Vol. XL No. 34 August 21, 2016

Free, Free Our Universities..!!

Nitheesh Narayanan

THE new academic year has begun in Indian universities with signals of authoritarian highhandedness in different forms. The beginning of any academic activity is supposed to be fear free and must be in an atmosphere of freedom. However, the news coming from campuses from EFLU to JNU, situated in diverse locations in the country offer stern warnings regarding what is in store for the new students. These indicate that this academic year for the students is going to be no different from the previous academic year when they were filled with student outrages.
The undertaking forms issued by the English and Foreign Languages University, EFLU stands as an example for what our universities intend to do to the students and how they produce and re-produce prisons around wherever  students take a free breath.

The 'Circular' at ATEFLU
The picture attached along with this is one of the undertaking forms issued by EFLU which needs to be signed and submitted by the first year students to get their admission procedure completed. It is out of fear to the growing assertion of student movement that forced the university authorities to issue such an order which suspends even the fundamental rights of the students. EFLU, along with many other universities and institutions including JNU, HCU, Pondicherry University, HPU, FTII and IIT-M has also been a centre of student protests and unrest which brought many questions around campus democracy to the mainstream discussions after a long time. ‘Disciplinary’ actions were taken against the students over their Facebook posts and participation in demonstrations in the last year. Despite such repressive measures, the university authorities were forced to hold student union elections after a long time following continuous and uncompromising struggle from the student community. It was a broader alliance called ASAD-E (Allied Students Action for Democracy- EFLU) led by SFI that emerged victorious in the election to the student body.
It is in this context that the newly introduced undertaking form has to be looked at. Furthermore such draconian measures are not limited to EFLU and also have a larger national context. At the bare minimum, this needs to be seen as the EFLU version of the larger design to curtail the democratic spaces in the campuses and to challenge the very existence of knowledge system itself. The entry into a free learning system begins with the rejection of such utterly regressive and undemocratic circulars coming from cowardly power centers.
As we go through the circular we will get an impression of how undemocratic our universities are becoming.  "I undertake not to participate in any protest/demonstration which is not in accordance with the laid down rules and regulations of the University." This is the very first assurance they urge from the new comers. Here the university is most shamefully asking the students to suspend their constitutional right of expressing dissent and association. What a shame when a university such as EFLU has to stoop down to the levels of asking its own students to willfully suspend their democratic rights!

"I will not indulge in acts of indiscipline and misconduct that will compel the authorities to take disciplinary action against me." Why take this only from the students? Acts of indiscipline can be committed by anyone. Will the heads of the authorities give such an undertaking to the students that they will not indulge in such acts?  We need to remember that, we, the students got admission not as a privilege but a right. And if anyone is to give an assurance, it is actually the administrations of our university, given their past records of institutional murders, scuttling of reservations etc, that should give us an assurance that they will not repeat such things.

"I undertake not to bring the name of the institution of disrepute through any social media or and not indulge in any form of libel or slander against the University." Along with this, may be the University should enclose a copy of the order in which EFLU was declared as a special province where the very constitution of India is not applicable and an institution of slaves, not students!

And the undertaking form concludes stating "In case I violate any of the provisions of the University’s guidelines, the University reserves the exclusive right to expel, rusticate or award any punishment deemed fit for infringement of the Rules and Regulations prescribed by the University." Even the Judiciary is not allowed to award 'any' punishment to a citizen who 'violate' the law and regulations. They will have to follow at least the Indian Penal Code before deciding the punishment. Here there is a University (Really..?) which claims to have all rights to award 'any' punishment to the students who violate the guidelines which only provides a life under autocracy.

It is not the first time in recent past the very idea of university is being attacked, not by force from outside but the same authorities who claim to be the protectors of the institutions. The continuation of the notorious legacy from the previous year are nothing but gestures to the students to prepare for more vigorous struggles to resist the attack on them not only as students but as Indian citizens of the country.

The EFLU experience in JNU, PU
In an unprecedented development there was a university level orientation programme for the freshers in JNU in which no elected students representatives were allowed to speak. In an another cunning move to curtail the autonomous character of a vibrant student movement a highly regressive circular was issued by the JNU administration bringing any activity of the students under stringent scrutiny. In a new development there, the students have been asked to go through a process of rigorous surveillance for any public meeting to be organised.

In Pondicherry University, it was expected that the ‘Widerstand’, the magazine of Pondicherry University students union will be welcomed with huge applause as such initiatives are new in the central universities. But the opposite happened following a dissent raised by ABVP and other right wing forces. It was only after the students waged uncompromising struggle braving the physical attacks by the saffron brigade that they managed to distribute the magazine among the student community.  

The capability of a university in knowledge production depends on where and how its students are placed within the University system. Let us remember that no one remembers the universities by its administration.  Universities acquire a status of high repute through the efforts of its students and its teachers. Rather than facilitate a harmonious atmosphere for the growth of a knowledge society that the university should represent there are signs that there is going to be an open attack on the concept of university itself. It is not worthy to call a place ‘university’ where obedience is cultivated through autocratic ‘orders’. The word for it is prison. The time has now come for loud slogans ‘Free, Free Our Universities’!