Even semester (2nd, 4th and 6th) examinations of Assam University (situated about 20km from Silchar) were scheduled to start from May 2, 2016. There was a severe scarcity of electricity and water in and around the university campus. Due to a shortage of hostel rooms on campus, a sizeable number of students reside in an adjacent area called Irongmara, which was worst hit by the electricity and water crisis.
In such a dire situation, students found it almost impossible to even appear for the exams, let alone fetching good marks. A group of students met with the then Vice-Chancellor of Assam University, Professor R.R. Dhamala, and sought a feasible solution. But the university administration came up with an absurd, if not downright ridiculous proposal. The administration stated that the students who would not be able to appear for the exams as per the schedule could appear for the same at a later date, but the administration would not be accountable for any delay in results. There was no time limit regarding the re-examination schedule and publication of the late result. For final semester students, this would mean putting their career in complete jeopardy.
Thus, the students started protesting against the decision. But no one anticipated that this would lead to a brute show of power by the administration. The protests that began in the morning of May 2 went on throughout the day. The administration remained adamant, and the students also did not back down. They blocked the main university gate and the VC, along with other teaching faculty were locked in for over 15 hours.
Early next morning, the police entered the campus and used lathis and rubber bullets against the agitating students and forced them to unlock the gates. Female students were also not spared, despite the fact that there were no female police officers present. At least half-a-dozen students were injured and had to be taken to the hospital.
The next morning saw the fortitude of the students of this university. Reportedly, one of the students who suffered a severe injury in his right leg limped his way to the gate at around 7 A.M and was among the first to go on a hunger strike. The number of students to join him went on increasing and by 1 p.m. the university main gate was again teeming with hundreds of protesters.
When the situation seemed beyond the control of the administration, the Deputy Commissioner of the Silchar District came to the University. A meeting was arranged with students and their representatives. The exams were postponed by a couple of days and a few sanctimonious hollow promises of punishing the perpetrators of violence were made. So far, no action has been taken against anyone.
Everyone eventually wrote their exams on May 7. But alas! The movement fizzled out before the culprits of the atrocity were booked.
The university administration was well within its right to disagree with the demands of the students. But “disagreement” cannot be synonymous with “atrocity”. The success of a democracy is judged by the degree to which it allows dissent. Only in despotic and totalitarian regimes is dissent muzzled by brute force. In democracies, dissent must be placated with dialogue.
Whether this incident forms a part of a chain of grotesque incidents that unfolded in other universities across India is a debatable question. But this trend is alarming not only to the students but to the very spirit of our democracy. After the incident, there was only one thing that was striking – deafening silence.