Moment of reckoning for student movements

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Photo: Vijay Pandey
Photo: Vijay Pandey

This involvement of the ministry which directly abetted the suicide of Rohith Vemula indirectly galvanised a student movement like no other, predominantly led by Dalit, Adivasi, Bahujan and Muslim students.

In other words, in spite of the efforts from the government, a larger solidarity seemed to have been forged between students and teachers across universities and have in effect prompted many students resting comfortably within campuses to come out on the streets.

While some call it a throwback to a time when the students worked to oust the Indira Gandhi government during Emergency, others have described this moment of politicisation to be the battle of the nationalists vs anti-nationals.

While it is true that these student movements would be remembered in history for its dissent against the State, their nature of mirroring the sentiments of mainstream political parties, both the Congress and the Left, even as they continue their struggle relentlessly, have left doubts in many of those who seek to see a change in the system and not just the government.

A key slogan of the student movement in JNU, ‘Stand with JNU’ and in defence of ‘the idea of JNU’, has been criticised by Ambedkarites for being in contrast to the very tenets of the movement for Rohith Vemula, which seeks to interrogate universities like UOH and JNU for their complicity in abetting harassment of students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds.

Secondly, the visible discomfort in addressing the organisers’ motives behind holding a cultural evening condemning the capital punishment of Afzal Guru, the slogans which were raised at the event on Azaadi, on the ‘destruction of the country’ and the right to self-determination of Kashmiris has disconcerted some students and activists.

In a solidarity statement published in Raiot website, a group of women faculty who have been working on Kashmir writes, “This could be the opportunity to find a common vocabulary and establish a firm platform for solidarity with Kashmiri voices and ask some important questions which include but are not limited to: Can ongoing conversations on nationalism and the fascist appropriation of the concepts of nation and identity also create a space to discuss the struggle for Kashmiri rights to nationhood and nationalism?… instead of subscribing to the easy binaries between violence and nonviolence that demonise those whose struggles should become grounds to question such neat dichotomies, can we discuss why people might choose to participate in armed rebellions or violent insurrections in the first place? Is it possible that while Kashmiris find new and creative means to extend their solidarities with people and communities who are engaged in an urgent struggle to reclaim public and intellectual spaces across India, for them to expect the same kind of solidarity in return?”

JNU, over the last three years, has witnessed two arrests before this. When SFI activist Nidheesh Narayanan was sent to Tihar for 14 days for protesting at Jantar Mantar, neither the student community nor the professors came out on the streets.

There was no outpouring of solidarity either when a DSU student activist Hem Mishra was arrested and sent to Nagpur jail for three years owing to his affiliation to an organisation that follows Maoist ideology. As a result, DSF in JNU had stayed away from being a part of the solidarity platform for Hem since it did not believe in ‘violence’.

In her address to the Parliament, Smriti Irani, the HRD minister also reads out from a pamphlet that was allegedly written celebrating Mahishasura divas, in memory of the asura who was slain by goddess Durga.

Though the contents of the pamphlet were found to be fabricated, key concerns on Irani raising this along with the slogans raised on 9 February have been ignored.

In JNU, the two other times the university administration revoked permission for events included the BAPSA organised Caste on the Menu film screening and Mahishasura day.

Both events saw altercations between the ABVP  and the organisers and each time, the sentiments of hurting a majority were raised, just like at the cultural evening held on 9 February. Yet, none of the speeches delivered at the university hinted on these events nor did any of the lectures cover these debates that were thrown open at the parliament.