June 14, 2015

Assault on Free Speech will be Strongly Resisted

V Sivadasan

 THE authorities of the IIT Madras have withdrawn the decision to derecognise the student association named Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC) on June 6, 2015. It has happened not because of the goodwill of the officials but due to the nationwide struggle launched by democratic and progressive forces in our country. APSC had been derecognised by the dean of students of IIT Madras at the instigation of the ministry of human resource development on May 28, 2015. The group became an eye sore to the NDA government since it criticised the policies of the NDA regime and the politics of RSS and BJP. An anonymous complaint which is evidently the handiwork of Sangh Parivar has been used as the basis for such an action. The anonymous complaint had alleged that the group was inciting hatred against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindus and the group was attempting to de-align SC and ST students to make them protest against the MHRD and the central government. The under secretary of the MHRD cited this anonymous complaint while requesting the management of IIT Madras to give its comments of the issue. The authorities of the IIT Madras have made obvious their eagerness to be submissive by derecognising the APSC without even issuing a show cause notice, thus denying even natural justice to the student group.
           APSC is a voluntary student group which organises discussions and meetings in the IIT Madras campus. Ambedkar and Periyar have left an illustrious legacy of heroic struggles to do away with caste-based discrimination, social inequality and exclusion. Their relentless struggles to achieve social equality were crucial in the formation of India as a secular and democratic republic and have immensely contributed to the task of building a nation. Periyar took a brave stand against caste oppression and he was of the view that feudalism and capitalism are parasitic. He famously said that, “I am also the one who says that besides kings, rich men, landed aristocracy and capitalists are groups that should be eliminated as they are parasites on men”. If a group which claims to propagate the thoughts of those who contributed immensely to build the nation and its constitution, becomes opposed to the incumbent government, then in a democracy, it should be the turn of the defied regime to take a critical look at its own functioning. But instead, the present regime led by Narendra Modi has shown extreme intolerance to free speech and criticism by violating every democratic norm and persuading the IIT Madras to derecognise the dissenting group. If this outrageously dictatorial move does not surprise us, it is only because of the series of similar atrocious violations which have preceded it. The authoritarian move once again confirms the larger design which the neoliberal Hindutva ruling class is putting forward.
          Voracious capitalism in its neoliberal avatar is not confined to structural adjustment.  In order to suppress the resistance of those who become the victims of its policies of private aggrandisement of public resources, neoliberalism tries to reorder the social. So Hindutva ideology which attempts to produce a monolithic Hindu identity suits the purpose since it tries to create a faceless collective which could be easily controlled. Communalism tries to achieve this in two ways. On the one hand, it tries to create an ‘alien other’ which it demonises. On the other, it tries to deny the diversity and inequity within a community. Both serve the purpose of building a community of a monolithic identity with a false ‘other’ to fight for.
        So anyone who takes up the issue of caste becomes an immediate eye sore to the Hindutva forces. There is a concerted attempt to instill   rightist ideas among the younger generation as groups which promote such ideologies are selectively promoted.  There is an attempt to replace Ambedkar and Periyar with the Sangh ideologists like Godse and Golwalkar.  While groups like Youth for Equality with their staunch opposition to affirmative action are termed as non political groups and get freedom to function, the student groups and associations which attempt critical thinking are immediately shown the door.  This goes very well with the suggestions of the Birla-Ambani commission on higher education, which wants campuses to be free of student politics. The IITs allow no democratic spaces to the students. Any kind of political activity invites swift punitive reaction in the name of maintaining discipline. Such authoritarian methods of handling democratic aspirations have helped the authorities to enforce their whims and fancies which are often violative of the interests of the student community.
           IITs have witnessed sharp hikes in tuition fees and other expenses. The government appointed committee headed by Kakodkar had advised a hefty hike in tuition fees and with scant regard for the opinion of the students, the IITs hiked the fees by almost 100 percent. It was stated that the hike was to ensure financial sustainability and the added justification was that students could avail bank loans to fund their studies. Opposition to fee hike was met with disciplinary actions and suppression of dissent.   The bane of bank loans, making students debt ridden from the start of their career was overlooked.  The dependency on bank loans makes students insecure and conforming to the authority. The hostels and mess facilities are also exploitative. The students have to pay heavy hostel bills but the quality of the food is no match to the price paid and often the food costs higher than that available in the open market. This should be seen as a serious case of mismanagement.  
        The IITs often attract the best minds in academics but there are many who are in for minting money. Corruption is rampant in some departments where concocted accounts help the corrupted ones to misappropriate public resources. There have been some instances where the research findings of the students are misappropriated by the teachers and published in their name. Such heinous practices of intellectual robbery often go unquestioned as the students have no means to avail justice. The plea of activists and academics in addressing the issues of dalit and adivasi students has been ignored by the IIT system. Hostility towards the reservation system and caste based discrimination pervade the whole system. Gender sensitisation is also very low in IITs where the harassment of women often goes unaddressed. The authoritarian approach combined with the external pressures is making IITs suicide hubs of India. The banning of any form of political activity creates a state of social anomie which is reflected in the abnormally high rate of suicides in the IIT hostels. All the major IITs like IITs in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Roorkee, Guwahati, and Kanpur have witnessed students committing suicide out of depression and mental stress.
            The students have no legitimate ways to register their protest or to redress their grievances. The system gives them no say. The syllabi and curricula of IITs have nothing which instills a sense of social responsibility in the minds of the students. The IITs are serving as recruiting grounds for MNCs. It seems that the ruling class has forgotten the fact that there is a group of students and teachers within the IITs who are against such a policy. Voices of resistance and dissent will only strengthen in the days to come.  While the Make in India campaign is going on, the government has used the last budget to reduce the allocation of resources to education. In this context, the decision to derecognise the APSC should be seen as shooting the messenger. Students’ Federation of India has strongly condemned this move and has declared its open support to the APSC. It has also decided to take up grass root level initiatives to organise protests and resistance against the neoliberal Hindutva majoritarianism. Any attempt to stifle voices of dissent will be resisted. We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that Hindutva majoritarianism is defeated.