Article 19, of the Indian constitution imparts all the Indian citizens with the fundamental right
to freedom of speech and expression and right to form associations and unions. Gone are the
times when politics was assumed to be the play of senior and middle-aged citizens. India is the
world’s largest democracy, but still in some states, including- Himachal Pradesh, Punjab,
Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, student elections are banned under the blanket of campus violence.
Campus politics in Punjab continues to be in stagnant mode, from 1980s, when the government
imposed ban on student elections. Though the dark era of the ’80s and ’90s, in which a section
of students was engaged in pro-autonomy activities, is a thing of bygone days, no ruling
government has taken steps to lift the ban.
India is witnessing some of the major student protests against the “suppressing
methodologies” of the government. From FTII to HCU and JNU, the audacity of the concerns of
these young Indians can’t be ignored. All these incidents clearly show that young Indians have
cultivated a fair sense of “individual opinion/perspective.” They are not ready to blindly accept
anything, which they are told to believe and abide by. Their rationality is teaching them the
lessons of dissent. Dissent is the essence of higher education which leads to new socially
relevant knowledge. Actions that paint an atmosphere of fear, insecurity and force compliance
will undermine questioning.
But are we afraid of ‘dissent’? Or are we afraid to trust the capabilities of our young Indians in
politics? We tag them as nation builders and claim that smart development of nation can’t be
possible without the participation and contribution of its youth. But are we here trying to sum
up the term ‘participation and contribution’ in merely their casting a vote or winning a medal
for the country or scoring high grades to grab a job with big-fat packages or handsome salaries.
Why do we hesitate in sharing power with the young Indians by presenting them as our
representatives? In previous years these students have stood together against social injustices
(16 December Nirbhaya rape case), academic freedom (protests at JNU FTII) which absolutely
created a huge impact on the system.
The ban on the student elections in the educational universities in some states continues to
question the democratic nature of Indian politics. But here what are we actually afraid of? Are
we afraid of their secular and ideological politics through which they want to bridge the divide
of culture, language, caste and class in India? Or are we afraid of their independent,
autonomous and rational brains which want to eradicate all types of social barriers? The
manner in which the ruling government had ‘handled’ the outbursts of JNU (by slapping the
JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar and his fellow students with sedition charges), and HCU
(suicide of dalit scholar Rohith Vemula), clearly voices the answer to the questions asked in
previous lines. After the suicide of Rohith Vemula, center took care to offer cold, routine and
formal condolences, but after relieving themselves from this minimum formality, the first thing
they did was to put a question mark on the ‘Dalit Identity’ of Rohith. Even before the full
episode of the mischief with the videos was known, it was evident that nothing that Kanhaiya
Kumar and Umar Khalid were alleged to have done amounted to sedition in any way.
All these episodes clearly suggest that we are afraid of them because these students, and their
other colleagues, were heading the debate towards wider issues. They understood the
necessity of addressing the major problems faced not just by one section of society, but by the
whole oppressed class of Indians. Their efforts were beyond caste, religion and region. ‘Azadi’
for them meant freedom from want, from capitalist exploitation, from upper caste cruelty and
from stifling tradition. Instead of the efforts to dehumanize the individual identities and
reducing them to mere digits and numbers, we need to make him distinctively human.
So in a nutshell, in order to develop the students as rational and independent minds, student
elections must be revoked and an alternative model of politics, defying muscle and money
power needs to be set up for the positive outcome.
By: Gurwinder Kaur