Last December, even as television news channels were slowly waking up to more horrific details of the gang rape of a 23-year-old on a bus, members of the Jawaharlal Nehru Students’ Union were already protesting outside the Vasant Vihar police station, the morning after the incident came to light.

Soon, the rest of the city caught on, and the capital came to a stand-still as its citizens took to the streets, demanding justice. The agitation lasted almost two weeks.

“It is in the numbers. A protest cannot be successful if we cannot mobilise enough people,” said JNUSU president Lenin Kumar, adding that sometimes even this did not work, even inside the university where most of their agitations took place for redress of student issues.

His sentiments were echoed by Arun Hooda, president of the Delhi University Students’ Union. “We first form a delegation, meet the university administration, follow up aggressively and only when all these have failed do we resort to protests and hunger strikes,” he said. So far this year, the union had succeeded only on two occasions, and that too partially.

Student agitations, however, can sometimes turn violent as was evident in the last students’ union elections in DU this past September. Alleging foul play in the election results, angry activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad went on the rampage, smashing gates, breaking billboards and clashing with the police.

“What played out that day was the natural aggression of the students. The authorities told us that we had lost all posts except for the final post of Joint Secretary in which our candidate had tied with our rivals, the National Students’ Union of India. We were naturally sceptical, since we had swept three posts by a heavy margin in the previous two years. But, they would not show us the counting machines and the policemen barricaded our entry,” said Rohit Chahal, one of the activists who were taken into police custody that day.

He added that aggressive agitations were sometimes the only way to make the students’ voice heard. “The natural instinct of authority is to muffle the voices of students. Unless, the students agitate strongly, nobody is going to take them into account.”