JNU a year after: Belying predictions, campus politics is thriving. Here’s why
Political consciousness is the fount of inquisitiveness that universities try to nurture, and therefore, it is futile to try and excise campus politics from the campusopinion Updated: Feb 12, 2017 16:19 IST
Sounding the death knell of campus politics is among the worst clichés of Indian political commentary. It was predicted to die out in the globalization-giddy early 90s, when the TV invaded our bedrooms in the 2000s and when we became digital-happy a few years ago.
But each time -- either through Mandal quota protests, anti-caste and communal demonstrations or agitations against moral policing and the right-wing – student politics has endured doomsday theories – it has even thrived, even if only in pockets.
The latest salvo was fired after Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University erupted in angry protests last February. Many said politics distracted students from their real goal of education and that pupils had no business commenting on national policy and governance questions – charges often repeated by right-wing “trolls” on social media.
But in a tumultuous year, students’ voice in politics has emerged stronger, mainly for three reasons:
1.Students are setting the political agenda: Think the University of Hyderabad in January 2016. A Dalit PhD scholar has just killed himself after months of alleged casteism. No party has come forward to offer support despite serious charges against senior politicians. Undaunted, the students formed a joint action committee that fought against casteism on campus and pitchforked the suicide of Rohith Vemula to national limelight, forcing political parties to join the campaign. The protests continued even after the media spotlight had shifted.
2.Students are taking up issues no one else would touch: When Najeeb Ahmed went missing from JNU in November last year, his disappearance was shrouded in mystery. But students took out protests and marches every day, finally forcing university authorities to set up a probe. Protests by students across the country, from Aligarh and Badaun to Mumbai, have kept up the pressure.
Similar were scenes at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University, where a lesbian candidate was in the fray for union elections – a remarkable feat in a country where Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people are criminalised and the target of social stigma. Even for West Bengal that has witnessed countless same-sex lovers’ suicides and unending ribbing of the effeminate director Rituparno Ghosh, the symbolic step was huge.
3.Campus politics is voice for the marginalised: Nowhere has this been more pronounced than in JNU and UoH, where Dalitbahujan students have led fierce resistances against university norms that have discriminated against SC/ST/OBC pupils.
Be it a demand to reduce viva weightage – a discretionary mode of evaluation which a JNU committee admitted was stacked against Dalit students – or proper implementation of reservations, a constitutional right, the formation of Dalitbahujan adivasi campus groups has been instrumental in loosening a catesist strangehold on knowledge. Similar assertions by disabled groups and LGBT collectives, for example, has made Delhi University far more accepting of differently abled and transgender students
Political consciousness is the fount of inquisitiveness that universities try to nurture, and therefore, it is futile to try and excise campus politics from the campus. That some of our most politicised campuses – JNU, UoH – are also our best belies the simplistic argument that politics distracts students from their true calling. A vibrant thinking student body might be a challenge to a regime of thought that views students as silent receptacles to regurgitate theory. But it can’t be anything but a boon for those who see education as an instrument to question, if not remedy, historical wrongs.