The Literary Society of Ramjas College, University of Delhi, organized a two-day conference on ‘Cultures of Protest’, featuring three speakers, one of who was Umar Khalid, a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University and an alleged ‘anti-national’. He was to speak on ‘The War in Adivasi Areas’, which is the subject of his doctorate study.
All of this was before members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the party that holds three top posts in the DUSU Council, assembled on the college premises and assaulted both students and faculty members, interfering in something that had nothing to do with them. Khalid’s talk was eventually cancelled.
Following this, they also assaulted participants of a protest march organised by the All India Students’ Association and Students’ Federation of India’ members the next day.
If you’ve travelled around Delhi even for a single day, you are probably not a stranger to posters on the DUSU elections visible in many public spaces in the city. Pamphlets are thrown around and people are beaten up regularly, probably for good luck.
The voter turnout was just over 36% in the 2016 DUSU elections. That is, 36% of the total number of students in the Central University of the largest democracy of the world turned up to vote. This was also a dip from the previous years’ 43% turnout and the lowest in the past five years. Maybe, it is the lack of alternatives, with minority representation negligible, if any, in the shortlisted candidates or the unsafe atmosphere of campus on voting day.
My parents, both former DU students, were aware of this and wanted me to refrain from going to campus to vote. Such is the problem faced by many students who have to commute to campus, as cars, buses and even metro stations are targets of the hooligans scouring campus; or maybe it’s just that candidates that have been nominated by the two prominent parties themselves seem to be treating the election as their own private party. Distributing liquor, asking girls to tie them rakhis to be assured of a vote and even entering hostel and PG rooms of students at night in the name of campaigning. Parties that did not have the financial resources to spend, or were merely following the Lyngdoh Committee Guidelines that prevents candidates from spending more than ₹5000 for campaigning were virtually unseen, and were unable to make a mark.
As a result, we have a students’ union that specializes in disrupting peaceful meetings and protests, hyper-masculinity, mob culture, being the self-appointed safeguards of ‘Indian’ culture and forgetting that none of these are the reasons why a large amount of money is spent year after year to elect a students’ union. Yet, this wasn’t even the first time. The last DUSU president has charges related to dowry harassment against him. There were repeated instances of him along with others, turning up and beating up journalists, independent organizations and groups, members of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) and the general public. Not to mention, elsewhere, JNU student Najeeb Ahmed went missing after a scuffle with ABVP members in 2016.
Why is it that a university, with a strength of over one lakh, that has in the past produced business personalities, politicians, film stars and other public figures, ends up with a student body that in no way represents its diverse student population?
In the name of culture and nationalism, ABVP has frequently tried to stifle voices and curb dissent. From Maharashtra, where an FTII student was beaten for not saying, ‘Jai Narendra Modi’, to Hyderabad, where a Kashmiri film festival was made the target of their attacks and Osmania University where a ‘beef festival‘ was being held to protest the imposition of Brahminical culture on minority groups and Jharkhand, where a missionary school was asked to close down and later attacked when they failed to comply. Blackening the faces of a TV anchor, burning the reels of a film and burning effigies of a man who acted in a film on religious tolerance and speaking up against superstition (PK), they have done it all, in every part of the country.
In all this, educational institutions and student groups have been targeted extensively, as these are the ones who speak, question and think, and in this gunda raj, there is no place for that.
Look around you. This is a violent situation; we are being denied our right to debate, discuss, question and our voices are being stifled by bigotry and jingoism. Throughout my time at Delhi University, I complained about the lack of participation and accountability. However, through many student movements, we have started.
An extremely important part of getting it all to count is to go to your college every year and vote. This could quite possibly be a huge contribution to the impending political revolution. We may not succeed immediately, but perhaps slowly, as more of us turn up, year after year, when their victory margin becomes smaller and they aren’t so confident about victory. They will be scared of the voices they tried to suppress. The voices that screamed azaadi.