Thousands of students and youths from across the country arrived in Delhi on February 7 at the wake of spring to participate in the Young India Adhikar March which demanded academic freedom, universities free from discrimination, more funding for public institutions and dignified employment among others.
The March started from the Red Fort, a land which has a significance of its own. It was one of the rare occasions when the historical monument, which has been a witness to the speeches of all our Prime ministers, saw such a large gathering of students and youths. The young students came from different parts of the country, carrying flags of different colours but bonded by similar feelings of helplessness, anger and rage against the prevalent state of joblessness and their bleak future.
The recent National Sample Survey Office’s periodic labour force survey’s unpublished report revealed the numbers for what was known to all of us yet not accepted by the government of India, that its unemployment rate is highest in the past four decades at 6.1% in the year 2017-18. It lay before us what every Indian knew but a few have courage to accept, that the demonetisation drive was a major factor behind the destruction of jobs in the informal sector and one of the reason behind the present crisis.
The students and youths formed a major constituency of the present Government. They voted for the BJP in large numbers during 2014 elections. Our Prime Minister has often called himself as the one who represents the aspirations of the burgeoning young population of the country. The failure to deliver on the promises of jobs added with the major uprising in the universities which we have witnessed in the past 4.5 years of his tenure shows that not all is well with his constituency any more. The tides are changing directions. It will not be wrong to say that now the students are setting the political agenda before the elections. They would want that any government who comes to power must be held accountable. It will be a folly for any political party to take them for a ride anymore.
Today universities are fighting and defining the idea of democracy. The students who faced various attacks by the government are now attempting to guide the countrymen. They are trying to give them direction. They are asking questions which make the establishment uncomfortable. They are standing up for protecting the independence of democratic institutions. The voices coming out from the universities are creating an impact on the political narrative of the entire country. The suicide of research scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad Central University in January, 2016 and the disappearance of a Muslim student Najeeb Ahmed from the Jawaharlal Nehru University find mention in all political rallies and act as a unifying thread to form Dalit-Muslim unity in the country.
Rohith Vemula was termed as ‘casteist’, ‘anti-national’ and was suspended from the university due to the interference of local BJP leaders and the then HRD minister, Smriti Irani. His suicide led to major dalit uprising in the entire country. Similarly, Najeeb Ahmed, who was first year M.Sc student, was beaten by the members belonging to ABVP, the student’s wing of the RSS in 2016.
The entire nation is on a boil and the campuses have become the sites of resistance. The ongoing agitation in the universities against the recent judgment of the Supreme Court that upheld the department wise roster system for the faculty appointments in central universities has brought the entire opposition together. It is being argued that its implementation will lead to drastic cut in the seats for SC-ST-OBC faculty members and the agitation has raised serious questions on the intentions of the government.
It would not be wrong to say that today university students are voicing the mood of the entire nation. We can’t forget how in September, 2017 Benaras Hindu University’s students movement raised a reverberating voice against the prevalent culture of victim blaming. The movement demanded freedom from sexual harassment. It was after a woman student in the campus was molested and then was blamed by the administration for going out late. It pushed the question of women’s freedom and safety at the forefront. The demands of the movement then found space in manifestos of many political parties.
Today the students-youth have started reaching out to the general public. University students are actively interacting with the outside world. They are trying to do what the Government fears the most, interacting.
Last year Delhi University’s teachers-students long strike generated huge interest among the public. Strike was initiated against the HRD minister, Prakash Javadekar’s policy of ‘financial autonomy’. The fund-cut in public education impacts the public. The new system aims at replacing older system of grants with that of loans. It will affect the ‘public’ nature of the education and the students from poor and marginalised backgrounds.
The students today are trying to make access to education a question for all. The Young india Adhikar March was aimed at initiating these conversations. It also demanded for the first time a complete waiver of student’s loans. Since the Government’s spending on education is decreasing every year resulting in high fees, it must waive off their educational loans like it does for the corporate. It is forcing students to take education loans and by not providing jobs, it is systematically pushing the students into a cycle of loans. Through these demands the students are reminding the government of its duty of providing affordable education to all. They are stating something basic that education can't be a privilege of the few. No country can progress if it keeps education out of reach from common people.
Every year some or the other university campus is sending out a message of resistance. They are fighting the repressive measures on their universities with full zeal. The students are now taking the Government head on! The February 9th programme in Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2016 saw charges of sedition imposed on the students. In February 2017 student-teachers of the Ramjas College, Delhi University braved an attack for holding a seminar. All these attacks were fought out bravely by the students.
When in each February the tyranny of the government is unleashed what follows is the students’ ‘spring’. The students and youths have year after year shown that spring be known for its resistance. After every spring, summer comes and this spring holds a lot more for the upcoming summer of 2019.