Left To Fight Their Own Battles

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State funeral with a difference The police hurriedly carried out the funeral away from Rohith’s friends and kin
State funeral with a difference The police hurriedly carried out the funeral away from Rohith’s friends and kin

“We tried to take up the issue of viva voce with the VC, but he said that such decisions were made by the Academic Council. Now, some members of the academic council are the same faculty who mark papers for entrance exams. So when we raised questions on the disparity of scores, they simply said that there was no such thing,” says Khalid.

Since the death of Vemula, Left organisations across India have expressed solidarity with the scholar and his cause. “In the university, when he was protesting, he did not get support from anyone. Now, a solidarity has been forged between all progressive forces on campus,” says Dickens.

As one of the oldest student organisations in the country, with perhaps the largest cadre, SFI has often maintained a Left-secular character in campuses. Celebrations of Hindu festivals on campus, including Onam and Durga Puja, have only been encouraged despite the party’s atheist credentials. On the contrary, organisations such as BAPSA and ASA have outrightly rejected Hinduism because of its inherent caste structure. “It can perhaps be said that the reason why they (the government) picked on ASA in UoH could be because of its direct confrontational politics with the ABVP,” says Jinas, SFI secretary at UoH.

The aftermath of the Mandal commission report has been a steady and gradual influx of students hailing from socially and economically backward classes to universities and institutes of national importance. In Andhra Pradesh, this translated into the beginning of a self-sufficient student movement that did not need the backing of any mainstream Left organisation. A discourse on identities and caste markers that demarcated one from another was unleashed in universities such as UoH and English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad, where caste was hitherto being dissected theoretically. “The place changed from what it was when I was a student to this ‘overpopulated’ campus,” says an assistant professor.

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ATTACKS ON EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS SINCE MAY 2014

♦ The Union Budget for 2015-16 reduced funds for higher education by Rs 3,900 crore in its revised estimates for the financial year 2014-15. The overall education budget of the Modi government went down from Rs 82,771 crore to Rs 69,074 crore. Allocation of funds for the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) — a centrally sponsored scheme launched in 2013 — was revised to provide strategic funding to eligible higher educational institutions

♦ Proposal to revive the Central Universities Act of 2009 that will require all central universities to follow a common syllabus and admission procedure

♦ Appointments of officials close to the RSS at various institutions, for example, Girish Chandra Tripathi as VC at Benaras Hindu University and Gajendra Chauhan at FTII

♦ Decision made to do away with non-net fellowships, following which students across the country protested, leading to a rollback. In Allahabad University, ABVP’s union representatives resorted to violence to stop a programme in support of the ‘Occupy UGC’ movement

♦ Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle, an independent student body of IIT-Madras was derecognised by the Dean of Students on 22 May 2015 stating that the circle had misused the privileges given by the institute. It later came out that the move had followed a directive by the MHRD

♦ MHRD’s attempt to have separate vegetarian mess halls in the IITs and the IIMs

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When the Sangh Parivar came to power, the government took several steps to keep a check on student politics. Some of the controversial ones included the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan in FTII and the UGC’s attempt to do away with non-net fellowships to research scholars. One of its early attempts at directly interfering in student politics began with the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC), an independent student body at IIT-Madras. In May 2015, the Dean of Students derecognised APSC, following a letter from the MHRD. However, they had to revoke the decision due to severe criticism from all quarters. “The structures to intervene in such a manner were always in place,” says Akhil Bharathan, student at IIT-Madras and founder of APSC. “But it took a BJP government to use these structures and make such attempts.”

At present, in the wake of Vemula’s death, questions on inherent caste discrimination on campuses and the Hindutva brigade’s conflict with Dalit student movements have been raised. While this is certainly commendable, in September 2014, when ABVP activists in Hyderabad’s Osmania University set fire to the room of a Dalit student, Naliganthi Sarath, no case was filed by the police or the administration. No voice of solidarity came from the Left or any progressive force in India.

“Angered by many of our activities on campus, they set fire to my room in front of everyone. At the time, I had joined the AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) and contested the election. They were not happy with this Dalit-Muslim alliance or my candidature,” says Sarath, who is also popularly known as Beef Sarath, after he composed a song on beef and its importance for Dalits. “We fight our own battles. In that sense, we have always been alone.”

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