This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Akhil Oka. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why I Feel Neither The Govt. Nor The Students Are Raising Real Issues In Universities

More from Akhil Oka

By Akhil Oka:

mistakesAs the protest marches continue to fill the streets of the capital as well as other cities, it seems that there is a clear drift this time around. In fact, it is an unusual phenomenon, for the people rallying are students and not just politicians. Since the death of Rohith Vemula in the University of Hyderabad (UoH) campus, many opinions have been shared from all possible quarters. It was followed by yet another incident rocking the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) campus further intriguing fellow citizens. The role of the Central government and police has been called into question. These issues became so heated, that even the mainstream media took up positions for and against. Overall, they serve as a perfect example of where the discourse has gone awry.

If we look at the first incident, it is indeed an unfortunate one. But, the response to it was quite problematic in itself. For starters, the most abhorrent thing that happened within hours of Rohith’s death was the circulation of his alleged suicide note. Immediately, there were open proclamations on the social media splashing the contents and declaring the cause of his death! The main point here is: how unethical can we get in sharing something as critical and sensitive as a suicide note? How did we know that this was indeed written by him? And even in that case, do we have the right to peep into personal moments and memories of a family?

Some people will definitely point out that nowadays, nothing remains personal when it comes out in the media. To them, the perfect riposte will be to point out what transpired next. The ugliness ensued resulting in some of the opposition party leaders descending like vultures on the family, making political capital out of a young man’s death, while the ruling party conveniently emphasised on a part of his suicide note, in which he blamed no one. Further, the excessive emphasis on his caste meant that his identity as a student and a young man took a backseat. This gave momentum to the other side, who then questioned his caste as this was the easiest way to downplay the incident. This indicates that jumping to conclusions in haste can indirectly result in sidelining the issue at hand, which was the tragic act of a student taking his own life on an university campus!

The Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry is on weak ground when it comes to the facts of the case. Caste indeed might have played a role. The letter written by a Union minister to the HRD ministry with respect to some students in UoH is under question. However, not just the caste discrimination angle, but a student politics viewpoint has also surfaced. The rivalry between two student unions might have actually precipitated the entire incident.

The worrying factor here is the increasing blurring of boundaries between student and real politics. Should a Union minister interfere in student politics simply at the call of its student wing? It is a very dangerous precedent irrespective of whether the letter had an impact on the case or not. Also, doubts over his caste status are simply irrelevant as, ultimately, a young man, who had a bright future, has passed away. There is another aspect which effectively links this to the JNU incident. While at UoH, the complaint was regarding the eulogising of Yakub Memon, it were the names of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat that resonated in the JNU campus.

The arrest of the JNU Students’ Union President and other students as a result of anti-India slogans being shouted and the beating up of students, journalists by some lawyers has been witnessed by everyone. The debate has been hovering around the validity of sedition and the label of ‘anti-national’. Let us go back to the actual incident. Firstly, we should be very clear about the fact that we have the right to dissent. It is guaranteed by the Constitution and most importantly, it is a very natural reaction. We all agree and disagree on certain topics. So, on purely technical grounds, one has a right to an opinion on virtually any issue. A plain examination of the events so far indicate that we have only been reacting on sporadic videos coming out. There is huge disagreement on every point, right from the presence of the students at the venue to the shouting of the slogans. So, for the BJP and other sections to pass judgement on the students without scrutiny is totally uncalled for. Calling it sedition, thus, might be far-fetched.

There is enough agreement that the actual slogans do cross the line. While criticism of the government is welcome, these slogans go against the very ethos of the state. We do have some clarity over the organisation of the event on 9th February. The poster and purpose of the event gives us an idea that while the organisers cannot be fully responsible for the anti-India remarks, they cannot duck the possibility of not having anticipated such outbursts of emotions. What I am emphasising here is that, there should be a platform for debate on all kind of issues, but care needs to be taken that the discussion is held within an amicable framework with open minds. As Ph.D. students, the organisers are expected to have a more nuanced focus on facts and objectivity.

At the same time, arresting them and branding them anti-national is no recourse. This is because anti-national can mean several things for several people. For some, money laundering or corruption might be anti-national. For some, going against religion might be anti-national. Hence, there is enough ambiguity in the term to use it so loosely.

The arrest of the students is not just ethically and pragmatically but also politically ill-advised. Students who have certain opinions might reconsider them on dialogue. But, police action will simply harden the feelings and can have an adverse impact. It is baffling that the Modi government, which ironically came to power on the premise of winning over the youth is resorting to this. The Prime Minister’s absolute silence on many of these incidents is hurting the cause tremendously. Mainly because the 2014 campaign was a fought like presidential contest with a focus on the PM. So, for the ruling party to now defend the silence by quoting established standards of past prime ministers does not sound convincing at all. Even some of the honest attempts of the PM like Mann Ki Baat have become bureaucratised. The disconnect between government euphoria and the reality is increasing.

On closer scrutiny, the focus is on three aspects – students expressing their opinions, the world of student politics and the ‘left’ versus ‘right’ debate. The key element here is, that any student or individual needs to introspect on how much he factually knows about the cause he fights for, whether he feels strongly about it and whether it is an issue relevant enough to pursue. Only having made an informed choice should one join or start a cause. It is easy to join the bandwagon, but difficult to hold on to your own opinions. Secondly, student unions need to maintain a certain distance from political parties. Otherwise, their actions no longer remain within the domain of student politics. The left and the right also need to reconcile with the fact that both sides have been equally liberal and intolerant over the years. So, it is plain fallacy if one side tries to claim higher moral ground.

While we have discussed at length about the students, their role in democracy, their right to free speech, it is necessary to concentrate on the situation of our universities today and their relation with students. The ground reality is far from the politicians’ understanding. For example, in Rohith’s case, there was a huge outcry with respect to the Vice-Chancellor and his lack of contact with the students. But, isn’t it the truth that the students hardly have any connect with the V-C in the majority of cases? Forget the V-C, there is a huge gap between the entire setup and the students most of the time. One thing that deserves mention here is the wholesome support of the JNU faculty to the students in this time of crisis. Such a bond is very rare and the mutual trust which both the students and the teachers share, contribute to the making of an institution and the building of confidence in the students.

But leaving this aside, we must think about whether our universities are really student-friendly. Do you know that it is entirely possible that a university may not even have a students grievance cell? There is scarcely any mechanism for a majority of the students to lodge complaints in case of ragging, harassment or against their teachers. This is just a small estimate of the kind of problems plaguing our prestigious universities. So, for all the bravado shown in fighting for the right to dissent over distant issues, how many of us, as students, can really feel comfortable raising our voice about the practical issues that affect us in our universities? Awareness and ready availability of a counsellor could have saved a life in UoH.

Hence, we need to look at a scenario where students individually need to be empowered to redress their issues. It is time that we learned to transcend the realms of idealogy and parochial attitudes and concentrate on improving the experience of student life to avoid such incidents in future. It is this very point which both the mainstream media and our politicians should be raising. Only when students are truly given a voice, will change be possible!

You must be to comment.
  1. Jitender Kohli

    debate, healthy debate within the constitution frame is always welcome but where the anti-nation slogans are raised and the students stand along, may have raised or not is other side but if they didn’t accept those slogans could leave the spot, if had no courage to check it… If the admn had disallowed the function why the students organized it flouting the admn orders…
    Above all the political interference in the universities and the acceptance of political patronage by the students is not healthy sign for the national future being built now.
    Since last so many years perhaps since 2008 some students have committed suicide why those were not politicized then? has the concerned got it investigated by police, CBI or was hushed up within the admn verdicts? why those case are not put to public know now to find the real cause of such heart aching incidences to snub all bad for future student safety? these issues are to be handled but at the same time the anti-national slogans raised in the JNU university can never dropped letting those goons to spoil university atmosphere and students future spoiled and national security challenged.

More from Akhil Oka

Similar Posts

By Saumya Jyotsna

By Love Matters India

By Sunmati Ramesh

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below