Breeding Hatred on Indian Campuses

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JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar addresses a student rally. Credit: Hindustan Times
JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar addresses a student rally.
Credit: Hindustan Times

What had earlier been issues of student politics generally confined to the universities have now taken national color with political parties and leaders pitching in to stoke up students’ anger. There have been instances earlier of the student political bodies clashing with one another over ideological differences, but of late the chasm has widened dramatically

YASHWARDHAN JOSHI

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]omething is going wrong in our educational institutions lately! Politics is getting too much into student’s life, and breeding hatred in campuses, it seems. Who is to be blamed, students or politicians? From the south to the north, protests are raging in campuses with student and political life getting so enmeshed that it is becoming difficult to separate one from the other.

What had earlier been issues of student politics generally confined to the universities have now taken national colour with political parties and leaders pitching in to stoke up students’ anger. There have been instances earlier of the student political bodies clashing with one another over ideological differences, but of late the chasm has widened dramatically.

The latest in the series of agitations has been the one at the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Srinagar, where more than 1,000 non-Kashmiri students have left for their home towns following days of tension between local and outside students over nationalism, and subsequent police brutality.

The campus has been on the boil since March 31 when non-Kashmiri students clashed with their Kashmiri counterparts who were allegedly celebrating India’s loss to the West Indies in the World T20 semis. Since then the situation has deteriorated with activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ wing of the BJP, flaring by the controversy.

The BJP and the leaders of the Sangh Parivar have tried to further fan the sentiments by lending support to the students who were thrashed by police while they were chanting ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and waiving the National Flag. VHP working president Praveen Togadia’s statement that the courage of the students who waved the tricolour was admirable is a telling commentary on how educational institutions are used by political parties and their affiliates for their own narrow political ends.

Or why should then actor Anupum Kher try to go to the NIT at the time of flared-up passions when he should, in fact, be sticking to his acting career. Perhaps, politics is too much of an allurement in times like these, or may be, it’s the last resort for some.

Nowadays, any flare-up in a university or an institute doesn’t go unnoticed as politicians and party sympathizers make a beeline for the campus to gain some political mileage.

One instance of this was when Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi went to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to lend support to students agitating against the arrest of their leaders on what were widely termed ‘trumped-up’ charges of sedition. The arrest of Left leaning student leaders, including JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar, turned into a national issue. Here also the ABVP was involved.

Same thing happened when Rohith Vemula and four other Dalit scholars allegedly manhandled an ABVP leader on the campus of the Hyderabad University. ABVP’s parent body, the BJP, jumped in with Union Minister of State for Labour Bandaru Dattatreya writing to Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani to take action against the scholars. Subsequently the scholars were ‘expelled’ from the hostel with Rohith later committing suicide.

Rohith Vemula, the PhD scholar who committed suicide, allegedly following the harassment by the Hyderabad Central University.
Rohith Vemula, the PhD scholar who committed suicide, allegedly following the harassment by the Hyderabad Central University.

In his suicide note, Rohith highlighted the issue of Dalit discrimination and harassment in educational institutions. His suicide became the rallying point for students across the country for taking on the establishment. In all these instance– whether it be the NIT controversy, the JNU row or the Hyderabad issue– there has been one common thread: the ABVP.

Has the ABVP become emboldened in recent times by the majority rule of the BJP at the Centre, or is it being used as a mere pawn in a larger scheme of things?

There is a general perception that the Sangh Parivar wants to control institutions and interfere in their appointments, syllabi and day-to-day functioning. Behind the demand by the agitating students for shifting the NIT campus out of Srinagar is the bigger conviction of the BJP government that syllabi and teaching tools and methods at several NITs need to be changed as these have become outdated.

When a similar charge was made against the BJP that it was interfering in the autonomy of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) by declaring five off campus centres of the University as illegal and threatening to stop financial aid to them, the government was quick to counter the charge, saying it was committed to protecting the minority status of the AMU.

But are only the BJP and its affiliates responsible for fanning tension in universities?

Aren’t the Congress and the Left using the ideological divide for political gains?

An incident within a campus that should have been allowed to die down is often used as a trigger by all political parties by and large to cause more dissension within the campus.

In the times of protests and agitations, a new agitation should be launched with a battle cry: ‘Out with politics and politicians from campuses’. –IFS

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