Published On : Mon, Feb 22nd, 2016

Is a new “freedom struggle” brewing in India among students?

student-indiaNewDelhi/Nagpur: Most of Indians alive today ( the undersigned included) were not born when the Indian freedom struggle against the British was fought, mostly on Gandhian principles of non-violent, non co-operation, but somehow the present conditions in India seems to mirror the atmosphere that must have prevailed at that time.

This is specially true of the atmosphere on numerous Indian campus today.

It began quite innocuously with the Film and Television Students stir in Pune against the foisting of has-been TV star and 3rd grade ‘porn star’ as the Director of the elite institute. His only ‘qualification’ being he was a RSS-BJP man closely associated with the present Government. Despite almost the entire film industry supporting the students, as also other creative people, the government did not budge. After carrying on for almost an year, the students were made to toe the line with threats of the Institute being closed down looming large. This in a way acted as a crucible for students elsewhere in the country.

Next came #Hokkolorob (make some noise) in Jadhavpur, West Bengal. This movement of 2014 was one of the first students’ movements to harness the power of social media and internet activism for coordination. From September 2014, students led a heroic struggle demanding justice for a female student who was molested in the boys’ hostel.

The movement successfully organised a force of almost 80,000 students to gather in the heart of Calcutta demanding the resignation of the VC and other demands. Their demand for the resignation of the vice chancellor Abhijit Chakrabarti was met only on January 12, 2015. Meanwhile, students resorted to hunger strikes, boycott of classes and, in a unique show of solidarity, the topper from the arts faculty, Gitasree Sarkar, refused to accept her certificate and medal along with other students as a mark of protest.

Then came #JusticeforRohith in Hyderabad. The circumstances and conditions in which this young Doctorate student ended his life are fresh in everyone’s mind. Support for rest of the Dalit students who had been ousted with him poured in from all corners of the country and even the PM was forced to take notice. Though action against the other 4 was revoked, the unrest refused to die down.

It just triggered of the latest #Standwithjnu, in the national capital, New Delhi. Students and youngsters here have a glorious history of gathering together for previous causes like Jessica Lal murder case and Nirbhaya rape that shook the collective conscience of the country. More and more, students are rising as an irrepressible force in defence of not just their rights but of everybody who is feeling the brunt of majoritarian politics.

You can hear the anger against establishment even at innocuous agri events like the ‘Seed Festival’ recently held in Nagpur. When a student who is fanatically opposed to genetically modified seeds and Monsanto said ” we will oppose this tooth and nail, even if I have to ‘kill’ an MNC officer or a corrupt politician” to my utter surprise the entire audience clapped and cheered!

Why is the present government not getting the growing sense of this discontent among its young?

The answer is simple. They do not get it, because they largely were not a part of the Freedom Struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders. They were not just from the Congress or ‘secular liberals’ ( which this dispensation has turned into ugly adjectives ) but they were Socialists, communists even Militants like Subhas Chandra Bose and came from all Religions including ‘Minorities’ like Muslims, Sikhs and also Christians. Annie Besant, one of the founders of Indian National Congress was not just a Christian, but ironically,an Englishwoman too!

Not many know that prior to coming to India, she was active in the anti-Church movements in UK and was also a Communist. She became involved with union actions including the Bloody Sunday demonstration and the London matchgirl strikes of 1888. She was a leading speaker for the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF). She was elected to the London School Board, topping the poll even though few women were qualified to vote at that time. Such illustrious people shaped the nascent Education scene of India because Annie In 1898 helped establish the Central Hindu College and in 1922 the Hyderabad (Sind) National Collegiate Board in Mumbai.

Unfortunately, the RSS, and therefore much of the present Ruling political class was NOT a very active part of this movement. The RSS, which has existed almost in a political vacuum ( since it does not fight elections directly and has no ‘inner party’ democracy either) is singularly a ‘Majority Religion organization’. It does not understand or appreciate the vibrant multi-religion, diverse ethos that was cultivated during the freedom struggle where “Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai” was almost as popular a slogan like “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. Mahatma Gandhi was not a person anymore, he was a school of thought.

It is no co – incidence that the RSS student wing, the ABVP, has been a catalyst instigating authoritarian official action against students in Hyderabad and now JNU, Delhi.

As today’s Economic Times puts it succinctly –

“The tricolour was a convenient excuse for the lawyers of the Patiala House Courts to mercilessly beat up Jawaharlal Nehru University ( JNU) students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar, his teachers and the journalists who were covering his court appearance. It was as if the national flag tied on to the lathis they wielded empowered them to break the law, defy the Supreme Court and turn a court of law into a khap panchayat dispensing instant punishment. These are the pseudo-nationalists of an insecure republic guarding their fragile notions of nationhood.

They differ from regular nationalists because they belong to a stream of thought or ideology that was markedly absent when the nation was created through a consensus. The mainstream of the Indian national movement was led by the Gandhian Congress, which itself was a confluence of competing ideas, interests and aspirations.

All those who had drifted gradually from the Congress party to the Congress Socialist Party to various other political outfits like the myriad Socialist factions or the Communist Party or the Revolutionary Socialist Party or the Forward Bloc did not have to the wear the tricolour on their sleeve or shout Vande Mataram because for them that phase was over in 1947. ”

On the other hand, it is for the first time since independence ( and the first time in 800 years many Hindutva brigade like to point out proudly) that RSS is almost directly in power. It is but natural that they want to flex their muscles and ascertain their ideology of ‘Akhand Bharat’ over the country.

In this quest, it is ironically not the main opposition party, the Congress or the other fragmented parties sitting in opposition, that they are finding arrayed in active opposition. These forces apparently are spent ones, so the onus of resistance has been taken over by the large student community.

In 1942, the Quit India movement against the British was not flagged off in Mumbai by Gandhi or Nehru or Patel or any senior Congress leader because they were all in jail already. It was a young Socialist Aruna Asaf Ali who had raised the first cry of “Quit India” that became a roar across the entire sub continent.

Tragically, even the Congress, when in power, forgot this strength of the young, when they initially water cannoned the youth marching for Nirbhaya in Delhi.

If the Congress could not understand it, what hopes of this BJP Government – or worse still of a Smruti Irani who has no political/ ideological experience or grounding at all?

Her government’s efforts to ‘saffronize’ Educational Institutes by selectively encouraging student bodies like ABVP or extend political patronage to select Educational Societies run by RSS is not going to succeed in the least.

Our educational institutes may not be world class any longer but our youth is!

Why just India, if need be, they will be the Leaders and the Harbingers of Change across the globe…

Let us take a collective bow to the Awakened Indian youth whose face today is a jnu student whose parents are Anganwadi workers earning Rs. 3000/ a month.

… Sunita Mudaliar ( Associate Editor )