Guest Post by Sudha K F and Muhammed Afzal P
The semester break seems to be the most active time for the English and Foreign Languages University (Hyderabad) administration. What are these activities that the administration invests so much of its energies in, when most students have left the campus for their vacation? It is sending memos, show cause notices and the latest: the RUSTICATION of two significant student leaders on the EFLU campus.
When the word ‘fascist’ has become an everyday term, to talk about the Modi nightmare and its anxieties, we have more to add to that list from EFLU, Hyderabad. Mohan Dharavath, President of Dalit Adivasi Bahujan Minority Students’ Association and Satish N, General Secretary of Telengana Students’ Association, have been rusticated from the University for two years, the latest in a series of draconian and undemocratic moves, on the part of the autocratic EFLU administration. The two students, along with another student, Subhash Kumar, were given show cause notices by the Proctor’s office on 24 March, to which they responded, denying the baseless charges levelled against them. The rustication is part of the disciplinary action against these students who were part of a massive protest that took place against the administration, called forth by the EFLU Students’ Union. This protest was against the absolute closure of the only 24-hour reading room, and library, on the small EFLU campus in the first week of March 2014.
On 8th March, the students of English and Foreign Languages University in the city of Hyderabad woke up to find the locked-down glass doors of the University’s Ramesh Mohan Library, regarded as one of the best libraries in Asia in English Studies. This was happening on the eighth day of a massive students protest led by the elected Students’ Union against the closing down of the University’s only 24-hour reading room. The closing down of the reading room, the angry students were told, when they demanded an answer from the Administration as there was no notice about why the library was closed down, that there were ‘rumors’ that the students were planning to “occupy the library”. It was not a rumor; the previous night the student community of EFLU had taken it upon themselves to mobilize each and every student to join the Students’ Union’s protest against the closing down of the reading room. Apart from the door to door campaign, the walls of the 38 acre campus were filled with posters, demanding the re-opening of the reading room. The reading room, an important space of campus life, was closed down on 3 March without giving any satisfactory reasons or any alternative measures. The initial explanation supplied for the closure was that the reading room was under renovation and in three days this transformed into an argument for gender segregation, where the only space for male and female students to interact, study together was being closed down. One of the members of the administration even said that the students were “misusing” the reading room, a statement that smacks of moral policing. This was in continuity to the series of repressive decisions that the Administration, that has been persistently trying to impose, over the student community of the campus, aspiring for complete erasure of spaces of democratic protest or resistance. Shockingly, when the protest was happening in the premises of the library, the administration had threatened the Students’ with police force. (http://kafila.org/2014/03/10/the-occupy-library-protest-in-eflu-hyderabad-anonymous/) ‘Autonomous’ as the description of a central university has been is given new meanings by the EFLU administration; a tutorial for the students on the English language, perhaps?
The students, still catering to democratic means of protesting, believed that the administration will respond to their grievances. However, when the they went to meet the authorities under the leadership of the Students’ Union President, a post that lay vacant for four years, they were told by one of the key members in the admin that, “You can sit here and
protest. We don’t care even if you die”. The fact that the admin does not care even if a student dies is a fact known very well to the students, as they have seen in the case of one of their fellow students who was forced to take his own life, on campus. The Students’ Union decided to went ahead with the protest, demanding basic amenities. On 4th march, the students occupied the library, in short notice. What welcomed the students was a notice, in the form of a threat, that they should leave the library and that the library will be closed down at 7:30 (note that the library in a central university functions only till 8 pm). The Registrar and the Proctor, who came to the library asking the students to leave in five minutes, did not even bother to talk to them. What they did instead was to issue a threat against the elected Students’ Union, asking them state whether it called for the protest and to state if otherwise. They threatened to take action against the Union. After awhile, the EFLU community had to witness to the shameful situation of police entering the library to evict Students’. But they continued their struggle till 11 o’clock and they were ready to continue till their goal was achieved. However, the ACP, acted as a mediator between the students and the admin and the Deputy Proctor assured that there would be a negotiation meeting the next day. In the meanwhile, the admin had filed a complaint against the Union President Mr Shagun Chaturvedi, who incidentally, is one of the very few, if any, differently-abled Students’ Union president ever in any Indian university. Since the negotiation meeting did not yield any result, the Students’ were forced to go ahead with the protest.
In a general body meeting held at Sagar Square, an open place, the students unanimously asked the Students’ Union to go ahead with the protest, and many democratic means of protests such as street painting, protest reading, etc. were planned. On 10th March, the public passing through the Osmania University-Secunderabad road witnessed a novel form of protest, the students sitting on the public road and reading from their books, making the street their reading room.
Despite the participation of hundreds of students in the public reading protest, nobody from the admin came forward for any talks, as the normal business of the university was not affected. The next day, on which the Union had called for an Occupy Library protest once more, the library, was found closed. The students already agitated about the closing down of the reading room gathered in front of the library. Office bearers of the Union and student leaders controlled the students from turning violent. After some one hour one of the doors was opened. Since there was a negotiation which was happening, the students thought that the library was being opened and in the rush ensued one of the glass doors was apparently broken. By that evening, the admin was, however, forced to revoke the decision to close down the reading room. The EFLU community soon had access to their library and reading room.
The admin revoked the decision, and the students were sure that there will be some retaliation, though it is a commonly followed practice in democratic negotiation to withdraw any complaints against the protestors. The admin, who already had enough reasons to take revenge against certain students, issued show cause notices to them. The Students’ Union, on its part, had assured the student community that it would fight for them, if any disciplinary actions were initiated. And the Union gave a representation to the Proctor, Vice chancellor and registrar that it was the Union who called for the protest and there should not be any action against any particular students.
The “Occupy Library” protest as an innovative way to address the pressing situation of closing down of the reading room and library has not been the only one in the country. It has happened in various universities (like the Calicut University in Kerala), over weeks, whereas this protest that happened in EFLU campus for a week or so was met with such atrocious disciplinary action. It has also to be noted that (Bulldozing any voice of dissent has been the mode of functioning of this administration and one does not have enough words or energy to articulate the deep felt outrage against this inhuman, callous and apathetic decision, very seriously affecting the personal and academic lives of our fellow students Mohan and Satish. One can only see such targeted actions against these two research students ( and that too, what wonderful timing!) as a planned programme, with its spectacular effects such punishment seeks to elicit, of terrifying any other student who is ready to voice her/his voice against the injustices carried out by the administration.
We would like to underline again that this was a protest for a basic amenity like an all day open reading room: Armies have been deployed for that, so that our autonomous kingdom is going to remain eerily silent and people there gets awards and medallions for the best “autonomous” rule, perhaps?
We completely condemn such an autocratic and undemocratic mode of functioning, which EFLU administration has been resorting to persistently, and ask for the immediate withdrawal of the rustication orders, handed out to Mohan Dharavath and Satish. We believe this disciplinary action is a huge blow to the morale of the student community of EFLU and is shutting off all doors of democratic protest and existence, rather violently, in the university.
We are aware of the fact that repressive measures have been employed various university administrations across the country against student protests. The seizing of the office of an elected Students’ Union in DU was one of the more recent in it. We see this as a further shrinking of democratic spaces within our university campuses, most of which have been transformed to gated communities and concentration camps. We urge all to support the EFLU community in their fight against this repressive administration.
Sudha K. F, and Muhammed Afzal P. are both Ph D Cultural Studies Scholars at EFLU, Hyderabad
See also, earlier in Kafila