Student movements: The wheels of change

Amruta Shedge
Friday, 17 January 2020

After the JNU attacks, one video that shook me from within was the interview of a blind student who was pursuing Sanskrit in JNU. The goons who vandalised the JNU campus on the evening of 5 Jan didn’t even have the remorse to spare him.

After the JNU attacks, one video that shook me from within was the interview of a blind student who was pursuing Sanskrit in JNU. The goons who vandalised the JNU campus on the evening of 5 Jan didn’t even have the remorse to spare him.

They wrecked his room, berated him and mauled him. The torment and paranoia on his face while appearing in front of the camera was a clear indication of the havoc these miscreants had unleashed that evening within the JNU campus. After I shared this video

on my Facebook wall, a middle aged, highly educated gentleman who happened to be my family member vented his chagrin for the JNU students with the argument that college going students should focus on studying rather than squandering their time protesting. What surprised me was, this gentleman did not have an iota of sympathy for the helpless blind student! Then I realised how systematically the people are being brainwashed to scorn a particular community or institute by labelling them as ‘Anti-Nationals’. Well, the word ‘Anti-National’ has doing quite the rounds in India over the last five years. Before that, showing dissent against the government in the form of
protests was a right.

After an inconclusive and illogical argument with this gentleman I realised, this was not his mistake. The core of the problem is that we are so brilliantly manipulated by our politicians that we have forgotten the history and role of student movements in this country. The source of enlightenment in this generation is through WhatsApp forwards while all other sources of literature is irrelevant, no matter how wrong, twisted and untrue it is.

This fake literature makes you hate institutions like JNU and Jamia. They make you believe that all those who study there are Naxals and Anti nationals. Wasn’t there any protest in JNU before five years? I think this is the time when we need to know our history well. The real history and not the fabricated and twisted one! If universities are only meant to study and not for raising voices against injustice and if students never had any rights to stand for what they felt and protest for their demands then India would never have seen any revolutions or it would never have given rise to some of its most charismatic leaders. One cannot define the Socio-Political history of India ignoring the contribution of student movements.

This country has seen massive student protests which later turned into a huge movement and changed the politics of this country. Protests took place on small issues like fees hike, tax hike and even on poor quality of food in hostels. The roots of the student movement in "India could be traced back to nearly 200 years ago with the founding of the Academic Association in undivided Bengal’s Hindu College under the
guidance of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, a teacher there and a reformer, in 1828.

Students of Eden College in Calcutta burned down the then viceroy Lord Curzon’s effigy. In 1905, in protest to the partition of Bengal is one of the first documented instances of student protests. Students and their organisations played a major role in the freedom fight after which almost every political party started their student wing.

Take the instance of the Anti-Hindi Movement led by students in Tamil Nadu in the year 1965 which was against the Official Languages Act which recognised Hindi as an official language along with English. This protest went violent to the extent that several students tried self-immolations and almost 70 people died in these protests. Finally the agitation ended after the assurance of the then PM Lal Bahadur Shastri to toll back this decision.

The aftermath of this protest was that the Congress lost power in the next election and DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) came into power. The most powerful student movement to which our older generation can relate to, was the JP movement in 1974. The Chatra Sangharsh Samiti led by freedom fighter Jai Prakash Narayan protested against corruption, nepotism and education reforms. Originating from Patna University the movement went viral across India. Lalu Prasad Yadav, the former Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, the current Chief Minister, Mulayam Singh, former UP Chief Minister, BJP leader late Arun Jaitely were some of the prominent youth leaders
who participated in the JP movement.

This later snowballed into the mass movement against Emergency in 1975. Universities, organisations, youth leaders and faculty

members organised underground protests using leaflets, pamphlets and graffitis to protest against the emergency. Many student leaders including Jai Prakash Narayan, Arun Jaitely were even sent to jail.

If you think North East has now suddenly started protesting against the government then you need to dig deep into history. The Assam Movement (1979-85) was a movement against undocumented immigrants in Assam, led by All Assam Students Union and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad. The Anti-Mandal agitation in 1990 against the reservations in government jobs, because of which the then Prime Minister VP Singh had to resign. Protests and agitations have always been the bedrock of change in our country right from all the above student protests to the recent Anna Hazare’s protest in which the entire country came together and stood up against
corruption.

The list of student movements in the history of India is never ending. If JNU is being labelled as anti national today, then remember the same JNU protested against the Congress government led by Indira Gandhi. There is a popular picture of the JNU from the times of emergency in 1975 which capture the moment when the JNU was protesting against Indira Gandhi and when she came to meet the protesting students,
they refused to meet her and Indira had to return from the main gate. Later, then student president of JNU, Sitaram Yechuri stood next to Indira Gandhi and read a letter which the protesters had written condemning emergency. The PM then at least had the decency to listen to the protesters instead of labelling them Anti Nationals.

In last five years there have been numerous attempts to shut down JNU right from making fabricated videos of protests, editing slogans in the protest, calling them “Tukde Tukde” gang or by even imposing a fee hike. There were times in India when governments at least listened to the protesters and ministers resigned taking the moral responsibility after such massive protests. But gone are the days! Now, no matter what you do, no matter what the majority of common people want, the government feels no
need of taking them in consideration.

They do not feel the need of establishing an communication between government and their own countrymen. Ego of few leaders is
important than feelings and demands of the common man! We should thank these student movements who brought in revolutions in Indian
politics and gave some powerful leaders like George Fernandes, Sushma Swaraj, Sharad Pawar, Sitaram Yechuri, Brinda Karat, Pramod Mahajan and many more. The government wants you to know about the emergency but doesn’t want to tell you the whole story. The BJP was also contrived from such student movements but they do not want you to know that. Slowly and steadily we are being brain washed
into forgetting our history and turning against these student protests.

We easily label people as Anti Nationals. But no matter how hard you try, history is reminiscence of the fact that student movements are hard to quell. They have always been the wheels of change and no matter how hard we try to quell them they will continue to be the embodiment of freedom and democracy.

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