Moment of reckoning for student movements

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Democracy class Students and faculty members gathered in the jnu campus for a class on nationalism | Photo: Vijay Pandey
Democracy class Students and faculty members gathered in the JNU campus for a class on nationalism | Photo: Vijay Pandey

Sporting a grin, Lenin said, “It was a mistake to go on that show but I think the anchor [Arnab Goswami] is in bigger trouble. He went all out against us and now, he cannot backtrack despite these attacks on journalists by goons. He has made a bigger mistake.”

When I ask him if he is worried for his life considering how he was labelled a deshdrohi, he replies with the same grin, “I get online threats every day. My family and this university support me. I am not afraid.”

Not just Lenin, but almost every student and professor on campus, who feels wronged after the government came down heavily on the student activists, have been sporting a spirit quite unlike like any other. Inside a bus to JNU, I watched a girl student get into a heated argument with a passenger on the incident.

Asking him how the slogans affected him personally, the student continued her debate with the passenger without losing any patience.

When both of them ended the argument conceding that they would not agree with each other, I realised that the country was witnessing a moment of politicisation, as the student continued to hold her ground, explain in earnest to someone outside of the elite academia what was wrong in sending police to a university campus.

However, this is not to say that the students are geared to take on the State. Most of them who have not been actively involved in the university’s student politics, harbour fear even as they raise slogans in support of the arrested.

When I approach a group of post-graduate women students standing in a huddle, they ask me to fish out my ID, apologising that they have no other option considering how the university was vilified by the media.

As I take out my ID, I ask them what they think of ‘Bharat Mata’. Pallavi, the most articulate student in the group says, “We have been learning this in class. How the Bharat Mata is invariably a woman in distress who needs protection. The inherent patriarchy in this sentiment is quite obvious to us.”

When I ask them if they want the students to be convicted, they respond with a vehement ‘No’. “This was an event that was organised on the university campus and all it requires is a university enquiry. Nothing more,” says Pallavi.

The Sangh Parivar’s disgruntlement against various universities across the country is no surprise if one takes into account the number of protests that erupted across various campuses soon after the NDA came to power.

At Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, the disagreement between the students and the government over the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan resulted in a 139-day long strike where the students refused to attend classes.

Calling off the strike later, the students maintained that they would continue their protests and perhaps, in this effort to register their dissent, two of them stood up at the inauguration ceremony of International Film Festival of India (IFFI ) and raised slogans against Arun Jaitley, the Information & Broadcasting minister.

Such protests or slogans at film festival venues is not a first, nationally or even internationally. The government, however, did not take kindly to the slogans and almost indirectly proposed a blanket ban on the students being present anywhere close to the venue.

IFFI  authorities at niche venues like Film Bazaar where quick to send anyone who was sporting a FTII T-shirt away. To an outsider, it seemed the government was tremendously anxious about anyone who rendered a few words against its policies. Slogans, apparently, had the power to send the government into panic mode and rain blows on students who had minuscule resources compared to the State.

In IIT Madras, this translated into the MHRD  involving itself in the ban of Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle and later, the institute revoking it, after the backlash. It therefore came as no surprise when Roundtable India published a series of letters that showed the ministry’s active involvement in monitoring the activities of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA ) at UOH — again at the behest of a complaint registered by the ABVP.