Amid sustained demands and as part of its pre-poll promise, the Samajwadi Party government restored student unions in Uttar Pradesh last year, with assurances that a young Chief Minister could best address students’ grievances.
However, within a year of the party coming to power, the general ‘lawlessness’ in the State has swept the campuses, with symptoms of the old muscle-flexing and clear disregard for the Lyngdoh Committee proposals — the main reason the previous government outlawed unions.
The incidents of students staging chakka jams, protests, vandalising property, hurling crude bombs, shooting rivals, attacking teachers and unapologetically flaunting political colours no longer come as a shocker.
In an open letter, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Vice-Chancellor Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Zameer Uddin Shah recently warned students of a growing ‘Katta’ (country-made pistol) culture.
While the incidents are too many to enumerate, the police are probing 10 recent episodes of violence at AMU, including attempt to murder cases. Likewise, The Hindu found at least 35 FIRs, some evoking the Gangsters Act, in the past year in relation to Allahabad University (AU). At Benaras Hindu University, where student union elections are expected anytime this year after an imposed eight-year hiatus, incidents of inter-faction violence and effigy-burning have been reported. It is much the same in Kanpur, Gorakhpur and Lucknow.
The onus for peace has fallen on student unions, which have traditionally been nurseries for both State and national politics. The aggression is mainly aimed at a ‘deaf and slow-acting administration.’
“If students go with genuine issues, the babus show them the rulebook. When the frustrated students get aggressive, the officials call for enquiries!” says AUSU president Dinesh Yadav. He was expelled in February after he, along with other union members, barged into the VC’s office and allegedly manhandled the staff.
“We had gone to raise the issue of anomalies in CRET admissions, but the VC wouldn’t listen to us,” he says. The university did call a probe, but only after much damage was done.
Similarly, earlier this month, AMUSU vice-president Tausif Alam was suspended for ‘violent agitations and rowdy behaviour,’ in a clear indication that the universities lay the blame on the unions. In BHU, too, it was after the students gheraoed the Vice-Chancellor that he agreed to form a women’s cell to look into a sexual harassment issue, with the accused reportedly being close to a State minister.
AU Proctor M.A. Tiwari believes that the students have valid grievances and officials at different levels may not always redress them fairly. However, “there’s no justification for the goonda culture.”
In October, a two-member committee — comprising the former UGC chairman, Professor Sukhdeo Thorat, and the former director of the IIT-Kanpur, Professor Sanjay Dhande, set up after large-scale violence broke out over the removal of illegal hostel inmates — observed that AU was inept at tackling on- campus violence.
However, the varsity heads have alleged that the unions are using the patronage of political parties, in particular the ruling party, to spread the “goonda culture.”
“Every time the Samajwadi Party comes to power, the students go out of control. They do not fear police action,” said a senior varsity official.
The student unions, on the other hand, blame dubious outsiders, including former students with political affiliations, for the unlawful activities.
Away from the mudslinging, Anugrah Narayan, Congress MLA and former AUSU president, says the administration should coordinate with the students and deal with their grievances logically.
“Since the elections were held after a gap, political maturity is missing. The age-limit has also been lowered. Instead of creating walls, there must be communication.”