This is a guest post by Sucheta De
The task of higher education in any era besides imparting professional skills should also be to encourage critical consciousness among youth whereby they can critically perceive the surrounding situations and critically reflect on their actions and thoughts and thus contribute to the betterment of the society. Unfortunately, the onslaughts on affordable quality higher education that could inculcate such a consciousness just seem to increase with every passing day under the saffron regime. Today what we face in campuses across the country is a saffron emergency that is being ably executed through two key instruments- On one hand we have the obedient Vice Chancellors and Directors inside University offices who mutely nod their heads to each and every diktat of the MHRD and on the other hand there are the rod-wielding saffron activists on campus streets, ready to violently shut down any sound of protest. In the week that just got over, these twin instruments able demonstrated their functioning!!
The de-recognition of the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle in IIT Madras
Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle, a student body of IIT Madras was banned on 24 May 2015 by the Dean of Students, following the receipt of an anonymous letter by the MHRD. And what exactly was the crime of these students that invited such a drastic measure whereby the university authorities had to de-recognize them? The group was charged guilty of “misusing the privileges” given to them, engaging in “controversial activities” and for “spreading hate against the Modi government”. Not to forget, all this time both the institute and the MHRD were acting solely on the basis of anonymous mails!! The students have since then forcefully responded to each and every accusation against them (http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/full-letter-iit-madras-apsc-students-respond-derecognition) and thoroughly exposed the MHRD and the institutional authorities’ fear of empirically grounded critique of current government’s policies and of the Brahmanical practices that have through administrative patronage found their ways in the institute. As pointed out by students themselves and also various other scholars and activists, it is indeed ironical that while the institute finds nothing problematic with various study circles like the Vivekanand study circle which actively propagates the right wing agenda or with ‘anti-social justice’ groups like Youth for Equality (YFE) which has time and again found fertile breeding ground in IIT Madras campus, it only finds problems with those who dare to question the Brahmanical hegemony and the policies of the ruling class. What could be a better proof of the institutions’ double standards that a group that criticizes government’s policies for being anti-people and specifically anti- Dalit is hounded for being ‘political’, whereas groups like YFE which arose with a clear political agenda of resisting the policies of social justice in India, are encouraged and shielded. The fact that even after considerable protests, the government continues to stay firm in its curbing of dissent, ably supported by yes-men occupying the educational offices is a sad comment on what our institutes are turning into. In contexts of societies in transition, the celebrated author Paulo Freire wrote, “The special contributor of the educator to the birth of the new society would have to be critical education which could help to form critical attitudes, for the naïve consciousness with which the people had emerged into the historical process left them an easy prey to irrationality” (Freire, 1974, 29-30). He goes on to add that education required should enable those engaging with to “discuss courageously the problems of their context and to intervene in that context; it would warn them of the dangers of the time and offer them the confidence and strength to confront those dangers instead of surrendering their sense of self through submission to the decisions of others. By predisposing men to reevaluate constantly, to analyze “findings”, to adopt scientific methods and processes, and to perceive themselves in dialectical relationship with their social reality, that education could help men to assume an increasingly critical attitude towards the world and so to transform it”. Unfortunately, universities where the educators are chosen for the very quality of ‘surrender’ and ‘submission’, it is becoming increasingly a challenge to preserve the spaces of criticality in university. When debates on government policies on land and agricultural, language politics, attempts to create separate messes for vegetarian and non vegetarian food and discussions on relevance of ideas of Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar and Periyar begin to appear threatening to those running educational spaces, it is the very edifice of education that actually stands threatened!! And as the stooges of the saffron brigade in administrative positions continued to demonstrate their efficiency in carrying out the agenda of imposing saffron emergency, the events that unfolded in Delhi University last week showed that the rod wielding force of the saffron brigade wasn’t far behind in accomplishing the tasks it was entrusted with.
The violence unleashed by saffron activists on protestors agitating against CBCS programme in Delhi University
Last year during this very period, the students and teachers of Delhi University were out on streets refusing to be guinea pigs for MHRD’s ill conceived educational experiment called the FYUP. This year, students of the campus are out on streets, yet again, protesting against assaults on the quality of higher education in name of yet another set of ill planned experiment like the CBCS. Unfortunately, while the voice of several protests, memorandums to the government and the several leaflets and posters have fallen on deaf ears, various forms of brutalities and curtailments are unleashed on students daring to speak truth to the powers that be. While on one hand, anonymous letters with malicious intentions and blatantly casteist underpinnings are being taken seriously enough to ban certain groups on campuses, on the other hand, even day light attacks on students that have been captured on videos are ignored. The logic appears to be simple, if you are critical of the policies of the current government then you are seen as a trouble making element who has no right to exist, but instead, if you enjoy the patronage of the ruling government, you are gifted with a divine right to beat up students and political opponents with lathis, hurl choicest of misogynic and sexist abuses at them, threaten them and indulge in their character assassination. And even though, all evidences that prove your guilt will be furnished, formal F.I.Rs and official complains to the university administration, carrying the name of the complainants will be lodged (instead of mailing unverified and unsubstantiated anonymous letters), you will enjoy absolute impunity. All that I have written so far are not speculative ramblings. I am compelled to write about them because as a student activist it pains me that on 28 May 2015, when along with several other comrades of mine, I was present in Delhi University to protest against the hasty imposition of the CBCS programme for which even the basic curriculum has not been readied so far and for which no infrastructural arrangements have been ensured, a brazen assault was unleashed on us by ABVP activists. As AISA activists were distributing pamphlets on the problems with the CBCS programme, the ABVP leaders and their representatives in the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) began snatching the leaflets and soon started beating AISA activists with lathis and hurling sexist abuses at them, even as the police passively looked on, making no attempt to stop them or arrest them.
Six AISA activists were brutally injured with Delhi Police refusing to act. Thereafter, a formal FIR was lodged at Maurice Nagar Police station and an official complaint filed at the Proctor’s office, providing all the available evidences including eye witness testimony. An action on the culprits’ by those who are otherwise quick to act on anonymous complaints remains a far cry. Worse, the ABVP has now brazenly started a campaign targeting the women activists of AISA, including me. Unable to defend their video recorded violence, instead of apologizing, they are resorting to displaying photographs of activists away from the site of violence to try and manufacture some reason for having ‘taught us a lesson’. While, none of their tactics can stop us from speaking up our minds, it is indeed bothersome that while a genuine critique of government policies can invite a ban, acts of violence and character assassination can go scot free if they happen to have been undertaken at the behest of the government or in order to silence those who are critical of the government. And this is not the first evidence of this saffron terror being unleashed on campus spaces. As soon as the Modi led government assumed power at the centre, the ABVP activists handed a free rein to brazenly attack all platforms of dissent. In August 2014, the ABVP had managed to successfully arm twist the administration of St. Xavier’s College to withdraw its invitation to the revolutionary Dalit singer Sheetal Sathe for a panel discussion on the issue of caste during its annual festival. Thereafter its disruptive practices have only become emboldened and more widespread. What else is it if not an emergency that one cannot utter a word of dissent or protest? The saga of arresting students who even utter a word against the PM begin in June 2014 itself when nine students from Shree Krishna College in Kerala were arrested for bringing out a magazine that carried “unsavoury remarks” about the PM. From days of ‘Indira is India and India is Indira’, we have moved to the era of ‘Modi is India and India is Modi’, where a critique against Modi and his policies is assumed to be a statement against the nation. With a near mute opposition inside the Parliament, it is the spaces outside which should take up the challenge for building up an opposition, necessary for a democracy to function. These spaces, of which educational institutions are essential ones, must be saved at all costs. Lastly, the purpose of putting this all down was not just to bring to light the state of affairs as they exist, but also to convey, on behalf of my comrades and all the progressive sections and organizations who have expressed their solidarity with us and with the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle, that we shall not be silenced and as the goes the adage often quoted by the protesting masses- “If oppression is your privilege, protest is out right”.
The author is President, All India Students Association.