This post began life as an attempt to boost the response to the latest wave of targeted violence and/or State-sponsored suppression of civil liberties in Chhattisgarh. Even as I typed away, trying to summarize the ever-mounting brutality in that state, the news breaking from the University of Hyderabad took centre-stage. Every day this past week I have been reflecting on the horrors unfolding in India. Whether Chhattisgarh, or Jharkhand, UP or Hyderabad there is only the sense that the various agencies of the central and state governments are brazen in their attempts in maintaining control of their narrative, either through commission or omission.
The War against Scholarship
The Central Government’s Ministry of Human Resources & Development seems to be waging its own war against universities across the country. The earlier controversy at FTII was just the curtain raiser – the Ministry recanted on its decision to stop Non-NET Fellowships last year after massive protests from students across the country. But now it seems to be opening that can of worms all over again – with the current fire directed at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. However, over and beyond the critical question of supporting research is the amount of control being handed to the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The massive blow-up of sloganeering at a student event at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (even if it was about the controversial hanging of Afzal Guru), now appears to have been kicked off by the ABVP inviting media teams to campus, possibly without permission from the necessary authorities. Even as student leaders from other campus bodies were arrested (and subsequently released on bail), no questions were asked of the ABVP’s leadership, with them seeming to get implicit support even from the Central Cabinet. This has emboldened them to become the government’s henchmen on various campuses.
Which brings us to the grim episode as yet unfolding at the Hyderabad Central University. This too, started last year, with the shocking apathy of university officials towards Dalit research scholars leading to the suicide of #RohithVemula. The central player in that episode, the Vice-Chancellor Appa Rao Podile, was suspended pending investigation into his abetment of Rohith’s suicide. Strangely, he made an unannounced return to campus, in what appears to be a carefully orchestrated move. Again, it is important to note that on his return, Podile had the ABVP’s support, as noted by many of the student protestors.
The other thread throughout this narrative is the inordinate, disproportionate amount of violence by the State. If Delhi witnessed scenes of lathicharge, water-cannoning, etc. during the UGC protests, the violence against the #HCU students seems to on a different scale altogether. It is almost shocking to think that this latter bout of violence has, up to the time of writing this, not received even one statement of censure from any state or central government official. Add to this the fact that the police detained and questioned protestors in Chennai (for attempting a hunger strike) and Mumbai as well.
As I write this, Pune’s Fergusson College is becoming the latest theatre in ABVP’s war for control of campuses India-wide. In this, the ABVP is only following the #BJP, whose gameplan to be India’s politics new singular force was signaled by Amit Shah when he first took over as the BJP President. To be fair, there were some ABVP members who found the whole JNU fiasco, particularly the assault by the lawyers at Patiala House, revolting enough to step down.
Highlighting the Real Issues
The issue of student scholarship must be seen in the light of whom it affects most. The most-telling characteristic of the student politics at JNU and HCU is that they empower students from the most marginalized sections of society who would otherwise hardly get such an opportunity. Their battle must therefore be seen against the backdrop of the various conflicts being fought in the remotest parts of India. As the journalist P Sainath said when speaking at JNU after the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU was now fighting the criminalization of dissent that had long been fought by India’s poorest and most disempowered.
In Chhattisgarh, the State has continuously waged war against the tribals in the quest to make mineral resources available to corporates – this war is older than the state of #Chhattisgarh itself. Much of the most critical reportage on the circumstances in the state are already beginning to look dated, although their relevance is as yet intact, with on-ground situation mostly remaining intact, until now. Commentators now see a “Mission 2016”, particularly in #Bastar, wherein any and every agency that attempts to speak for the tribals is flushed out of the State – the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group has been forced out, likewise doctors and journalists. Those two bravest of local voices – Soni Sori and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi are being attacked more insidiously now, but continue to speak. As do other local activists and lawyers like Bela Bhatia and Shalini Gera continue to hold their ground, even as they too are targeted by the government.
In Maharashtra, the impact of the irrigation crisis has now been compounded by the crippling drought that affects a large swathe of the state. The famed Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code, is now imposed in places like Latur prevent riots over water. Latur’s MLA, meanwhile, has disappeared leaving even his party whip in the legislature clueless. On the other hand, the state’s Attorney-General, Shreehari Aney, has resigned his office after the legislature found controversial his support for separate statehood for Vidarbha and Marathwada (Latur falls in Marathwada, btw). Mr. Aney is now planning to take his protest to Jantar Mantar. It is useful to remember that Devendra Fadnavis sought his mandate in Maharashtra on this very promise.
The list goes on – the state of Orissa now fights the very people it is supposed to represent to get mining rights for POSCO in Niyamgiri, while Jharkhand’s cow vigilantism seems to find support at the highest echelons of government. There are famine-related horror stories coming in from Bundelkhand,
The purpose of this article is to not to recount a litany of horrors, but to highlight the urgent need for responses. The resignation of Mr. Aney, the Orissa government’s lawsuit, the ABVP members’ resignations can all be seen as alarm bells of one kind or another. The journalist Prem Shankhar Jha also highlighted the worsening situation of India’s Muslims vis-a-vis education and unemployment.
The students of various institutions have also shown the way, by becoming a credible opposition to the whip being wielded by government.
It is now essential that empathetic citizens also raise their voices. In Bastar, when journalists found no one to carry their stories, they went online, posting stories on Facebook. Suresh Ediga and Bhavana Nissima are now using social media to leverage public support for the initiatives of Soni Sori, through their #OneMillionPostCardCampaign for #Bastar. Similarly, most of the news from Hyderabad has come out through Facebook, with the Joint Action Committee for Social Justice -UoH carrying content on its page.
The violence highlighted here runs across caste, class and (religious) community lines, especially in the run-up to elections. There is a visible attempt to communalize violence that isn’t communal to begin with. Ultimately, these issues, along with those of land and water, will affect each and every one of us. I ask, beg, request, that readers at least broadcast any and every effort at combating these issues, if not supporting them in every way possible. Good night and good luck!