We, the undersigned, wish to express our dismay and deep concern about the recent violent events at University College, Thiruvananthapuram, which seem to indicate that the rights of college students, especially women students, are seriously compromised in this venerable institution. As women researchers, academics and teachers of Malayali origin, we are deeply disappointed by the responses of the police, the concerned college authorities, and the teachers there.
Irrespective of what happened on 9 February, even if the students and their friend who are being demonized by members and supporters of the leading students’ organization in social media and outside were at fault, there were lawful ways of dealing with the incident. The fact that alleged supporters of the SFI took the law into their hands and then went on to unleash a veritable blitzkrieg of propaganda against these students is utterly regrettable, as also the shocking laxity of the police in this regard. Also, as teachers ourselves, we cannot but express our alarm at the apparent passivity of the teachers in this institution in this issue. Under the Indian Constitution, higher education has necessarily to be training for full and equal citizenship, and teachers, more than anyone else, are bound to uphold this inside and outside the classroom.
Kerala is often regarded as a state where women have achieved much, going by the indicators of social development, but we have also become painfully aware of the intense hostility, even among progressive groups, to women’s mobility, freedom of speech, and indeed, towards their right to be full citizens. We believe that it is the duty of a progressive government, led by Left parties, and of college teachers, who cannot slip away from the commitment to Indian democracy, to work towards ameliorating women’s unfreedoms. This is indeed a responsibility that cannot be abandoned without sacrificing the claim to be on the political left altogether.
The events of 9 February 2017 involving organized violence by a section of students against two women students and a male visitor invited by them to the campus are still shrouded under a veritable series of gossip, hearsay, and vicious rumours, all directed against these students. The police complaint filed by these students, which is indeed quite serious (190/2017, Cantonment Police Station, Thiruvananthapuram City) seems to be languishing, while there are reports that the counter-complaint filed by certain supporters of the SFI, well-after the aggrieved students had approached the police, are being taken up in an excessively vengeful manner. The aggrieved students complain of being stalked; their mothers were insulted on campus; and the assault on them by supporters of the SFI continues to be relentless. Public apologies by the SFI leadership and CPM leaders are welcome; however, they remain meaningless unless the harassment continues online and offline.
Needless to say, students have been beacons of hope in our struggles to protect Indian democracy, and the active role that women students have played in combating anti-democratic forces in recent times can hardly be denied. We appeal to the Communist-led Government of Kerala, and the Hon. Education Minister of Kerala, Prof. C Raveendranath , to urgently intervene in a positive manner in this issue to ensure that the rights of the women students and their guest are fully protected, and that the police investigation into this incident proceeds in a swift, unbiased manner. We request you to undertake immediate measures to democratize the atmosphere in college campuses in Kerala, so that the education imparted there enables all students to emerge as confident, responsible citizens committed to democracy and openness. We appeal to the teachers of the University College to stand openly by the values of the Indian Constitution, and the rights of women students in this decisive moment.
Uma Chakravarti, Delhi University.
Mary E John, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi.
G Arunima, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Nivedita Menon, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Janaki Nair, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Janaki Abraham, Department of Sociology, New Delhi.
Ritty Lukose, New York University.
Shoba Arun, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Bindu M Menon, Lady Shree Ram College, Delhi University
Meena Gopal, TISS, Mumbai
Binitha V Thampi, IIT Madras, Chennai
Navaneetha M, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
J Devika, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.
Leena Abraham, TISS, Mumbai
Praveena Kodoth, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.
Bindhulakshmi P, TISS, Mumbai.
Sharmila Sreekumar, IIT Povai, Mumbai.
Bindu K C, Ambedkar University, Delhi.