarship in many universities. Universities like IITs, JNU, TISS, HCU, all have witnessed massive fee hikes. These fee hikes are abruptly being made without any procedures or without involving the students as decision makers. On 26th November, during the struggle against fee hike and increasing surveillance on campus, TISS students said, “ Arbitrary Fee hikes followed by Withdrawal of OBC (NC) scholarships have not only turned educational journey a troublesome one but also a distant dream for those students who aspire to study at TISS “Many students who got admission in the institute, could not join because they were not able to pay the massive fee that was hiked. Some also say that this move was to prevent students from marginalized backgrounds from joining the institute.
Further, there is the immense psychological violence of disciplining the students through various and innovative means. While public universities like Mumbai University struggle with basic infrastructure like 24*7 libraries etc., other premier institutions are implementing biometrics for attendance. There is hardly any discourse on the attempts to install CCTV cameras in institutions like TISS, meant to control and alter the very way students think and to curb the freedoms of critical classroom discussions.
All these measures indicate towards the saffronisation of university campuses and brutal suppression of dissent. This is accompanied with the introduction of newer economic policy recommendations and moves towards privatization of education. Terrible state of public universities is given as an excuse to privatise public university systems.
Niti ayog chief, Amitabh Kant recently said, “Government entities should exit from the operation and maintenance of infrastructure projects. They should even look at handing over jails, schools and colleges to the private sector.” This is a particularly worrying trend and is aimed at making education more exclusive and unaffordable than it is right now.
However, the students in various parts of the country are not taking these moves lying low, which is evident in the student unrest that has ensued in many parts of the country and is going to continue. Students are not willing to submit to the pathological obsession of the government to turn universities into income generation factories based on ‘skills’ and are resolute in preserving critical thinking and self reflective praxis.
There have been several heartening moments in these struggles, for example, when the masses came out in support of JNU students who were witch hunted. Or the Pinjra Tod movement, demanding freer public spaces for women, especially in terms of university campuses, ‘Happy to Bleed’ challenging the taboos associated with menstruating women and the movements challenging patriarchal domination over places of religious value, from the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai to Shani Shingnapur in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. The election of Richa Singh as student union president in Allahabad university. The fighting back of Students for Society, Punjab university students against ABVP terrorism, the struggle to restore GSCASH in JNU, IIT-Bombay’s struggle against fee hike, and most importantly, the political moment created after Rohith Vemula’s institutional murder when many students came out on streets to demand justice for Rohith!
The outcome of many of these struggles may yet be unknown. But one crucial and significant development is that students from various progressive and radical streams working on different issues are now speaking to each other. So, the anti-caste movement is speaking to the movement for oppressed sections. Ambedkarite groups are in conversation with Left groups, young women are asserting and visibilising the absence of “due processes”. It is precisely this kind of dialogue and solidarity that has caught the government off-guard.
In its attempt to suppress all forms of dissent, the government has compelled various groups and sections to forge a different kind of unity. This is the political moment which has the potential to bring together large sections of the people, all fighting against caste and class oppression, against patriarchal mandates, against the oppression of minorities and more.
The role of the student political activist, hence, becomes more crucial than ever in playing an interlocutor between all these movements and in bringing the critical debates into public discourse.
The struggle thus, is not to save a particular university or universities, rather to see the university system as part of the larger system(s) and structures, where students are seen not just as part of a work force meant to produce and reproduce knowledge. The struggle is to disseminate the understanding and thinking that the students gather in the course of the university education and to use this to critically question entrenched values systems. In a nutshell, to raise critical consciousness. People are seeking new meanings of different kinds of freedoms. The freedom to think, live without fear, access of spaces.
The freedom to live without borders and without exploiting one or the other.
Liberation will not fall like a miracle from the sky; we must construct it ourselves. So let’s not wait, let us begin…
— Zapatista Pamphlet on Political Education
1. Is the JNU VC still a Swayamsevak Whose Soul Lies With the Sangh?
2.The Real Classroom: Outdoor Lectures Dissect Nationalism at JNU
3. Bekhauf BHU: Inspiring Uprising By BHU Students for Gender Justice
4. BHU Students For Gender Justice ABVP: In the footsteps of Pakistan’s Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba; ominously so