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An EFLU Hyderabad Student Asks: Why Is Imprisoning Students UGC’s Idea Of Safety?

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By Tania Kar:

On the stormy evening of 24th September, a group of EFLUites patiently waited their turn to be heard, on Hasina Chowk. The football ground, next to it, a host for the Cricket Championship, was full of cheers and a huge crowd. The meeting was scheduled at six, but a late start to the cricket tournament inauguration pushed their program too by an hour. But they did not complain, waiting patiently, while holding posters that read, “Do not turn campuses into jails”, “UGC you are not our big brother”, “Safety not at the cost of freedom”, “Smile, you are on camera”, “Do not turn universities into police camps”. As the inauguration program ended, the crowd thinned out. Only a few joined the group in Hasina Chowk, in view of at least three CCTV cameras.

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Mohammed Afzal, a PhD student of the Department of Cultural Studies addressed the gathering briefly and then amidst slogans, a copy of the UGC Guidelines On Safety Of Students On And Off Campuses Of Higher Educational Institutions published by the University Grants Commission was burnt. A cold stormy wind blew, foiling the attempts to light up a matchstick, almost replicating the attitude of the EFLU administration, that was suppressing the voice of the student community, before they finally managed to succeed with a lighter.

The preamble of the UGC which was published by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in April 2015, reads as follows: “University Grants Commission believes that a safe, secure and cohesive learning climate is an ineluctable precondition to quality education and research in HEIs. It should be the prime concern of educational administrators across the country to ensure that students are safeguarded against attacks, threats and accidents, both man-made and natural. With this in mind, the Commission has formulated guidelines on the ways in which the campuses of HEIs can be transformed into oasis of safety, security and study. All universities may make or amend their ordinances and other relevant statutory provisions accordingly to ensure that the directions contained in the guidelines are implemented in the best interests of students.”

The foremost question that arises has to be, why this sudden uproar about students’ safety? Is it that the environment in higher educational institutions, which are registered with UGC have suddenly become adverse for students? Who are the perpetrators? Ifthe UGC considers that the students’ safety is being compromised, why is it that the students themselves are being put into prisons complete with barbed wires, police postings, constant surveillance and a biometric system? Who is this constant surveillance aimed at and why?

As the state observes, we must be administered- as we are a possible threat to its integrity and hence the need to administer or rather govern. Instead of excluding us, rusticating us, arresting us we are further being included within the system. Integrated with a greater force not through repressive action but voluntary consent! It is therefore not a scenario of forceful suppression but rather violence through inclusion: not just of the body but also through the subjectivation* of our minds. We shall participate in the surrendering of our liberty by being made to feel the lack of security, our incapability to deal with threat, and hence ask for the much-needed surveillance and security

Ideologically, there seems to be a problem as this directly concerns the freedom of the students in university campuses- the supposed Eden of free thought, speech, and expression. “The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way“, said one of the most celebrated champions of liberty J. S. Mill. As he understood, freedom or liberty (he used both words to mean the same) can be of two types- negative and positive. The negative being the kind of freedom where you are free to choose any door to pass through, but only among a designated number of doors. Whereas positive freedom entails that you are free to go anywhere you want. Now the former also entails that people are unable to decide for themselves what is good for them and must thus be steered to ‘safety.’ They should be directed, told at every step that this is for their good and also discourage individualistic thoughts. When this borders on coercion, the freedom of an individual is curtailed. In Mill’s words: “To coerce a man is to deprive him of freedom”. The positive kind of freedom asks- “What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?” The positive sense of liberty derives from the wish on the part of the individual to be a “subject, not an object; to be moved by reasons, by conscious purposes, which are my own, not by causes which affect me, as it were, from outside” and that is exactly what we should strive for as responsible and capable future citizens of this country.

Entering a university is officially the first step into your ‘adulthood’, where you not only must learn to nurture your academic intellect but to deal with ‘real-life-situations’ as well. We learn to stay away from our homes for the first time, deal with our own admission procedures for the first time, and also start taking active interest in things that directly concern us- all contribute towards making a responsible citizen. Thus it is imperative to ponder on the relevance of quarterly parents-teachers meet (PTM) which are supposed to be directed towards tackling the grievances and gaps in system, which in my opinion is a matter for the students to deal with.

Contrast this with the practical situation where the EFLU administration refuses to have any dialogue with the students, let alone addressing grievances. The administration seems to be growing hostile gradually, even on occasions unleashing police on unarmed and peaceful gatherings of students. On 20th August, students came together under the SFI-EFLU banner to make posters and a collage, and decided to conduct a solidarity gathering to create a platform for a discussion on the students’ movements and issues at FTII, IIT Madras, Pondicherry University and all other universities.

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The poster being taken down immediately.

On the list of invitees were Dr.G Vijay (Faculty, University of Hyderabad), Kota Ramesh (SFI Telangana State President), Nageshwar Rao (State Vice President), Anjaneyalu (University Convener) to give a talk, on these pertinent issues. But even before the event had begun, the posters were torn off, stating that no prior permission was obtained for the gathering. This was followed by the sudden arrival of a truckload of police. The talks were being held peacefully, at Sagar Square, inside the campus, when Chief Guest Dr. G. Vijay, was denied entry by the administration into the campus, without any apparent reason. The students, undeterred, continued the meeting in front of Gate No.2, outside campus premises. After the talk, the administration finally relented, granting Dr. Vijay entry. But the SFI State leaders who had earlier led the talks, were now denied entry and forcefully locked out. Dr. G.Vijay strongly condemned the brutal tactics employed by the EFLU Admin, to stifle all forms of dissent.

The ensuing scuffle, where students and SFI leaders are manhandled
The ensuing scuffle, where students and SFI leaders are manhandled
Talk continues at gate no.2
Talk continues at gate no.2
Instances of past police intervention on campus, photo from 2014
Instances of past police intervention on campus, photo from 2014

A paranoia is gripping the EFLU administration, as it is gripping the administrators of our country- a paranoia of a terrorist attack, a protest. This paranoia then grips us, the students, too and we start feeling the need for being protected, we start accepting their terms as fear grasps us from within.

The divergent student of the university should not be penalized but rather normalized, should not be punished but rather disciplined! Hence the need to create a ‘learning climate’ where we will learn of our threats, feel threatened by the terrorist and the rapist and consent to our locking up in our prison house of words.

*the term subjectivation carries a paradox in itself. It denotes both- the becoming of the subject and the process of subjection- one inhabits the figure of autonomy only by becoming subjected to a power, a subjection that implies a radical dependency. For Foucault, this process of subjectivation takes place centrally through the body. In Discipline and Punish, the prisoner’s body not only appears as a sign of guilt and transgression, as an embodiment of prohibition, but also as a sanction of ritual of normalization. Judith Butler: 1997.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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