Democratic Dissent Discouraged In Universities?
Indraprastha college students continue protests for 6th day
Protests continued for the sixth day at Delhi University’s Indraprastha College (IPCW) for Women after alleged harassment during a college festival.
The students of the college claimed that on March 28, a few men scaled walls and harassed them. Videos and photos are also doing rounds on social media, identifying the men scaling the walls to get inside the campus.
Speaking to The Citizen, Shambhavi, a student at IPCW and member of student organisation All India Students Association (AISA) said that after protesting for six days the university has assured them action.
“Many women were harassed on the day of the fest and had to leave the college campus. Men had groped women; some were injured after things became violence. Many women have also alleged that their clothes were torn. But instead of doing anything, the administration continued the fest,” she said.
While the students were protesting at least 15 of them were detained but were later released. “We were peacefully protesting outside the college when the Delhi Police, including male officers, used force to detain us. We women who were protesting against sexual harassment had to go through something similar again,” Shambhavi added, averring they are now demanding resignation of the college’s principal for her incompetence to handle the situation.
Meanwhile, a five-member enquiry panel led by South Delhi Campus Director Prakash Singh has been set up by Delhi University on Monday.
As per the report, others on the committee includes the proctor Rajni Abbi, Dean of Students Welfare Pankaj Arora, Dean of Students Welfare, Joint Proctor Geeta Sahare and Professor in Department of Hindi, Manju Mukul Kumble.
“We wanted student representation in this but it was not considered,” Shambhavi added. The students have also handed over a memorandum to the administration with the following demands:
- Strict action against the harassers and trespassers.
- The IPCW administration should take accountability for the physical, mental, and emotional injuries sustained by the students.
- The IPCW should ensure that such an incident never happens again and proper security and safety of students is ensured before any future event takes place.
- That the principal takes responsibility and apologises publicly for the detention of several students from college. These students were also harassed and injured by the police.
- Compensation of medical bills of the injured.
The protest has garnered attention from other women colleges who have faced similar incidents in the past.
However, it is the behaviour of the college administration and the police that has repulsed the students. Over a period of time dissent in university spaces has shrunk, is what many feel.
From times when Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) had fee hike protests in 2019 to Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests at Jamia Millia Islamia, students faced harsher consequences for raising their voice.
The recent controversy where the BBC documentary was stopped from screening at various universities in different parts of the country, the students were faced with adverse consequences.
While heavy police deployment was present when Jamia students called for a screening, JNU cut off electricity and DU also stopped the screening. In return protests took place in DU after which two students were barred from the university for a year.
The national secretary of the Congress-affiliated National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), Lokesh Chugh, and a Department of Philosophy masters student Ravinder Singh, who is also part of a student’s union were barred from the Delhi University for a year for allegedly helping in the campus screening of the BBC documentary.
Speaking to The Citizen, Singh said that he had received a notice on March 23 dated March 10 where he was debarred from giving exams for a year. “Initially there was no call for protest, we only wanted to watch the BBC documentary. It is to be understood that the documentary is not banned.
“We have also asked the administration in a written reply to explain to us where there has been a notice saying that the documentary is banned,” Singh said.
The students have moved court regarding the matter. Singh further said that the recent protests are just examples from a set pattern which the administration has chosen to curb the voices of dissenters..
“In DU we have been continuously talking about how voices of dissent are being curbed in the university because if you try to have a debate or discussion you won’t get a hall or a classroom. There is a said pattern that the administration now chooses,” he said.
In JNU which is considered to be an open space for dissent the situation might be better compared to DU or Jamia, however the overall situation has changed post 2014, students say.
Speaking to The Citizen, N.S. Balaji, former president of JNU Student Union (JNUSU) said, “The JNU today is not the JNU of 2014 or of 2013. There is no doubt that the space for protest has shrunk.”
Explaining how different universities handle dissenters, Balaji said that the university administration, the police and the government take action against students according to the democratic set up.
“For a place like Delhi University, it is one of the most undemocratic spaces and Jamia is worse in terms of police brutality. But JNU is a different university with a strong student activity within the campus. The space for student activism is greater,” he said, adding that the action of the university shows the worry on the response of the student community.
“The illusion that we are living in a democracy has been broken by this government. Democracy is a day-to-day practice of various ideas through various forms, which is directed by the Constitution. The moment the administration denies the right to peaceful protest it is a violation of the constitution, which means it is an attack on democracy,” he added.
In a memorandum, which has now been taken back, the administration tried to fine students for protesting. The memorandum had said that the students will face a fine of Rs 20,000 for holding dharnas and face admission cancellation or a fine of up to Rs 30,000 for resorting to violence.
The new rule of JNU was not received well by the students and student groups and was taken back immediately.
However, not everyone feels the same way about the shrinking spaces. Ashutosh Singh, a student at JNU and has been associated with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) since his DU days said that he does not feel that way.
“I personally feel there has been a major change in the way protests are conducted nowadays. When I was in ABVP back in 2014 during my DU days we used to protest but with the coming of social media, those who can not be physically present in protests can be a part of it, so I do not think the space for protest is actually shrinking,” he said.
Singh said that as a student of DU, he does not see the administration stopping any kind of protests. “The major issue I feel is that in some years, students have tried to enforce political agendas. Like in JNU if the issue of fee hike is being raised but then you raise the issue of Abrogation 370, this removes attention from the main issue,” he added.
Singh also said that left and right ideological viewpoints still co-exist in the university. “We all live together in hostels. Student politics is not supposed to take inspiration from mainstream politics, instead it is supposed to inspire them with it. It is important to have a dialogue between people no matter what their ideology is,” he added.
However, while ABVP’s presence has been prominent in DU, its sudden rise in JNU has left those in the left concerned. With the 2020 alleged attack by ABVP on students and teachers left bitter memories, many feel that since the rise of the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, the RSS-backed student body has begun making its presence felt.
AISA Delhi secretary Neha Bora while speaking to The Citizen said that while progressive groups are not being allowed to hold programmes or protests ABVP and its affiliations have no such trouble.
Bora who is also a student of Ambedkar University (AUD) said that in Jamia students are getting show cause notices for merely pasting posters or holding discussions in canteens.
“ABVP or organisations affiliated with them are not only getting grounds, they are getting spaces inside committee and meeting halls, while progressive groups are getting show cause notices,” she said, adding that AUD never stopped students gathering but has been affected by the notices students are receiving.
Bora believes the Covid pandemic gave a gateway to universities to stop gatherings of students in the name of precautionary measures, which still continues. “After Covid previously released circulars during lockdown, where people were stopped from gathering in large numbers, continued even after we were out of the pandemic,” she said.
She added that today’s situation is a clear reflection of the changes that can also be seen in the country. “If they can disqualify such a big opposition leader for asking questions then we are only common students,” she added.
The students, however, believe that even though the situation is grim, raising voices without fear is the only way forward.