Universities under Siege: State Repression, Students Movement and the Challenges Ahead

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-Democratic Students Union

For the last few months, the deafening slogans of Azadi, interspersed with slogans demanding justice for Rohith Vemula, against saffronisation and privatisation of education, against militarisation of universities and for the right to dissent have been ringing aloud in campuses across the country. Universities have been brought to the centre of sensational news and attack by both media and the repressive state apparatus alike. Students witnessed, many for the first time, the entry of huge deployments of police, CRPF and RAF forces in our campuses. The arrest of students and teachers from JNU, HCU, TISS, FTII and the continuing intimidation faced by many including protesting students from the police in collusion with university administration, ABVP-BJP-RSS and the ruling classes, if any, is just a writing on the wall that suggests an open threat by the ruling classes to show us what it is actually capable of unleashing. What with the fact that around 1 lakh CRPF forces have already been permanently deployed in Delhi alone. While students across the Indian subcontinent have come together in recent times against the attack by the Sangh parivar daring even police atrocities, it is important for us to understand in depth the backdrop in which this forced entry into universities was planned and set by those at the helm of power led by the NDA government.

Let us begin with the recent surge of united student protests which began with the undemocratic decision to scrap and regulate Non-NET fellowships awarded to research scholars by University Grants Commission (UGC). That too, when the demands raised by students were to increase the scholarship and provide Non-NET scholarships to research students in all central and state universities. The MHRD and UGC instead formed a review committee to push forward their anti-student agenda of merit, market and Manu. This clearly meant that those students coming from marginalised backgrounds including adivasis, dalits, religious and regional minorities and women who reach higher education despite all odds would be systematically excluded from the educational system. In many instances, these students belong to the first generation pursuing education and with the severely limited number of Junior Research Fellowships (JRF), the non-NET fellowship becomes the primary source of financial support for students from oppressed sections. Moreover, the arbitrary and unreliable pattern of NET examinations exposes the fallacy of the logic of merit propounded by the ruling classes. Even before the scraping of non-NET fellowships, the government was in the process of steamrolling higher education through the introduction of semester system, FYUP and CBCS in Delhi University, the imposition of Lyngdoh Committee Recommendation (LCR) in universities and Central Universities Bill etc. All of these intend to undermine the autonomy of universities, turn educational institutions into bureaucratic bodies, homogenise and perpetuate a brahmanical education system, pave way for privatisation of education, hollow out resistance and turn education into a skill based and career/service oriented saleable good. In fact, the history of onslaught of anti-student policies and fund cuts in higher education began much earlier with the opening of the market to liberalisation- privatisation and globalisation in the 90s. The Birla Ambani Report on higher education (2000) clearly exposes this agenda of privatisation of education erected on the foundation of Brahmanism in education to increase foreign investment and thereby turn education into a commodity rather than a fundamental right that also envisions social transformation. The continuing withdrawal of the state from education sector showcases that the no matter of what colour and shade, the brahmanical ruling classes serve the interests of crony capitalists enslaved to imperialist market by enforcing systematised structural exclusion and institutional discrimination of dalits, adivasis, religious minorities, women and oppressed genders in higher education.

It is this brahmanical cleansing process and the crisis of higher education where students from oppressed sections are helplessly pushed against an iron wall without an alternative even in a university like JNU with increasing drop-out rates of students from marginalised section, caste based discrimination in viva-voce etc. that exploded into an enraged outburst after the institutional murder of Rohith Vemuala, a dalit scholar from HCU. As the noxious vermin of Brahmanism and privatisation in higher education continue to tighten its noose, the rising tide of student protests comes at a time when the ruling classes led by NDA government are intensifying their onslaught on all sections of society.

If we glance through the recent Union Budget allocation, it will be clear who the present anti-people government really serves- the people of this country or brahmanical ruling classes and their imperialist masters? Announcing massive fund cuts in education and health, the funds allotted to UGC have been reduced from Rs. 9315 crore in 2015 to Rs. 4286 crore in 2016, that is a whomping 55% cut in funds. This means scrapping of scholarship, fee hikes, increase in hostel fees, and privatisation of higher education. In comparison to this, the government has shamelessly given a tax rebate of Rs 68,000 crores to corporates. That is, 16 years of UGC budget allocation! Simultaneously, the budget allocation has been rigorously brought down to 7% from the actual 16.6% for SCs and from 8.6% to 4.36% for STs while the overall tax rebate including corporate, excise and personal tax last year was a choking Rs. 6,11,128 crores! On the one hand while the government brazenly criminalises students for demanding their rights in the name of tax payer’s money, it arrogantly perpetuates the loot of people’s resources and money by big corporates.
We must see the attack on universities and students, be it in JNU by projecting the discourse of nationalism/anti-nationalism or the indiscriminate police atrocity in HCU on the students fighting against institutional murder and discrimination of students from oppressed section within this context. In the last few months, the State-police-administration nexus with the corporate media and loyal Sanghi goons left no stone unturned to vilify and demonise students as anti-national and deshdrohi other along with the fierce propaganda of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan and the Brahmanical diktat of ‘Bharat ma ka apaman’. This was also the time when the Parliament was in session with the present Brahmanical fascist regime facing a barrage of questions about the farce of Make in India, institutional murder of Rohith, the fake encounter of Ishrat Jehan, its policy on Kashmir and the present economic crisis. While in universities students are being smothered under a rotten structure of brahmanical education system erected in the service of imperialist exploitation, the rural economy is being bulldozed by continuing drought and agrarian crisis. The escalating rate of farmer suicides in Marathwada and Vidharba are not mere statistical numbers, but a brutal ramification of feudal exploitation and structural exclusion with no sustainable alternative economy under the brahmanical ruling classes. This is further aggrandised by the onslaught of corporate land grab and massive displacement of dalits, adivasis, muslims and other oppressed sections to make way for SEZs and big industries to bolster imperialist loot and plunder of resources.

Meanwhile the policy of divide and rule adopted by the brahmanical state, either in the name of nationalism, cow slaughter, love jihad or open pogroms and caste atrocities expose the very structure of Hindutva fascism as the NDA led government leaves no stone unturned as it perpetuates the widening gap between the oppressor and the oppressed. Moreover, we are faced with an increasingly militarised State with Kashmir, Bastar and the North Eastern regions being few of the most militarised zones in the world. Thus, as the brahmanical hindutva fascist forces at the helm of power prepares itself for a military onslaught on the most oppressed sections, the first instance of repression faced in universities and students movement have to be properly analysed to understand the role of students movement for revolutionary transformation of society.

Here, we must really ask ourselves whether the ruling classes are threatened by the students’ movement. Are students really the opposition today or is the attack unleashed in universities part of a larger game plan of ideological and structural offensive on the life, livelihood, and existence, and against the uncompromising resistance and struggle of the most oppressed sections. While universities from JNU to HCU were being turned into prison houses and media houses churning high TRP rates with doctored and distorted facts, the structural persecution of the most oppressed sections continued unabated. The present situation of drought and agrarian crisis, large scale displacement of the rural poor to cities, the burning down of dalit and muslim bastis, and even the organised resistance, for instance when 30,000 farmers came out into the streets to demand drought relief and waiver off debts were invisibilised by the saffron media. Today, when we envision the students movement, a few questions must be raised at those opportunist forces who readily ally with ruling classes in the name of unity. We as students must analyse and draw the structural connection between our struggle against institutionalised discrimination in universities, commercialisation of education and Brahmanism in education, and the resistance by the most oppressed sections for annihilation of caste, against feudal and imperialist onslaught aided by the forces of hindutva fascism. It is indeed true that we the students have risen to speak against state repression, but the present students movement cannot go ahead without ideologically allying with class struggle and countering the opportunist forces from within.

According to Lenin,
’The political grouping of the students cannot but reflect the political grouping of society as a whole, and it is the duty of every socialist to strive for the most conscious and consistent demarcation of politically unlike groups. The Socialist- Revolutionary Party’s appeal to the students to “proclaim their solidarity with the general political movement and leave quite aside the factional dissensions in the revolutionary camp” is, essentially, an appeal to go back, from the socialist to the bourgeois-democratic standpoint. This is not surprising, for the “Socialist-Revolutionary Party” is only a subdivision of the bourgeois democrats in Russia. When the Social-Democratic student breaks with the revolutionaries and politically minded people of all other trends, this by no means implies the break-up of the general student and educational organisations. On the contrary, only on the basis of a perfectly definite programme can and should one work among the widest student circles to broaden their academic outlook and to propagate scientific socialism, i.e., Marxism. (The Tasks of the Revolutionary Youth)

Thus, when the JNUSU president irresponsibly comments saying there is distinction between the mass killing of Sikhs in1984 and Gujarat in 2002 and that 1984 was merely mob frenzy without any role of the state apparatus in the name of forging unity against the forces of Hindtuva led by the NDA government, it is the opportunism and political bankruptcy of parliamentary forces that is exposed. If certain forces are to move ahead in a self-congratulatory manner turning a blind eye to the brahmanical character of the ruling classes no matter of what shade and their imperialist allies merely for electoral gains, then the very basis of a united student movement is compromised. Unity against fascism can be forged only by partaking in ideological struggle and understanding our role in class struggle, by formulating our programme by allying with the most oppressed sections. If student and intellectuals do not ally with workers, peasants and the most oppressed sections, we cannot win the fight against feudal exploitation and imperialism. Today, we must remember the historical uprising of peasants in Naxalbari and Srikakulam with demands for land to the tiller which inspired thusands of students in the 70s and 80s. We must envision the role of students movement in fighting against brahminism in education and the forces of fascism in the time of increasing state repression. The spring thunder in India has not died and will not die, and as students it is time for us to decide whose side are we really on?

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