THE nationwide lockdown has come down heavily on all sections of society in some way or the other but barriers of class, caste and governmental apathy has rendered some at the margins of life and death. Among those who have been completely overlooked and whose concerns have failed to ring any alarm in the minds of those sitting in power, is the student and youth community, in a nation where more than 50% of the population is below 25 years of age. On the contrary, the lockdown has been effectively used as an opportunity to witch-hunt students and activists, intimidate and harass them and frame them under draconian laws of UAPA.
However, this does not come to us as a surprise given the history of this regime with the student community and the continuous attack we have been facing in terms of structural destruction of public education as well as political contestations. As a matter of fact, in a scenario where the Indian political stage looks rather devoid of a strong, vocal opposition, the students have come out as a consistent voice of resistance, asserting and reasserting their identity as opposed to that being imposed by the ruling party ideology and coming out on the streets defending what they believe in. The CAA-NRC-NPR protests assumed a central stage in the national debate with students of Jamia, DU, JNU, AMU and others coming out on the roads time and again braving police lathis and brutal, lethal attacks by the right wing to defend the constitution and reject the divisive politics.
AISA has payed a major role in providing vision, direction and the necessary thrust to these movements as and when the situations demanded. With an aim to unite the CAA-NRC protests across the nation, AISA spearheaded the Young India platform bringing together movements and organisations for a united and coordinated struggle in defence of the constitution. The idea of preamble reading as a sign of protest as well as that of asserting our national ideals was taken forward enthusiastically by people across the country and even by the Indian diaspora abroad.
No wonder then that the regime’s witch hunt of those speaking against it is increasingly being directed against AISA activists. Comrade Kawalpreet Kaur who is currently the President of Delhi AISA has her phone siezed in the name of investigation. Chandan Kumar, a student of Jamia has been repeatedly called to the police station amidst lockdown for interrogation, and his phones seized under UAPA.
Asif Iqbal a student from Jamia was arrested on 17th May 2020 for protests against CAA-NRC-NPR and subsequently he is also being linked to the UAPA FIR. The filing of false FIRs, arresting of Jamia students and members of Jamia Coordination Committee (JCC) Meeran, Safoora and others and subsequent slapping of UAPA on them is clearly aimed at shielding the actual perpetrators and establishing the script prepared by the RSS-BJP brigade.
AISA has previously exposed how the Delhi Police claims “investigations” and “evidence” on students from DU, Jamia and JNU along with student organizations like AISA and other students is nothing but a script prepared by the RSS-BJP brigade. This script was then amplified by its supporters like Monica Arora, more than a month before the Delhi Police’s supposed “investigations”! This is not the first time Delhi Police (controlled by Home Ministry) has presented right-wing fabrications as its own “evidence”. We may well recall how after the violence by masked ABVP thugs in JNU, the Delhi Police had held a press conference presenting photographs and videos circulated by RSS-BJP-ABVP affiliated social media accounts, as “evidence” gathered by a police “investigation”!
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police, we may recall, has refused to act on the copious evidence about the role of BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra, in inciting the targeted violence and riots which gripped large parts of NE Delhi. Similarly there is still no action against the shrill venomous calls and speeches by the likes of Anurag Thakurs and Parvesh Vermas in the run up to the Delhi elections, clearly geared to fan communal hate.
The Delhi Police has also ignored evidence that ABVP leader Komal Sharma and other ABVP thugs entered JNU campus wearing masks and indulged in violence that threatened the lives of students and teachers. Likewise the NIA has ignored the evidence of the involvement of right wing brigades led by Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote in the violence against Dalits at Bhima Koregaon. In both Delhi riots, as well as Bhima Koregaon and JNU, it is the victims of the violence and their allies and voices of dissent who are being targeted – while the actual perpetrators of violence go scot free.
However, if the government is finding new methods of oppression and silencing, dissent and democracy have found their own ways. The lockdown and its massacres have unveiled the most vicious face of the government and given us visuals of plight and suffering that will continue to haunt our memories for the rest of our lives. The student community has again come out as one of the most sensitive segments of society, raising questions and concerns and demanding answers. With the limitation on public gathering and restrictions on movement, we have effectively used social media as our site of protest and have come up with innovative ways of communicating to people our concerns and demands. Pictures with placards, use of effective hashtags, facebook lives, public lectures, twitter storms and reading of resistance poems have all added to the bandwidth of the struggle.
Social media is an unequal platform. Those without any internet connection and smart phone are left out right at the point of entry. It was imperative their voices and struggles also echoed in the social media. The intervention of student-youth, especially AISA has been to ensure we don’t only speak for ourselves but also fight for those who aren’t on the internet. Be those millions of migrant workers who are walking or those millions who were starving with the sudden declaration of lockdown. AISA along with student-youth across the country did what we had to. Stood and fought for the oppressed and spoke for the voiceless. AISA and students did this as their duty.
Be it participating in AICCTU and other trade union calls of demanding universal ration for all, getting governments out of their slumber to deliver food and rations, forming mohalla kitches like comrades from Banaras, Odisha, Kurnool (Andhra Pradesh) and other places did and taking up action programmes to inspire and motivate student-youth communities to fight against the misery of the working people, AISA has wholeheartedly sought to rise to the occasion despite the limitations dictated by the lockdown. AISA has successfully spearheaded student-youth protests across India against #LockdownMassacres after the brutal killing of workers sleeping on railway track in Aurangabad, Maharastra and is coordinating with various organisations and civil society in bringing to light the truth of migrant worker crisis.
PM Modi announced a 20 lakh crore relief package two months into the lockdown which turned out to be another ‘jumla’. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman then came on TV discussing the details of the package. However, students and their concerns remained conspicuously absent even in the jumlas. With the nation heading towards an economic slowdown like a vehicle without brakes, the student-youth problems cannot be overlooked. We have been demanding a Student Action Plan since the beginning of the lockdown and have been relentlessly reiterating these demands since then.
Exposing the 20 lakh crore economic package Jumla AISA along with various student-youth organisations planned and participated in a nationwide protest on 20th May on the issue. Student-youth activists across the country raised black flags on home, made posters with demands, and exposed the abject failure and total betrayal by a regime which continues to wax eloquent about reaping the dividends from India's vibrant demography.