STUDENT activism appears to have become the biggest irritant in the eye of the governments at the centre and in several states. The present day BJP led government at the centre and the several BJP and non BJP governments in the states are today in a war against students. From BJP leader Venkiah Naidu to the former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, who is heading the government panel entrusted with making suggestions for the new national education policy, all have expressed the need to restrict political activities on campuses. What makes this forced separation of ‘study’ and ‘struggle’ so significant for them? The focus of the recent student struggles in Banaras Hindu University and Patna University is another reminder of how across the years, from the likes of Montek Singh Ahluwalia to the Sangh appointees and apologists, student activism continues to remain the biggest obstacle towards making education privatised, exclusive, discriminatory, unscientific and low quality.
In Banaras Hindu University, the students have been forced to take to streets to demand a 24 x 7 library. Universities are spaces of higher learning and research, processes that require an in-depth and sustained engagement with academic resources all-round the year. Therefore, any argument that justifies curbing of library access timings either by citing vacation or post-exam period becomes antithetical to the very purpose of a university.
However, far from realising that a fully functioning round the clock library is a basic academic necessity, the administration of BHU chose to respond by slandering students and questioning their intent. Undeterred when students decided to intensify their struggle by starting a hunger strike, the university administration decided to respond by brute oppression of their struggle: rusticating struggling students and also getting the striking students beaten up by ABVP goons. Though the hunger strike was subsequently lifted due to tremendous pressure exerted by the university administration by way of getting striking students arrested, and the failing health of students, the movement continued to gain strength.
Expressing solidarity with the struggling students of BHU, AISA national president, Com. Sucheta De, AISA leaders Com. Shweta Raj, Com. Shalu, Com. Sarita and AISA leader and ex JNUSU Vice President, Com. Anant Prakash also visited the BHU campus to provide support to the movement. The AISA leaders participated in a protest where the circular notifying the rustication was burnt. AISA-RYA also gave a call for ‘Banaras Chalo’ following which students from campuses like JNU, Allahabad University, Jadavpur University, BBAU Lucknow and others gathered in Banaras on 7 June and a convention was organised in solidarity with BHU students in which JNUSU VP Com. Shehla Rashid, JNUSU Gen Sec Com. Rama Naga, JNU student leader Pardeep Narwal and other student leaders too participated. However, as the students begin to gather in huge numbers at the Lanka Gate, ABVP goons unleashed another round of terror by throwing stones and a hand grenade even as the Banaras Police continued to watch as mute spectators. The sole intervention of the Police was in the form of threatening female protestors by using extremely sexist and patriarchal arguments. The police that had earlier refused to stop ABVP from resorting to violence was later seen to forcefully stop the AISA programme. The students however decided to continue to their march till Assi Ghat and successfully complete the programme.
As the BHU students’ struggle for 24 x 7 library continues, it is ironic that the BHU VC sees protests demanding academic infrastructure as “politically sponsored” and therefore problematic. He of course, finds no problem with “administrative sponsoring” of ABVP’s violence against striking students. However, the students of BHU have shown that no amount of administrative bullying and assaults can deter their commitment towards their struggle.