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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2586

Beware Of Campus Fire!

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

It will be a mistake to underestimate the consequences of the firmament that is being witnessed on campuses and educational institutes and institutions in many parts of the country. Tension is rising as a result of frequent clashes between students and authorities. Perhaps the loudest and more lasting noise of students’ anger in recent days started on the campus of the Hyderabad Central University following the suicide by a Dalit PhD student, Rohith Vemula. The government did not know how to contain the fire witnessed in Hyderabad except the standard denunciation of Opposition parties.

There was trouble in Allahabad University where the president and the other office bearers of the students’ union belong to diametrically opposite political spectrum and, naturally, disagreements are sharp. The students owing allegiance to the ruling party did not allow a senior journalist to speak at a seminar on media and freedom of expression on the campus and forced him to shift to another venue.

Delhi has not been free from student trouble. A teacher who is also a hostel warden, faces the wrath of the authorities because he allegedly prevented a group of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University from performing a religious ritual in a hostel room. The warden and his colleagues say the students were performing ‘hawan’, a religious ritual with fire at the centre, in a hotel room; the students say they were merely performing ‘puja’ (prayers). The warden faces criminal charges which he says are bogus but his detractors say are true.

A bigger trouble erupted on the JNU campus when ‘anti-national’ slogans were raised by some participants at an ‘event’ organised to protest the hanging of the Parliament terror attack accused Afzal Guru. The slogans reportedly raised included calls for destruction of India and hailing Pakistan. The matter caught the attention of the union home minister. The president of the JNU students’ union and some others were arrested. The contention of the arrested student leaders is that they do not approve of ‘anti-national’ slogans. But the charge of sedition levelled against them has been described as akin to using the sledgehammer to swat a fly.

What can be noticed in all these cases is that action against students and teachers, whether justified or not, has been taken against those who oppose the political philosophy of the ruling dispensation at the Centre. This kind of action invited instant reaction from many ‘liberal’ and ‘left’ forces denouncing the authorities for trying to curb voices of dissent. Some left leaders described the situation as darker than the Emergency days.

That might appear to be an exaggeration. But it has been evident for some time now that the present government is trying to erase the imprints of ‘Left’ stamp on most of the universities, educational, professional and research institutions in the country. The approval for the appointment of new heads of these bodies depends on their ‘right’ political predilections.

The attempt to erase vestiges of ‘left’ and ‘liberal’ ambience on campuses and institutes of higher learning is becoming blatant, leading to protests, clashes and unrest. The present government seems to assume that ‘left’ is some kind of a four letter word that should never be heard or uttered in educational institutes anywhere in the country.

The youth has always been on the whole inclined to be a little adventurous and very curious about the world around him or her. There is a natural eagerness to explore new territories in knowledge as well as, of course, in life experiences. This may not come exclusively from inclining towards the ‘left’ but the other extreme, the ‘right’, offers fewer opportunities to experience a different world. The orthodoxy and rigidness of traditions associated with the ‘right’ thinking becomes an inhibiting force.

It is not for the government to decree which is the better or the best ideology for the youth on the campuses most of which have more than a fair sprinkling of the ‘revolutionary’ students and ‘radical’ teachers. An interesting enigma is that despite the apparent preponderance of ‘left’ voices in the sphere of higher education they have failed to convert the majority to their way of thinking once the young men and women finish their education or professional course. Most of them are content to pursue a mundane career; maybe some have drifted towards ‘capitalism’. The ‘left’ voices in the country just about manage to be heard beyond their ‘historic’ strongholds in West Bengal and Kerala. The ‘ultra-left’ forces, usually operating in the jungles and tribal areas, do exist but that is a separate issue.

It will, therefore, be right to suggest that there is no need to overreact to the display of exuberance and over enthusiasm by some youth here and there. This, however, is not to suggest that ‘anti-national’ activities must be condoned whether by students or anyone else. But a little more tact and patience is needed to handle students’ unrest whatever the reason behind it.

Past experience in India and abroad shows that once the government fails to deal with students’ movement with tact and patience, it spreads into a bigger movement, bringing down governments. It is believed that the spark for the removal of the Indira Gandhi government in the 1970s was first lit by the Nav Nirman movement of students in Gujarat. The ‘JP’ movement that accompanied it was dominated by students almost everywhere in the country.

The present government has to be more mindful of the youth and students who were the backbone of the ‘wave’ that had swept Narendra Modi and his BJP to power so decisively in May 2014. It is not going to pay if students from the ‘right’ wing are unleashed against the critics of the government. It will be even more foolish to encourage the police to ‘interfere’ frequently for maintaining ‘law and order’ on the campuses.

The task before the government is perhaps difficult. It has to stop pretending that there is no ‘intolerance’ in the country when the government tries to decides what one should think, one’s way of life and even the dietary preferences of the people in a country as diverse as India.

- Asian Tribune -

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