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Delhi Police Lathi Charges Students At #OccupyUGC: Is There No Space For Dissent In India?

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By Nikita Azad:

A huge number of students sitting outside the UGC office, protesting against the decision to scrap the non-NET fellowship were brutally lathi charged and detained on 27th October, 2015, by a dictatorial force of the Delhi Police and CRPF. Around 15 students were injured severely, including JNUSU’s president Kanhaiya Kumar. The torture did not stop there itself, but continued inside the bus harbouring protesting students, disobeying all custodian laws. Women students were beaten up by male police officials, and individually tortured inside the bus.

Image source: Sarfaraz Hamid/Facebook
Image source: Sarfaraz Hamid/Facebook

These students are protesting from that moment when UGC took the decision of discontinuing the non-NET fellowship. They have been campaigning day and night on various campuses, and have also raised the demand for extending the fellowship to all state universities. Instead of peacefully negotiating with the students, the administration and police resorted to such undemocratic measures towards protesting students. While, on the other hand, Smriti Irani, Minister of Human Resource Development, spared her not-so-precious time to meet BJP’s student wing, ABVP and ‘promised’ to withdraw the decision of doing away with the fellowship. The lies and slanders of ABVP were exposed when the administration sent the message in the form of CRPF and lathis to young researchers. Here, it must be noted that this is the second time in a row that students occupied UGC’s office and the administration responded in this manner. The undemocratic, dictatorial, and fascist attitude of BJP has insulted the entire student community, and education as a whole, whereas its student wing is busy celebrating the ‘resolution’ of the issue.

Education: A Service Or A Commodity?

The decision that UGC has taken is not a spontaneous one, rather it has a long history of the commodification of education behind it. In February 2015, a committee was set up owing to students’ demands of increasing the meagre amount of the non-NET fellowship from 5k and 8k to 10k and 15k respectively, named ‘Fellowship Enhancement Committee’. The decision that this committee took was, “considered and resolved to discontinue”, as if it was mocking students’ demands and right to education.

This process of commercialization of education began with the trade regulations set up after World War II, when the world’s capitalists and politicians assembled in Bretten Woods to create two institutions: the World Bank, and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Although, the stated purpose was reconstruction of destroyed nations, in reality it performed the role of de-constructing the economies in order to privatise all assets of the prey nation. This character of clearing the history of a nation and rewriting it so to make the ventures profitable for capitalists, is well exposed by the brilliant work of Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine.

Many liquidations in trade barriers were brought, and indebted nations were forced to adopt structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), on the condition of opening the prey’s market to predators. It was during this period that WTO and GATS were founded in the famous Uruguay Round of 1995. It was also the first time that the term ‘service’ was used in international treaties which implied a flexible entry of foreign capital in the service sector, including education and health. The special clause of WTO-GATS states that the developing country will not ‘discriminate’ on any grounds, i.e. it will not discriminate between the indigenous firms and foreign firms in providing space to exercise control over the market. Interestingly, the firm that enters the nation is called ‘supplier’ in the WTO-GATS documents, which is actually like a parasite feeding upon valuable resources of the nation. Also, the upcoming session of WTO-GATS December, 2015 is all set to promote privatization of hitherto existing institutions and opening up new private universities in India.

BJP is playing the perfect role of an obedient, hungry dog of imperialism, of making service sectors the playground of multinationals, and sharing the profit they will earn from snatching the fruits of hard labour done by toiling masses. At the same time, it is well prepared with its plan of manufacturing consent against dissenting voices, either in the name of cow safety or that in love-jihads.

Voices Of Dissent

The year began with a huge protest by FTII students against the communal recruitment of five FTII society members, and is still continuing. Simultaneously, a ban was imposed on the Ambedkar-Periyar study circle in IIT Madras on the charges of it spreading anti-national thoughts. Both these were fascist attempts of sanskritization of education and criminalizing the minority’s voice. When FTII students were protesting, on a dark night, a conspiracy was sketched and they were arrested. The state machinery entered in to help the sacred orders of their bosses. A similar tactic was used to try and crush the Pinjra Tod campaign of independent women students against gender discriminatory practices, whereby ABVP goons called up an activist, only to threaten her to withdraw the campaign. During the protest against UGC’s unfair move, ABVP is lying to distract students from reality and a bus carrying hundreds of ABVP members came in the JNU campus on 27th October, to take students for an Israeli Music Concert, while on the other hand protesting students at UGC were beaten up brutally by their party!

Image source: Akhil Kumar/Facebook
Image source: Akhil Kumar/Facebook

It is crystal clear that state machinery, including police, its goons, its bureaucracy/administration, have decided to criminalize all voices collectively, so as to satisfy their bosses in the WTO. The development model that was projected in 1980s, and which is being projected now has only one difference, that this one will be more rigorous in opening shops of education.

Liberalization has not only brought drastic changes in the socio-economic lives of people, but has also affected their psychological mindsets dramatically. The Independence movement, led primarily by two blocs, Congressian and Revolutionary, finally culminated into an agreement upon limitations on the use of India’s resources without much changes in the actual structure of society. But, the nation was so politicised that it soon started questioning the innumerable promises done by ruling parties. Naxalbari movement is a result of this political consciousness which challenged the Nehruvian state for its anti-people attitude. The following years saw the Emergency, Telangana struggle which were imposed on the masses to bury the criticism. But strategic burying started when the multinationals entered in India, and brought with them an imperialist culture. This culture spoke of Pepsi, Reebok, and Duke to mesmerise the nation in their beauty and perfection. The youth which had never seen something better than khadi were so much impressed by the Denims of the global world. They soon started dancing to the tunes of Michael Jackson, Adele, and Eminem, only to forget everything about the people’s struggle. Khadi, which used to be a symbol of gratitude among people, signifying comradeship, became an insult, and was replaced by colourful t-shirts and jeans. Those who talked about politics and harsh realities of life were laughed at, and tagged as ‘negative’ individuals.

This process has given rise to a new theory, called positivism, with writers like Chetan Bhagat, comedians like Kapil Sharma, and actors like Salman Khan as its advocates within the nation. It talks of late night parties, four bottles of whisky, and yet, loving and lovable people who help all the needy. The coolness it wishes to exhibit was exposed in the recent advertisement of Pepsi whereby striking students are mocked. This hegemonic culture is altering the atmosphere of educational campuses also, which have either become centres of supplying machines to industry or that of isolated researches which have nothing to do with society. Researches in history are seen as something useless.

Hundreds of protesters are still fighting for the only source of income for young researchers all over India. The demand is simple, i.e. put an end to all attempts of commercializing education and provide scientific, equal education for all. We must oppose the conscious marginalization of workers-peasants who make this nation worth living and yet suffer the most. UGC must withdraw its anti-people decision, extend fellowship to state universities, and increase the fellowship from 5k, 8k to 10k, 15k for M.Phil and PhD students respectively.

It is high time that all progressive, democratic individuals and organizations come together to join hands with the Occupy UGC movement, and save education from becoming a privilege for a specific section.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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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