Over the past few days, student protests on campuses (and beyond) of the most eminent Universities of India have shaken the country. Students across India have taken to the streets to raise their voices against the controversial Citizenship Act, privatisation of education and the rampant vandalism and violence on campuses. On January 8, 2020, students in Delhi University and other universities across India participated in the nation-wide strike called by the trade unions from all over the country. Students in huge numbers raised hands, placards and slogans against the privatisation of education, government policies and the violence that ensued in the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) on January 5.

Key Takeaways

  • Students continue to be change-makers and embodiment of enlightenment and unity.
  • Students have participated in the Independence movements, anti-Emergency movements, the Mandal movement for reservation and many more issues. 
  • In the 21st century, students’ have opposed various ideas on the grounds of discrimination, threat to unity, freedom and diversity.
  • Students in India are the embodiment of this critical thinking, self-reflection, humanity untouched by discrimination and unity in diversity.

History is witness to the fact that the student-led protests have in fact overturned power structures. Students continue to be change-makers and embodiment of enlightenment and unity. Today, again students have risen and protests are at their peak. But, the way universities and students are being terrorized for speaking up, and unknown infiltrators are entering campuses and causing havoc is unprecedented. Will this silence the students and break their will? Or will the trailblazing history of student protests in India have a new benchmark for the transformation of the country?

Students continue to be change-makers and embodiment of enlightenment and unity.

What does student activism mean?

Nelson Mandela said education is the most powerful weapon to change the world. Education that is liberal and not shaped by majoritarianism acts as a mirror to society. It is the reflection of a country amidst the history of disputes, amendments and reformation that gives students their critical vision and revolutionary voice. India’s history is painted with voices of dissent from young reformers in Universities. Students have participated in the Independence movements, anti-Emergency movements, the Mandal movement for reservation and many more issues. HLV Derozio a young poet and reformist of Indian modern history was the first to recognise the political and revolutionary potential of students to look into the eyes of power makers. He formed a group of students who were free thinkers and called it ‘Young India’. This group was volatile and played an important role in Indian Rennaissance of the 19th century and in opposing the Partition of Bengal in 1905. Later, in 1920, Mahatma Gandhi called for Non-Cooperation movement against the British Empire in the campus of St. Stephens College. Students hit the streets, supporting the cause which eventually led to the freedom struggle and the freedom of India in 1947. It is this legacy which has made Universities a space of liberalism, debates, opinions and radicalism on society and politics.

Also Read: Five Student Protests In Recent Times That Shook The Nation

In the 21st century, students’ activism has witnessed an incredible upsurge. They have opposed various ideas on the grounds of discrimination, threat to unity, freedom and diversity. The FTII Agitation of 2015, the Jadavpur University Protest of 2014 that demanded an investigation into the molestation of a female student, the protests against Rohith Vemula‘s death, JNU protests of 2016 against the hanging of Afzal Guru and many more. In all these movements, student activism has leveraged the struggle for a democratic country and a secure future. No wonder Indian Universities, especially government universities are called “mini-India” where faces from different states, religion and class come together on the common ground of education and reformation. Democracy in India ensures that students can exercise their freedom to unite and speak for or against an idea. It also proves right the saying that the youth are the future nation builders, as students through their dissent contribute to the formation of the nation and its history. Certainly, the present nation-wide student activism against CAA and violence in campuses will become an important part of Indian history.

Democracy in India ensures that students can exercise their freedom to unite and speak for or against an idea.

Student protests today, what story do they present?

The rising of student protests today, especially since the fee-hike in JNU and the alleged crackdown of the police against peaceful student protesters in three prestigious universities of India, certainly gives a glimpse of the history and the changes that it has brought. The protests today underline the right to education, unity in diversity and the very right of the citizen to protest in a democratic country.

Also Read: These Three Jamia Millia Girls Have Become The Face Of CAA Protests

While on one side there is immense enthusiasm and unity visible in the students protesting and sloganeering, on the other, the brutal force which is being used to silence the students has changed the whole narrative. The incidents of violence in the campuses of JNUJamia and AMU to silence the students were not only nightmarish but a message about what the future of India looks like. The youth have been brought up on lessons of revolutionaries in history with the baton being passed on to them as the next revolutionaries, are being brutally-beaten up for dissent and resistance. Their liberalism and critical thinking are being condemned as “danger to the nation’s security”. The universities are being vandalized, unknown masked people with rods are breaking through the gates that until yesterday opened only for young minds who want to learn. The campuses that were known for their openness and safety for individual voices are harbouring fear to even walk around alone. The reading rooms of Jamia were filled with overturned tables and chairs, the hostels of JNU had pieces of shattered glass and broken rods. Students were hiding inside libraries and hostels in fear while their parents were anxious and helpless at home.

According to The Hindu, Shikha Kapoor, an Associate Professor in the Department of Adult and Continuing Education and Extension in JMI said, “Typically you target the lower half of the body, the legs, to intimidate the crowd into dispersing. But students have been bludgeoned on the head with the lathis. Is it vengefulness or law enforcement. Forget about physical injuries. Can you imagine the mental traumas these youngsters must deal with for the rest of their lives?”

Never in the recent history of student-led activism in democratic India, were the Universities stormed by unknown masked people who blindly vandalized the campus and brutally hit any student who raised slogans or tried to oppose. Is raising one’s voice a crime?  It is from here that the future of student activism seems to go into oblivion.

Is raising one’s voice a crime?  It is from here that the future of student activism seems to go into oblivion.

Has India forgotten its legacy of democracy, freedom and resistance

Martha Nussbaum in her work, In Cultivating Humanity, writes, “It would be catastrophic to become a nation of technically competent people who have lost the ability to think critically, to examine themselves, and to respect the humanity and diversity of others.” Students in India are the embodiment of this critical thinking, self-reflection, humanity untouched by discrimination and unity in diversity. Has the nation forgotten its history that would have been completely different if there were no young minds with revolutionary thoughts that imagined an independent country? Is the nation rejecting the idea of satyagraha, non-violence and soul force that Mahatma Gandhi symbolized? Has it forgotten B R Ambedkar’s struggle for equality of the Dalits despite the seemingly unsurmountable resistance?

Sushma Buswal, M A English student rightly says, “Education has enabled students to distinguish between right and wrong, to become the future leaders. Today, we are fighting for our rights to protest, against oppression, communalism and wrongful decisions of the government. We are taking a step forward to bring a change and show the real power of democracy. Protesting against anything shows the courage unity and power that students hold to stand against any brutality.”

Adding further, Titiksha Kashyap, IIM C student says, “Student protests gives us hope that the future will rebel for a good cause. It is exciting, powerful and hopeful at the end of the day.”

Picture Credit: STP

Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Also Read: Pepper Spray, Mirchi powder for Defence: Girl In JNU Hostel Shares Horror

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