JNU to DU: the embers of protests refuse to die

Upping the ante During the protests on North Campus on Tuesday. Sushil Kumar Verma   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The students of Delhi, up in arms protesting against the RSS’s student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), have turned the spotlight on the political churning of our times.

On Tuesday, Gurmehar Kaur, a first year Lady Shri Ram College student in Delhi, withdrew her association with the “Students against ABVP” protest group. Though the daughter of a Kargil martyr, who fuelled the fire among Delhi University students with her statements against the ABVP, left the protest campaign, other students carried forward with protest marches, raising slogans such as ‘Fight Back DU’ in order to keep the embers alive.

A week ago

Last week in Ramjas College, Delhi University, a fight broke out between the ABVP and the left-affiliated All India Student’s Association (AISA) over an invite to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Umar Khalid for a seminar ‘Cultures of Protest’ organised by Ramjas College. Khalid was accused of sedition over an event last year where anti-national slogans were allegedly raised. The ABVP had also protested the invite to Shehla Rashid, JNU student and vice-president of the students union from 2015-16, who had mobilised students to oppose the sedition charges against Khalid and others last year. When Ramjas students and professors took out a protest march to the Maurice Nagar police station after not being allowed to hold the seminar, a tussle followed between ABVP and AISA, and an English professor Prasanta Chakravarty and several students were beaten up and injured.

A year ago

The incident at Ramjas College follows from what happened in JNU last year where students Kanhaiya Kumar, also president of JNU Student’s Union and Umar Khalid, a pro-Kashmir student activist, were attacked by ABVP members for allegedly raising anti-national slogans during a protest meeting held in memory of the parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru, hanged in 2013. Cases of sedition were registered against Kumar and Khalid, among several students who were accused of participation in the meeting as well. However, a year on police investigators have cast doubt on the validity of the sedition charges as no valid evidence has been found against the students.

Why the fight?

What is at the centre of the protest, essentially, is ideology. What kind of ideas can be discussed on campus and what cannot is at the centre of the ongoing struggle. However, ideological clashes of such a nature aren’t new to Indian college campuses. Student affiliation to rival political groups has resulted in power struggles within college campuses with each group trying to exert its authority. At the heart of the matter is the politicisation of the campuses. Students feel they are unable to freely exchange ideas or take a position on relevant issues and if they do, there is a price to pay.

Electoral prospects

The presence of political groups within college campuses has declined over the years. In 2006, the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations to the Supreme Court on student politics allowed for conducting student elections in a transparent manner. However, it did not ban the presence of political groups in the form of student unions. The Committee in its reports spoke of “balancing the interest of student democracy and political education with the larger interest of maintaining an ‘academic atmosphere’ within the university and the college campus”. While polling percentages recorded in JNU last year stood at 59% during student union elections, in DU only over 35% of students participated in the polls, according to a PTI report. Despite this, politically affiliated student unions have retained their popular presence in campuses, especially in Delhi.

Similar protests

The suicide of a Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula in University of Hyderabad following his suspension from the University after a clash with a ABVP leader N. Susheel Kumar, led to similar protests in Hyderabad in 2016. The trigger for the clash was a demonstration by the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) in August, 2015 against the death penalty for Yakub Memon, a convicted terrorist involved in the 1993 Bombay bombings. The Association, of which Vemula was also a member, had attacked the ABVP for blocking the screening of the documentary Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai in Delhi University. The documentary showed the communal polarisation in Muzzafarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, during the BJP’s electoral campaign in that State. Following the clash, ASA members involved in the protests were suspended from the University, triggering Vemula’s suicide.


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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 8:53:33 AM |

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