Saturday, January 21, 2017
NEW DELHI: Students’ political activity in collegiate campuses around the country has witnessed a serious and rapidly exceeding trend of being curbed and interrupted.
This interruption is often the work of the administration and other times, the work of certain political organizations.
The Jawaharlal Nehru Univeristy has been the center of media discourse over administration and other organizations censoring, obstructing, and penalising students and staff over expression of political opinions, as was evident in the widely publicised recent incidents. But, other universities in Delhi aren’t far behind.
In Delhi University, socialist paranoia seems to have taken over and has come in the way of student activity which is even often apolitical in nature.
Abinash, a student of Ramjas College, Delhi University, while talking to us about his experience in an event, in which Subramanian Swamy was delivering a talk about the Babri Masjid issue, said, “As a student of the university and as someone who was covering the talk for an independent magazine, I went with a friend to attend the event. The lecture was happening in an auditorium in the Arts Faculty (of the university). Initially, when we tried to go in, there was a resistance in front of the Arts faculty area, I was stopped from going in and was asked to leave because of the color of my bag, which was red. I was carrying a red jhola. I was called a terrorist, a maoist and a naxalite. My friend who was from the south of India was also called names, there were racist comments. Someone walked up to me and said, “You’re a terrorist, where is your gun?”. I tried to call the MP from my state for help, to no avail. When I was going back, I was lifted and put in preventive custody for three hours in a police van, with two CRPF AK-56s carrying people. I call this complete jingoism.”
Moreover, there seems to be little doubt that dialogue, protests and demonstrations that hinge around the issue of Kashmir are more in focus now and the universities now do not give permission for such discussions easily, if at all.
For instance, in the usually graffiti-friendly campus of Ambedkar University, where graffiti adorns every wall and where students express concerns over social issues through this medium, graffiti about Kashmir was recently painted over and hidden entirely from view.
On the walls now stands a big, blue, menacing board that warns students against graffiti reminding them about the potential fifty thousand rupee fine and jail term of upto one year under the Delhi Defacement of Property Act, 2007.
Outraged students have responded by adding more graffiti on the walls as well as holding various discussions in the campus about the curbs on dissent.
A separate graffiti-war broke out when a sexist comment questioning the importance of gender studies was responded to. Interestingly, the administration did not deem it necessary to whiten out any of this graffiti and no student was dished out any punishment.
Ashoka University too, has witnessed serious conflict around the Kashmir issue. Not long after 88 members and two faculty members signed a petition to the Centre condemning the violence following Burhan Wani’s death in the Valley as well as calling for the demilitarisation of the state, the two faculty members who had signed the petition, resigned citing personal reasons.
Students however, were shocked by these resignations, calling them sudden and unexpected.
Soon after, the email policies of the university were changed. Unlike previously, students were not allowed to directly contact students from other batches. This was later taken back by the administration, however, following protests by students.
Another major university in Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia has also witnessed certain incidents and sanctioned certain policies that infringe upon the student’s rights to express themselves.
Jamia’s hostel witnessed an alleged raid right before independence day. “I was in the hostel during that raid”, says Imran, a PhD candidate at Jamia and a resident of the hostel, “there was no intimation about this check to any person of authority, not the proctor, not the warden. This doesn't happen in DU, Ashoka or any other university. But, it happened in Jamia”,a minority status university.
A student, Sana Ahmed* said, “Jamia administration discourages us to talk about sensitive issues, the administration thinks the university will get more flak than any other institution for allowing anything controversial because of its minority status”.
The ‘raid’ was something that violated the privacy of the students living there. Moreover, “some 50 Kashmiri residents were apparently profiled by the MEA and the administration after the February 2016 JNU fiasco. I don't think many Kashmiri students were admitted to the Jamia hostel this year, they think we'll form a nexus”, said Shafat Ali, a student of Jamia. The racial profiling was however not confirmed. The authorities claimed that the 'raid’ was a routine check.
“The atmosphere in Jamia is extremely fearful. Students that do take a part in the political process are targeted directly and indirectly,” says Imran.
Moreover, Jamia hasn’t had a Student's Union since 2006. A case in still pending in the High Court regarding the same, and there is little hope that a judgement will be passed anytime soon. It is apparent that the students don’t have a formal platform for expressing their political interests.
“We don’t have a forum for putting up our demands to the authority, the concerned administrative officials hardly give anyone appointments” says Sana Ahmed*. Their interests would likely manifest in protests. Major political parties do have their student wings in Jamia, but administration is quick to serve show-cause notices to anyone who dares to step out of the line by protesting.
Additionally, a student who wished to remain anonymous mentioned how events are kept tabs on, some are simply not given permission to hold one, and when they do manage to hold one it is categorized by heavy surveillance.
According to a report by Asian Age, Jamia has security guards deployed at entry gates and CCTV cameras, but more so, Jamia has its own proctorial team, which is handled by veterans from defence forces and Jamia Bulls, which maintain campus discipline. It is imperative to ask what is the need for such extensive security in a university.
Women have also been victimised quite selectively. About 70 girls were served a show-cause notice on the grounds of “misbehaviour” and “prolonged absence” from the hostel right after they protested the inauguration of the Begum Hazrat Mahal hostel by MHRD minister Prakash Javadekar.
“There are no such rules that constrict us on the number of leaves that we’re limited to take, they asked us personal questions as to our whereabouts, and to some even threatened to complain to our parents. It’s not coincidental that this happened right after we protested against Javadekar’s visit in an open letter”.
Even the Pinjra Tod movement, a feminist movement against discriminatory curfew timings for women, has had to face various impediments along the way. Ritika Thakur, a student of Delhi University says, “Often a few people from ABVP follow Pinjra Tod protestors after they have dispersed, shouting, ‘Bharat Mata ki jai!’, while a few others took videos of the protests, one of the them was the ex-DUSU president.” Some even have to listen to members of the administration quietly trying to discourage protesters by citing safety as a reason.
Abinash sharing an experience said, “I am not an active member of any communist party in the campus. The event however, was organized by AISA, but it was open to all. There were a few people who hit me with three Lux soaps and asked me to clean myself because of my dark skin. I was a ‘dirty person’ as I did not believe in the ideology of the ABVP. After the incident with the ABVP interrupting the meeting and people running helter-skelter, a professor from Arts faculty said to me, “You shouldn’t be coming here to listen to these speeches.” When I asked why, I was told, ‘We can’t explain to the perpetrators, only the victims to not gather here and protest’.”
The tradition of silencing the victims and the protesters, hence, has gradually but noticeably, been embedding itself into universities, over the past year. Dissent is discouraged and shabbily hushed up. Student-led revolutions have carved the path for iconic political developments around the world, but the toxic trend that permeates student politics in India is not only paralysing our political development, but also telling the crores of Indian students that it is not okay to have a voice of their own.
(*names have been changed)