To be free, said the Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, is one thing; to claim ownership of that freedom, quite another. The analogy can be extended to our modern political state. To win an election is one thing, to be able to truly represent and give voice to the masses that elected you into power, quite another. In what is perhaps an unprecedented act, the movement initiated by the Students Federation of India (SFI) against the hike in the fee structure of Himachal Pradesh University and also the ban on Students’ Union Election saw the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) joining hands with the students wing of the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPM). While the National Students Union of India (NSUI), the student wing of the Congress party, remains conspicuously absent from this struggle, according to Vikram Singh, All-India Joint Secretary of SFI, the support extended by ABVP to the movement is appreciable. Four hundred students, including sixty-five girls have been reportedly arrested for staging protests and violating Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code, and as many as five officials have resigned — some in response to the police atrocities against the demonstrators, others expressing their inability to discharge their responsibilities in such a pressure-cooker situation.
A pamphlet released by the SFI requests students, agitators and sympathizers to not look at this protest in isolation but to link it with the larger struggle for democracy and socialism. The pamphlet which condemns police action against students drew attention to the mass protest in Bengal against the Vice Chancellor of Jadavpur University — “Himachal or West Bengal, the democratic, fundamental, human rights of students are violated by the very same State machinery dutifully bound to protect it.”
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s comments on students carrying cell phones worth Rs.Â “15,000” and spending “200 daily on the Mall Road” spurred the protesters to take their demonstrations to another level. Protesters banned the Vice Chancellor, ADN Bajpai, from entering the University premises. He had expelled nine students affiliated with the SFI for allegedly manhandling him.
This Chakka Jaam was lauded by the CPM and the party condemned Chief Minister Singh’s flippant and irresponsible statement — “this shows the attitude of the rich politicians who think everyone in the state is rich and had a lot of money and luxury”, the CPM opined. Bhupender Singh, the CPM District Secretary went on to explain that with the existing fee structure, even people belonging to the lower middle classes, falling within the income group of Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 30,000 per month, will be “forced to think before sending their wards to government institutions.” He also alluded to the lack of hostel facilities which led a lot of students to stay outside campus, usually as paying guests, which only added to their monthly expenses.
Vikram Singh is not surprised that the NSUI is towing the parent-party line, but he welcomed the support extended to the movement by ABVP. Can the Parishad influence its mother-party, which is at the helm of affairs at the Centre, in any significant way? Singh confessed to our correspondent in a telephonic interview that, “the BJP is not exactly pro-masses, is it? They are following the same autocratic policies at the Central level. Yet we welcome the support that ABVP has extended to us because it at least increases students’ unity. All students’ organizations are welcome to join the movement.”
A three-member committee, headed by Retired Justice V.K. Sharma (of the Himachal Pradesh High Court), has been formed. The two other members of this committee are Sarojini Ganju Thakur, Chairperson, Himachal Pradesh Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Commission, and A. R. Chauhan, ex-Pro Vice Chancellor, Indus International University. The committee has been asked to submit its report on the fee-hike within a month.
In the mean time, Vikram Singh has confirmed that the students are no longer boycotting classes. The Chhatra Ekta Committee is continuing staging demonstrations — the effigy of the Vice Chancellor was burnt in protest; the protesters sit on dharnas as well, but by and large students have started attending classes. Wouldn’t boycotting classes have created more pressure on the government and pushed it to take speedy action? Singh informed our correspondent that the students have to appear for an examination in October and they cannot afford to lose a semester. Attending classes, therefore, is a necessity. “Our prime concern is our studies. We are staging all these protests so that we can study. And therefore, we have decided to go back to class and study, while protesting against the heinousness of state-sponsored crimes simultaneously.”
To study and to struggle should be the motto of students in troubled times like ours. As the protesters say, “karo ladai padhne ko, karo padhai ladne ko!” Fight, so that you can study; study so that you can continue to fight. Inquilaab, long live!