India’s Students, Enemies of the State?
"The inability of the central government, and the BJP in the states, to deal with what is just normal dissent in universities where the calibre of students is high, and where the environment has been in favour of dissent and debate"
November 13, 2017
Are students of India now to be considered enemies of the state? It would appear so given the inability of the central government, and the BJP in the states, to deal with what is just normal dissent in universities where the calibre of students is high, and where the environment has been in favour of dissent and debate.
There has been a clear methodology followed by the BJP since it came to power in Delhi in 2014. Central Universities were targeted starting predictably with Jawaharlal Nehru University. The entire might of the state was used against the then students union led by Kanhaiya Kumar, and the other students who were pilloried, attacked, arrested, jailed. All that a state and its enforcing agencies can do to silence dissent was brought into play in JNU but the fight back made it clear that students were not going to be tamed. There have been since a series of ad hoc administrative decisions, the latest being what the students claim an attempt to censor the videos of leading students, and news sites to those using the wifi facility in the campus. Hyderabad Central University followed with a BJP MP leading the attack, with the suicide of Rohith Vemula leading to a prolonged agitation in and outside the campus. The students have had cases slapped against them, proctorial enquiries, with threats being delivered by the administration on a regular basis. Despite this a students union led by supporters of student Vemula have been elected and are in place, with the authorities now authorising the Chief Security Office through a written order to videograph their activities, to raid hostel rooms, search students in the playgrounds, and basically keep them under surveillance.
The governments, using pliable Vice Chancellors, have allowed police to go into the campuses to arrest students doing little more than protesting for more security, and fair play as in Banaras Hindu University. The ferocity with which the cops attack protesting girl students was shocking, with their demands still not addressed.
Vice Chancellors are now running more as government policemen, rather than public intellectuals with open minds. In each and every case from the first demonstrations at the Film Institute, Pune , onwards to Jadavpur University, Allahabad University and all the others the effort has been to still the dissent and not talk. In BHU the VC refused to step out of the gates to meet the young students. In the Law Institute University in Bhopal where students have been sitting in protest for four days against favourites and ad hocism of the authorities the Director initially refused to talk to them, threatening action. Demands are not even considered let alone met, with the VC’s seemingly under orders not to talk to dissenters in the campuses.
The students wing of the BJP, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad is being used with impunity. . Meetings and seminars have had to be postponed or cancelled because of the pressure of threatened violence, with disruptions reported from any number of colleges across the country, including those like Ramjas college in Delhi University. Reports are just coming in of ABVP students hitting Kanhaiya Kumar in Lucknow. JNU Student Najeeb Ahmad has disappeared for now over a year, following an altercation with ABVP students. The ABVP is being beaten back democratically through students union elections, as is the case in HCU,JNU, DU and other universities despite the lumpenism.
The government would do well to realise the power of talks and dialogue, but it cannot as this is anathema to an ideology that is based on intolerance and a fear of dissent. Students tend to rock the boat effectively and vigorously, and for a militaristic government the only condemnable and regrettable solution then is to declare them enemies of the state, and subdue them with violence and the crushing of dissent. But this is not working as students are also more vocal and less subservient. Resistance, instead of being crushed, is actually growing with the students in different universities coming together to form a broad platform, and support coalitions for each other. More effectively than before with HCU being the latest example of a broad coalition that came to power in the students union polls by defeating the ABVP despite the majoritarian power evident in the polls.
First published in The Citizen.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.