THOUSANDS of students from all over India marched under the banner of the Students’ Federation of India to the parliament on March 3, 2017, against the right-wing assaults led by the RSS-BJP-ABVP on education, democracy and social justice, and for a pro-people, pro-student education policy. The call for this march was given by the central executive committee of SFI in the wake of an unrelenting authoritarian assault on campuses and students in the past couple of years in the wake of the imposition of RSS’ agenda of Hindutva. This has also been the period of growing struggles and resistance, with student movement emerging as a catalyst in the fight against authoritarianism.
However, what has gone largely unnoticed is the increasing economic attack on students. Successive central governments have been demonstrating their staunch commitment to private capital and its neoliberal offensive. The present government has acted to accentuate these attacks with sharp budgetary cuts and policy level changes to weaken the public education system in the country. It has gone hand in hand with attacks on social justice through draconian measures such as the UGC gazette notification that directly undermines the autonomy and inclusive character of the public universities. In a nutshell we can say that Modi regime has seen the assault of ‘Triple C’ ie, centralisation, commercialisation and communalisation in every sphere and at every level of education.
The last two and half years have seen militant struggle by student movement across the country. We have the experience of Himachal Pradesh, where students waged a long and relentless struggle on basic education related issues in the colleges and campuses of the state in the wake of the imposition of RUSA. The movement had to face repression of State machinery and administration on one hand and the lumpen assault of the ABVP on the other. Despite all these challenges, the movement was not only able to sustain the momentum, but also emerged victorious by clinching many of the demands. We have the experiences of Assam where the brave resistance by one of the SFI members in Jorhat against sexual harassment paved way for a spontaneous outburst of anger against the deeply entrenched patriarchy in the society. We have the experience of Kerala where SFI’s interventions after the institutional murder of Jishnu by a private engineering college management has helped build a powerful movement of the students studying in the self financing and private colleges of the state. We have the experience of West Bengal where sustained and patient interventions of organisation facing relentless attacks of the TMC machinery has resulted in inspiring victories in the recently held students union elections in the state. Apart from this, this period has seen development of powerful joint movements in campuses across the country against the RSS-BJP assault on campuses, with new alliances developing through the course of the movements. The ‘Chalo Delhi’ was an opportunity to channelise the energy of these mobilisations and reorient the organisation towards developing independent strength so as to further strengthen such mass movement of the students.
Student activists and leaders from 19 states representing more than 43 lakh students started the march with entire area reverberating with powerful and energetic slogans. The march came just a few days after the RSS-ABVP assault on the students, teachers and media persons in Delhi University and subsequent brave resistance by the entire university community. It was hence that media saw SFI’s ‘Chalo Delhi’ call as an immediate response to ABVP violence and almost all newspapers and media channels were forced to acknowledge the powerful mobilisation.
The march started from Mandi house and culminated in a public meeting at Jantar Mantar. Sitaram Yechury, former all India president of SFI and general secretary of the CPI(M), Vikram Singh, general secretary of SFI, Hannan Mollah, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, VP Sanu, all India president of SFI, Madhuja Senroy, vice-president of SFI, Mayukh Biswas, joint secretary of SFI, Dipsita Dhar, SFI central secretariat member and Sunand Singh, SFI central secretariat member addressed the massive gathering.
Sitaram Yechury made a scathing attack on RSS-BJP’s assault on democratic rights across the country and expressed confidence that SFI will emerge victorious in this struggle by mobilising widest possible sections of students in the campuses. He said that today those forces are distributing the certificates of nationalism, which had no role to play in the freedom struggle of the country.
Students of the country are in a struggle for a pro-student education policy focused on addressing the needs and requirements of the Indian education system. This education policy can only be evolved by the active participation of teachers, academicians and students, and not by the dictates of the RSS headquarter in Nagpur. For last two years, we have seen militant struggle against fee hike, to have state control on private institutions, for social justice, in defence of democracy.
The march reasserted the alternative vision of education for a better India. At a time when the Hindutva combine is attacking the very foundations of our education system to further its ideological agenda, it becomes very important that we build a movement with a positive agenda. As our own experiences suggest this will be possible only when we make the basic education related issues the core in our endeavors of developing the independent strength of the organisation. This will have to be combined with the correct and immediate responses to the RSS-BJP offenses wherever and whenever they appear. The ‘Chalo Delhi’ call will definitely help gear up the organisation in realising this task.