ON January 17, 2016, the shocking news of the institutional murder of Rohith Vemula confirmed that Dronacharyas still exist in Indian education system and Eklavyas have to pay gurudakshina with their lives for the crime of being born in the lower caste.
This incident posed a question to all of us: What is the meaning of the entire development and progress of Indian society if an individual is not even considered as a human being? We are not able to recognise a living being as equal creature of nature. People continue to be identified by their caste not by their potentials and abilities. One is forced to ask what really the meaning of Independence is when people are not independent of their immediate caste identity. Are all the provisions of justice and equality enshrined in our Constitution ‘futile’? Do we still have to follow Dharamshastras? Who will answer all these questions?
The students of Hyderabad Central University have conveyed a loud and clear message to these questions by rejecting the ABVP in the recently held student union elections and electing the United Front for Social Justice (UFSJ), which includes SFI, DSU, TSF, BSF and TVV. This is a clear verdict that HCU believes in the Constitution, and not Dharamshastras. HCU has not been any exception. The student community in general has given the same message in the recently concluded student union elections in various education institutions in different states. The message has been to defeat ABVP, reject policies of the BJP government and politics of hate. This huge mandate of students is also against the structural academic reforms of education, guided by the policies of neo-liberal economics.
In fact, the first half of this year saw a massive attack on the higher educational institutions of India. There is a long list of institutions, which were targeted by the sangh giroh. It was Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) where the intensity of this attack was the highest.
These attacks cannot be seen in isolation of the comprehensive policy level and ideological intervention of RSS through the state machinery and assistance from ABVP and BJP. There was a forced discourse set by BJP, which aimed at dividing the people into the camps of nationalist and anti-nationalist. If you agree with the policies of the government then you are a nationalist; if you have any question or you slightly hesitate to response, you will be declared as anti-nationalist. These were testing times for the progressive student movement of the country, along with the larger progressive and democratic sections of society. However, before the end of year, the student community has given a decisive mandate against these policies of Hindutva forces through elections of student unions in various universities.
The recent results of student union elections in various universities have made it clear that student community has rejected the anti-education and anti-constitution policies of the RSS on the campuses. These results are symbol of the general feeling and anger among progressive-minded people of education institutions in particular and public in general.
These elections were not easy and were not a routine electoral contest between student organisations, rather these were elections between RSS/BJP/ABVP on one hand and the general students who believe in democratic and progressive values, on the other. SFI played an important role in the struggle against these attacks as well as leading role to defeat ABVP in student union elections. First victory of students under the flag of independence, democracy and socialism was registered in the BJP-ruled state of Rajasthan, by defeating ABVP in majority of the government colleges of the state. This defeat is seen as a defeat of the state government because during the past year, the government has made all efforts to victimise activists of SFI throughout the state, especially in Sikar in view of all-India conference of SFI organised there for the first time in Northern India. Sikar was the centre of attacks and students whitewashed ABVP from the colleges of the town making it clear that no amount of attacks can crush the unity of students.
The next victory came from English and Foreign Language University (EFLU), Hyderabad, which is known for the autocratic nature of its vice-chancellor and struggle of students for democratic rights. SFI registered a very good presence in all the universities of Uttarakhand in union elections. The victory in the president post of Doon University is a result of struggle of our organisation against large-scale corruption of the vice-chancellor, who is a known RSS person.
Students of JNU gave a befitting reply to the saffron forces, which wanted to shut down JNU. This election was never an easy election as reflected by the results. The whole structure of RSS was active on the campus trying to divide students on various lines. Students, however, kept their unity, which evolved through the struggles. SFI went into the elections by forming united left panel with AISA and as the election results show, ABVP has been politically decimated with even the traditional stronghold in science schools rejecting their regressive politics.
SFI registered massive victories in all the student union elections in Kerala including the recently concluded MG University and Kannur University where we won all the posts of office-bearers. We also won 90 per cent of the posts of school parliament and 47 posts out of 51 in polytechnic colleges.
The student union election in Allahabad University is also a source of inspiration for us, with SFI having improved its performance remarkably. The failure to materialise unity among Left-led student organisations clearly made its impact felt. SFI will draw appropriate lessons from its improved performance and will work towards strengthening its own organisation, as well as materialise this unity, by consistent work over the next year.
The victory in student elections and defeat of ABVP is a clear-cut message that students studying in the higher learning institutions have rejected the anti-student, anti-Dalit, communal and pro-rich policies of the BJP government. There is a long list of institutes like FTII, ICHR, ICSR, NCERT, JNU etc. that have seen controversial appointments of persons belonging to RSS in order to push its agenda of Hindutva. The government pushed for strict implementation of problematic scheme of Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), which was implemented by the earlier government. Further, the HRD Ministry dictated universities to implement Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) and semester for undergraduate programmes. There are efforts to bring common central university bill, which will centralise the education. Moving further towards the centralisation of education a template syllabus has been put up on the website of UGC and universities are directed to follow the same syllabus for undergraduate courses with a flexibility of 20 per cent. There are efforts to mechanise the teaching-learning process of classroom, where there will be the minimum interaction between teachers and students and all type of fruitful discussion will be avoided which lead to critical thinking.
The HRD Ministry has been trying to stop the non-NET fellowship, which was a major instrument for research in central universities. CSIR labs have been directed through the ‘Dehradun declaration’ to self-generate 50 per cent of their spending and look for linkages with industry. There is continuous cut in the spending on education in the Union budget, which is adversely affecting the education institutions. The central government has made an allocation of Rs 43,554 crore for school education and literacy in the budget for 2016-17, which is Rs 2,168 crore less than the allocation in the last budget of the same government. Overall, there is a continued decrease in fund for this head, with total Rs 3,302 crore or 7 per cent having been slashed. There has been a cut of Rs 1,597 crore in the flagship programme Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in this year’s budget (2016-17) than the last year (2015-16). On the same lines, there is a fund cut of Rs 823 crore in the budget of mid-day meal programme.
There were widespread anger and anguish among wider sections of students against these policies and when they got an opportunity to give their verdict they gave it impressively defeating the advocates of the policies and their ally organisations in student union elections. These victories are the result of continuous and sustained struggle of students in various campuses throughout the country. We have witnessed various struggles of the students during last year. Students agitated against these policies and there were aggressive movements -- Occupy UGC campaign, Save Delhi University, Save JNU, Struggle for social justice, struggle against corruption in institutions, struggle for democratic rights etc. The common factor in these struggles was the enormous mobilisation of common students and their unity. Second important factor has been the mass support of public for these struggles. There is a lesson for us to draw from these struggles that if we are able to mobilise large sections of students feeling their impulse, and can coin the right slogan, it can also attract support from the general public.
We recognised the need of a broader unity of students against these policies and identified that progressive and Left student organisations have to take greater responsibility to forge this unity. The unity of Left student organisations is not only for union elections, rather this unity evolved during the popular struggles. This was the continuous and uncompromised struggle of ours for social justice throughout the nation, which attracted Ambedkarites to join us in struggle as well as during elections. We pledge to carry forward this struggle in future forming a unity of all progressive forces committed to the cause.
We are seeing these developments as opportunity and more than that responsibility given by the students to strengthen the struggle of students against the policies of communalisation and neo-liberal loot of education. This is a united struggle. We cannot divorce the struggle against neo-liberal policies and their impact in the field of education from the struggle against the communalisation and attack on democratic as well as constitutional rights. Struggle for social justice and against social oppression on campuses has to be integral part of this movement. This integrated approach is the only way by which the current advances in the student movement can be consolidated and taken forward.