IN any democratic country, people elect a government with a hope that the government will bring polices which will benefit their lives. It is the responsibility of an elected government to ensure the basic amenities of health, education, housing etc to all. It is of paramount importance for any democratic government to strengthen the democratic processes, respect personal liberty, and freedom including the right to dissent. However, what we are witnessing in India today is in sharp contrast to the basic principles of democracy in general and Indian constitution in particular. Besides, the ruling government has failed to stand by its own tall promises. The Students’ Federation of India organised an all India jatha at a juncture when the students are facing a frontal attack from the ruling government. From adopting anti-student policies to trampling upon constitutionally guaranteed rights, the BJP led government has thoroughly worked towards destroying educational institutions ever since it has come to power.
Due to the pursuit of neoliberal economic policies, the BJP led government has miserably failed to fulfill the basic needs of the people. Moreover, instead of fulfilling its responsibility as an elected government, the BJP government is working against the constitutional values and blatantly implementing the RSS agenda, which is antithetical to the spirit of Indian constitution. Hate campaigns are run by the corporate media, the social media trolls and in many cases, even by the elected representatives against minorities, dalits, tribals, women, students and universities. Such campaigns evidently led to large-scale violence against these communities. Communal violence, mob lynching etc, have become daily phenomena. Any citizen dissenting government policies are subjected to severe attacks either in the form of mob violence or victimisation by the state. Individual freedom and liberty are being crushed at various levels.
In this situation, students cannot be unaffected. In fact, the student community was one of the first sections to have faced such attacks after Modi assumed the office of the prime minister. The last four years have seen authoritarian assaults on our educational institutions – HCU, JNU, FTII, IIT Madras, BHU, JU – the list is long. In all these cases, we have witnessed desperate attempts by the ruling government to destroy the democratic culture and crush the voices of dissent. However, the assault on democracy is only one aspect when it comes to the role of the present government vis-à-vis higher education. The student community has been one of the most affected sections in today's India with an unprecedented everyday experience of attack on people's lives by the very central government itself. Waging an intensified campaign and mobilising the larger public against these assaults, SFl central executive committee has organised an all India jatha which hit on the anti-student, anti-people regime and build up an uncompromising struggle. The all India jatha which was organised after 12 years has covered 22 states and met lakhs of students in different campuses and district centres. The central slogan of the jatha was 'Quality and Scientific Education without Discrimination'. Four jathas started simultaneously from September 3 to 17 dividing the states into four clusters.
Southern jatha which covered Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka was led by V P Sanu, all India president of SFI. Uchi Makali, Marippan, Gururaj Desai, Ambresh and Remesh were the other members of jatha. This jatha was inaugurated at Kanyakumari in a public meeting by former MLA Nanmaran.
Mayukh Biswas, all India joint secretary led the north-east jatha which started from Tripura in a vibrant public meeting of students. Nabarun Dev, Madhujasen Rao, Netaji, Bijoy Bharti, Deepak were part of the team of this jatha. Covering around 4600 kms, it travelled across the states of Assam, Bihar and Jharkhand and concluded at Kolkata in Bengal in a mammoth rally. SFI founder secretary Biman Bose and MP Mohd. Salim were speakers at the rally along with SFI general secretary Vikram Singh and others. On its way, this jatha met parents of martyr Comrade Tilak Tudu who gave the flag which was made by themselves to the leaders of the jatha at Shalbani. SFI activist Com Tilak was brutally killed by Maoists. Tilak's parents Gunadhar Tudu, Gunabari Tudu inspired the jatha to fight against the tyrant rulers. In Kolkata during the concluding meeting, parents of martyr Comrade Abhijit Mahato who was killed by Maoists in 2009, were felicitated and thousands of students took oath to carry forward the flag held by Abhijit, Tilak Tudu, Sudipto Gupta.
Northern jatha was launched from Shimla, the land of student struggles and it concluded in UP. This jatha was led by Hoshiyar Singh. Prabpreet and Sunil Poonia were part of the jatha team. This jatha covered the states of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. Public meetings were also organised in Himachal Pradesh University, Punjabi University Patiala, Kurukshetra University and MDU Rohtak.
The East-West jatha begun from Madhya Pradesh to Gujarat which was led by all India secretariat member Datta Chavan. Despite the imposition of section 144 in town and anti-reservation protests, SFI jatha was well received by students in Ujjain in a tense environment. This jatha travelled through Gujarat where a public meeting was organised in Asarwa area of Ahmedabad in which students, parents, teachers, and local residents enthusiastically participated to support the issues of jatha.
Overall jatha was concluded at Hyderabad on September 17 in a public meeting. The national jatha was well received by the students throughout country. Apart from the big public meetings, various receptions were organised by lower committees of SFI, civil society members, teachers etc. Various seminars and interaction sessions were also organised on the central slogan of the jatha.
It was a rich experience to interact with a diverse student community from different states, different cultural and socio economic backgrounds. One thing is very clear that wide spread anger is there among students against the anti-student education policies of the central government. Students are determined to fight back. Jathas were overwhelmingly received by students. We thank the entire student community and take pledge to sharpen the struggle for quality and scientific education without discrimination.
When jatha was on the way to Hyderabad, news of attack and violence by ABVP on Left comrades were coming from Jawaharlal Nehru University, after they sensed their defeat. This attack was carried out with an active support of administration. But JNU student community resisted these attacks and efforts of the Sangh family to disrupt the counting process. This proved the relevance of our jathas and our campaign to resist the policy attack of the NDA government on education and we are of the view that this can only be resisted through agitation which should be mass based.
The way BJP led government at centre has aggressively pursued the policies of commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation of education needs a mass resistance. However, at the same time it is destroying the federal character of Indian education and is attempting to control the entire sector from the centre, as part of the designs to push the Hindutva agenda. This is reflected in appointing RSS personnel in the key administrative bodies, rewriting of history, abrupt and irrational changes in syllabi, propagation of pseudoscience, so on and so forth. The brunt of these attacks is falling upon the students from the socio-economically exploited and oppressed sections. Policies of central government are depriving students from their constitutional rights of accessing quality and scientific education without discrimination. The burden of education which is the responsibility of the government is being shifted on to the citizens. Education is being turned into a tradable commodity. For instance, the government recently declared Jio university as an “institute of eminence” which is not even established as yet. In a blatant violation of all established norms of granting the status of eminence to any university, the BJP led government is creating irrational exceptions to grant special status to the corporates, making education a privilege for a few.
The authoritarian dictates of the BJP government has met with valiant resistance of students throughout the nation in various campuses. Student movement is preparing itself to carry forward the momentum during the next one year and ensure that this government is ousted in 2019. However, what we seek to oust is not only the ruling party, but also the policy which it has been pursuing. It is in this context that the all India jatha of SFI has gained an utmost importance.