A MASSIVE ‘Student-Youth Assembly Against Discrimination’ raising the slogan “Defeat Fascism, Defend the Republic” was held in Mumbai on April 23 by a joint platform committee consisting of six student organisations, Students’ Federation of India (SFI), All India Students Federation (AISF), Progress Students Front (PSF) of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, All India Students Association (AISA), Chhatrabharati, All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO) and four youth organisations, Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), All India Youth Federation (AIYF), Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) and Purogami Yuvak Sanghatana (PYS).
Institutional murder of Rohith Vemula, assaulting and imprisoning student leaders in false cases using draconian laws, criminalising dissent, unleashing violence at will, cold-blooded killings of Dr Narendra Dabholkar, Comrade Govind Pansare, Professor MM Kalburgi, Mohsin Sheikh of Pune, Mohammad Akhlaq of Dadri, Mohammad Majloom of Jharkhand along with a twelve year old boy Inayatullah Khan – all these crimes have given rise to a wide spectrum of resistance movements in recent times. Student-youth protest actions have been a major feature of the resistance. The Mumbai assembly was part of the efforts to spread the movement among more and more sections of students and youth in Maharashtra.
More than two thousand students, youth and other people attended the nearly six hour long meeting held at Adarsha Vidyalaya in Chembur. The meeting hall with a seating capacity of more than a thousand was packed beyond capacity with participants squatting on the floor, standing along the walls and overflowing into the verandah. Many hundreds who could not reach anywhere near the hall watched the proceedings relayed to a big screen in another location in the school compound. That arrangement also proved insufficient and many had to satisfy themselves hearing the speeches in public address system from adjacent compound.
The main factor which pulled so large a crowd to the assembly was the presence of student leaders from various universities who are in the fore-front of confronting the Hindutva attack, especially JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar. The secular collective of Mumbai gathered in large numbers to hear these student leaders defying threats issued by several Hindutva groups. The rightwing extremist groups had pulled all stops in their efforts to intimidate the people and dissuade them from attending the meeting. Sections of Mumbai police actively assisted them in their conspiracies.
Of late, Mumbai police has become extra active in suppressing student-youth protest movement against fascistic forces. Only a few weeks earlier, student and youth activists protesting in Dadar against police atrocities in Hyderabad University were taken into illegal custody and brutally beaten inside Matunga police station. Mumbai police’s machinations against student-youth assembly were a logical continuation of that criminal act by their officers in Dadar.
The programme was scheduled to be held at Janta Shikshan Sanstha in Worli. But two days prior to the programme, this institution cancelled the permission which they had earlier granted, joining a long list of institutions in Mumbai who refused their halls to hold student-youth assembly obviously under pressure from radical rightwing forces as well as sections of Mumbai police. There was great jubilation in the rightwing camp thinking that Mumbai programme of Kanhaiya Kumar and other student leaders would not take place. Only a week back, they had unleashed violence during Kanhaiya Kumar’s Nagpur visit. But the Mumbai programme was successfully conducted at a new venue namely Adarsha Vidyalaya, Chembur. Management of this institution led by progressive social activists stood in solidarity with student-youth community in the face of rightwing groups’ and police authorities’ machinations to prevent students-youth assembly. These developments resulted in student-youth assembly getting wide media coverage.
Student-youth volunteers made elaborate arrangements and were so prepared that no one dared to create trouble like how they had tried in Nagpur. Perhaps the plan to attack Kanhaiya Kumar inside the plane from Mumbai to Pune was hatched after they failed to create any disturbance in the Mumbai programme.
Retired Justice BG Kolse Patil inaugurated the assembly. Well-known film-maker Anand Patwardhan, editor of ‘Communalism Combat’ magazine Teesta Setalwad, and famous Marathi writer Jayant Pawar addressed the first session for which the theme was “Neoliberalism and Hindutva – twin offensives against the Republic”. The session was chaired by Dr Irfan Engineer, Director of Centre for Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS).
In his inaugural address, Justice Kolse Patil said the time has come for a powerful movement to free the nation from both capitalist and brahmanical forces. RSS which is a conspiratorial group is behind many tragedies of our nation, he said. He gave the call for ‘RSS mukt Bharat’, an India free of the RSS menace. He said youth protests emerging in the country are a great source of hope and denounced the shameful ways in which State machinery is trying to suppress the movement.
Teesta Setalvad spoke about the various ways in which resources of our country are being handed over to corporate barons like Adani. Providing cover to such loot is one of the reasons behind creating terror in the society by killing innocent people like Mohsin Shaikh and Mohammed Aklaq, she said.
Jayant Pawar said that the policies of liberalisation promoted by big business have wrecked the livelihoods of majority of people and also pushed the middle classes to reactionary ideologies. Increasing caste discrimination, communalism and atrocities against women are a result of this. Systems of discrimination have acquired unprecedented brutality to the extent of snatching the life of a young philosopher like Rohith Vemula.
Anand Patwardhan said that the linkages of Hindutva offensive must be correctly understood in the context of violent identitarian politics promoted by war-mongering imperialism in many parts of the globe. On the economic front the “liberalisation” process that began in the 1980’s consolidated in the next decades as GATT and WTO cast its net wider. Apart from minerals, fossil fuels and water, imperialism wants to control education and popular culture in order to spread vulgar commoditisation. World business is a highly integrated, coordinated mechanism with unimaginable economic power. Any strong, secular democracy has always been anathema to imperialists and neo-colonialists out to destroy sovereignty. Having destroyed the fabric of democracy in Pakistan via Islamisation, it is not too far-fetched that the axis of evil is now supporting the same destruction in India, via Hindutva, he said. The film-maker said that the only choice before us is to unite all forces that can possibly be united against corporate and communal assaults.
While delivering his presidential address Dr Irfan Engineer said that the Congress had declared emergency in 1975 and now BJP has instituted an undeclared emergency. He said that it is the disgusting perversity of our times that RSS which never was part of the national freedom struggle is now teaching the people of India lessons of nationalism! Student and youth movement is opening newer opportunities for all patriotic forces to unite against this threat.
Datta Chavan, secretary of SFI Maharashtra state committee welcomed the gathering in this session. Santosh Khodade of AISF was the compere and Akansha Tyagi of AIDSO proposed the vote of thanks.
Theme of the second session was “Sharpening dissent, widening resistance”. Main speakers in this session were JNU students’ union president Kanhaiya Kumar and vice-president Shehla Rashid, Allahabad University students union president Richa Singh, Hyderabad Central University students’ union president Zuhail KP and FTII students’ association president Harishankar Nachimuthu. Sagar Bhalerao of Chhatrabharati, Dhananjay Kangude of RYA and Ajay Srivastav of Purogami Yuvak Sanghatana also spoke. The session was chaired by Preethy Sekhar, secretary of DYFI Maharashtra committee. Abhilasha of AISA welcomed the guests in this session. Shambuk Sankalpana of AISF was the compere.
Preethy Sekhar, while delivering a brief presidential address, explained how rightwing groups’ intimidation and police authorities’ mischievous efforts to scuttle the meeting were resisted by student-youth activists with determination and courage. The key to strengthening the movement is to combine the fight against neo-liberal commoditisation and Hindutwa offensive, she said.
Addressing the session Harishankar Nachimuthu outlined the shocking assault unleashed by present government on an illustrious institution like FTII by appointing people with no academic or artistic credentials in key positions. On the one hand, the government is trying to stack FTII with communal elements. On the other hand, there is an effort to convert the institution into a site for extreme commoditisation, he said. He elaborated the origins of the heroic struggle led by FTII students and called for widening the platforms of united action even while retaining the space for internal debate and mutual criticism.
Shehla Rashid pointed out that student protests have acquired strength and visibility in only those institutions where there are democratically elected representative bodies of students. But there are no elected student bodies in most universities. This issue must be brought up in a big way, she said. The present uprising in several universities must lead to emergence of genuinely democratic political alternatives, she said.
Zuhail KP, described the atmosphere of discrimination and intimidation that has been prevailing in Hyderabad Central University. Vice Chancellor Appa Rao and union minister Bandaru Dattatreya have their hands stained with Rohith Vemula’s blood, he said. Zuhail pointed out that the struggle in HCU is far from over and that solidarity and determination displayed by Mumbai’s student-youth assembly would help them in sharpening their weapons of struggle.
Richa Singh gave a brief account of Allahabad University students’ fight against communal forces and patriarchy. She said, they were locked in intense fight to develop a democratic political culture in which girl and boy students could together discuss and debate issues. She denounced the fake nationalism of RSS which starts with “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Jai Shri Ram” and ends with abuses on women. Recalling the ‘Britishers, Quit India’ slogan that was raised for the first time in Mumbai, she said the student-youth assembly in Mumbai must be an occasion to raise the slogan ‘RSS, Quit India’. She emphasised the importance of forming student-youth alliances cutting across political party affiliations. She expressed the hope that student youth unity will gather momentum in Mumbai too.
Kanhaiya Kumar, the most awaited speaker in the session delivered a 45 minute long speech in which he criticised Modi and RSS severely. He said the massive gathering at the student-youth assembly indicates the spread of the protest movement that is determined to stop the undemocratic rulers of the country, in their tracks. Free education, decent employment, ending caste discrimination, gender equality – these are key elements of the democratic alternative projected by student-youth movements, he said. He spoke about the need to enact a ‘Rohith Act’ against caste discrimination in campuses. He chided the prime minister for being too frequently on foreign tours comparing him to Vasco Da Gama who set out on world tour in search of India. He said the need of the hour is to go beyond prime minister’s hollow promises and ensure true development of poor workers and farmers.
Speeches by all student leaders especially the one by Kanhaiya Kumar received enthusiastic response from the participants. More than 2000 people attending a nearly six hour long session without break and that too without losing enthusiasm at all was a remarkable experience. Cultural performances - skits and songs by Yalgaar troupe and Rossi D’Souza added to the ambience.
This event hosted jointly by progressive students and youth organisations has opened the possibilities for building an effective united movement in the days to come.