It is possible to look at a government,
howsoever domineering, in its face.
Yesterday i.e. the 18th of November 2019, the agitating students of JNU had given a call for a ‘Long March’ to the Parliament to assert their opposition to the ‘New Education Policy’, which the government plans to table in the current session of the Parliament, in order to announce their outright rejection of commercialization and privatization of higher education.
On 18th morning as one tried to make way to the JNU campus there were obstructions galore to forbid any movement in the direction of JNU at various points, far removed from each other. The police had heavily barricaded all roads from all directions leading to JNU. Indeed, the number of men and women in khaki, and green fatigues appeared far superior to any that have been seen around JNU in the past. It was even more than the deployment during the heady days of orchestrated “Nationalist” onslaught on JNU, its students and teachers, in 2016. Later in the day, one saw the courageous defiance by the students of JNU in face of the state’s coercive might. Despite the heavy police blockading, the students took down barricade after barricade to finally make their way right up to the Safdarjang tomb on Sri Aurobindo marg, less than half a kilometre from the prime minister’s residence.
The government’s design behind the heavy police ‘bandobast’ was, apart from intimidating and settling a hopeless chill among the students’, to turn their call for the long march into the quintessential ‘storm in a tea cup’ by keeping the students confined within JNU campus; but, what the government ended up having instead was a situation of JNU students managing to reach out to the entire country with their message that privatization and commercialization of publicly funded higher education shall not be tolerated. The government shall also have to live with the ignominy of brutally assaulting the students not once, but at least in three different instances of lathi charge against the agitating students – one, at the university main gate; second, at the beginning of Baba Gang Nath Marg – the road that leads to the university; and the most dastardly one at the end of the day at Safdarjang tomb wherein they turned off the street lights and turned upon the students who were peacefully sitting on the road. Thankfully, the electronic media, for a change, showed it all on the screens.
During the course of the day around three hundred students were arrested and sent to at four different police stations in custody, and scores were injured throughout the day in various assaults, including many women and physically challenged students. Visually challenged student counsellor of School of Social Sciences, Shashi Bhushan had a fall during the late evening lathi charge at Safdarjang tomb. The policemen trampled upon his chest with their boots resulting in blunt injuries necessitating admission in AIIMS Trauma Centre. Though the exact number remains to be compiled, several students suffered blunt injuries, including head injuries with profuse bleeding and had to be taken to the Safdarjang hospital casualty at different times of the day. There was a steady stream of students with injuries since today afternoon. As it appears in the newspapers today morning, the police however deny any acts of assault on its part.
In a related development the government set-up a three membered high powered committee consisting of a former Chairman of University Grants Commission (UGC), Secretary of UGC and the Chairman of AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) to facilitate what it described as “restoring the normal functioning of Jawaharlal Nehru University through dialogue with all stakeholders and to advise the university administration for resolution of contentious issues.” Whether this move is a fig leaf for the government to cover its necked assault on publicly funded higher education, or carries with it a genuine intent to resolve the issues, need not be pre-mediated here; but, that the students have forced the government into initiating a dialogue from its previous position of intransigence, is indeed an achievement.
The turn of events on the 18th of November, 2019 should give ample assurance to the government that not only the students at JNU know how to articulate their views on issues vital for the interests of India’s poorer sections, but they are eminently willing to entail the sacrifices these ideals necessarily demand. They are fighting a battle not only for themselves for all those without means who aspire to get higher education. For the students across the country, the point to be noted is that if your cause is just, and your vision clear, it is possible, even if it is just one university, to take on an insensitive government, howsoever powerful it may be. What shall be the fate of the oppressors were the students across the length and breadth of India to rise together as a massive tide?