COVER STORY: POISONING STUDENT POLITICS

COVER STORY: POISONING STUDENT POLITICS

Date: 20 Jul 2015 09:17:56

“Trend of criminality is growing in colleges and educational institutions. The student unions have a role in this”, observed the Supreme Court of India in one of cases in June 2014. While presenting a report on certain aspects of student union elections in educational institutions, the Lingdoh Committee had recommended that where the atmosphere of the university campus is adverse to the conduct of peaceful, free and fair elections, the university, its constituent colleges and departments must initiate a system of student representation based on nominations. It is sad that student politics that have been instrumental in shaping many nations of the modern world are facing such adverse comments.

It is beyond doubt that political socialisation is indispensable process in a democracy and educational campuses are the best breeding ground for politically responsible citizens. With the competitive elections of political parties entering the student union elections, student politics has acquired all the deficiencies of party politics. Students as an independent class are losing their identity and are concerned about electoral gains and losses, instead of academic and administrative issues campus is facing. 
Of course, student organisations have larger role to play on the national canvass. Ideological and national issues have to be discussed and articulated at the campus level. But it cannot promote violence, hatred and disorder in the name of freedom of speech and expression or rights of student organisations. 
Recently, two student organisations related issues cropped up on the national scene. In both the cases, hatred and disorder was the message. Misrepresentations of facts were used as convenient tools. Idea was to gain cheap popularity without any genuine ground work. The soul of student organisation is questioning the government policies, if they are not in the interest of the nation and fight against the administrative tyranny. When these two tools themselves are used for petty political gains, it can be self-destructive to the student politics. 
In case of Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle controversy, the issue of disciplinary action by the IIT – Madras administration was turned into curbing of freedom of speech and expression by the Centre. In the disguise of two prominent social reformers, having diabolically opposite views on many issues, are conveniently rapped in the Marxists mask. Still, the organisation has a right to express and mobilise certain political ideology or not, of course ‘yes’. Whether they can do so under the banner and with the resources of the educational institution is the real question. More importantly, rather than raising the question caste eradication from all spheres of social life, misrepresenting reformers for spreading hatred is poisonous for the student politics. 
The same is the case with NSUI, otherwise also not known for any constructive agenda. The top leader of a party preaching them disorder and misrepresenting the facts of a nationalist organisation like RSS is another dangerous ploy. 
Instead of giving a constructive agenda for youth on certain values and discipline, attacking Hinduism, nationalism and national culture seems to be the core agenda of such politics. This strategy of injecting divisive thinking among students can prove to be dangerous not only for the respective organisations but all will be poisonous for student politics.

 Adithya Reddy

The controversy surrounding IIT Madras’s decision to ‘derecognise’ a student group is a classical example how a non-issue can be made a big issue. The issue was of campus discipline but it was shown as a ban on freedom of speech. A section of media blowed it out of proportion and the political leaders jumped into it to fish in the troubled waters. Naturally the students involved in it also found an opportunity to get publicity. Fact is that nobody was banned and nobody was stopped from saying anything he/she wishes. The simple matter of an educational institution enforcing campus discipline was converted into a political war between ideologies.
The Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC) was approved as an “Independent Student Body” by Indian Institute of Technology Madras 
(IIT-M’s) Dean of Students more than a year ago and the approval was conditional upon the group following the prescribed code of conduct. Incidentally, the Dean of Students, who has now taken the decision to withdraw the approval, apparently was also the Faculty Advisor of APSC. The approval allows such groups to use IIT-M’s infrastructure to organise activities. It does not allow them to use IIT-M’s name or funds without the Dean’s permission. Therefore, withdrawal of approval only means the group cannot use institutional facilities, including the internal email network to espouse its views. To put it simply, there is no ban on free speech. 
In all the noise and heat generated by APSC’s pungent views and controversial pamphlets one has failed to notice the basic premise of IIT-M’s action. The Dean is quoted to have given only one reason for the withdrawal of approval—“they (APSC) did not follow the guidelines for an Institute student body”. It is believed that the APSC specifically violated two of the seven guidelines—‘not informing the faculty advisor about their activities, or getting posters and other promotional material approved by him and using IIT-M’s name and logo on publicity material without adequate permission’. 
More importantly IIT-M has clarified that this de-recognition is only provisional and a final decision will only be taken by a representative body of students after giving the APSC an opportunity to justify itself. A clear conspectus of these events leading to withdrawal of APSC’s approval can be found on the website of IIT-M’s campus magazine The Fifth Estate.
The approval and the consequent right to use institutional facilities were only privileges, which IIT-M gave to these groups. They cannot be claimed as a matter of right and certainly have nothing to with one’s freedom of speech and expression. IIT-M’s actions should be seen strictly from the perspective of the institution’s right to enforce campus discipline. But the larger issue of whether students should be allowed to promote overtly casteist and communal views within campus should be seriously considered.
The pamphlets and lectures circulated by APSC target specific communities. One pamphlet posted by APSC online accuses IIT-M of being “under Brahmincal tyranny” and another calls for “fight towards liberating the mass from the clutches of Hinduism”. Should an institution willingly lend its resources for aiding the dissemination of such divisive thoughts? 
The lectures at the Study Circle are mostly anti-India, anti-Hinduism and anti-Hindutva. The summary of a lecture shows seditious statements like “India was declared to be the nationality of all just because it was no one’s nationality!” It furiously attacks Hinduism and Hindutva. The lecture’s every line needs to be read carefully. The summery was written by the lecture organiser—a student group supported by some faculties and the group was started around in April 2014. It was forwarded to some students by the organisers through mail.
Also have a look at the Brochure of HSEE Exam (available in public domain) conducted by IIT Madras for admission of MA (integrated) programme. Especially the section titled "Indian Society & Culture" (page 16) needs special focus. Some issues in the syllabus are:
a. It refers to 1857 war as "sepoy mutiny" and not as War of Independence. This is typical stand taken by Britishers and left historians! In contrast, in 2007 the Parliament of India celebrated 150th anniversary of it as War of Independence.
b. It focuses on Mughal and Islamisation. There is no mention of Maratha Kingdom, Rajput Dynasties, Vijayanagar Dynasty, Sikh kings (all are contemporary of Mughal) and Ahom Dynasty (from Assam) etc. It is purely Islamisation of the syllabus.
c. History of North-East India is missing in the syllabus, especially Ahom Dynasty. Hence it is not inclusive. In May 2014, the UGC directed all Boards and Universities to give some space to North-East India's history, and culture all level including higher education. Central Government has given lot of importance to North-East and has also created separate ministry for it.
d. In the sub section titled "Indian Philosophy & Thinkers", there is no mention of Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya and Madhva-charya. All Hindu systems of Hindu philosophies were covered in one word “Orthodox Systems”. This reduces space given to it and loses prominence. But Charvakya is separated conveniently, though it is also a part of six philosophical traditions of (school of thoughts) Hinduism. Guru Gobind Singh’s name is also missing. There might be some anomalies in other sections hence full syllabus needs to be looked into properly.
One IIT-M student has reacted to the whole controversy on his Facebook page by bringing to light the general disrepute, which APSC appears to have carried in campus: “They have been very notorious from the day of …inception. When other groups in the campus publicize their events adhering to the regulations… these guys like to call for road-side debate(s).”
The anonymous letter sent by the IITM students to the Central Government goes further than just accusing the APSC of spreading communal propaganda. It says the group was receiving funds and support from external organisations. In fact, one pamphlet circulated by APSC on social networking sites was actually published by the radical Left Wing outfit Revolutionary Students Youth Front. Was IIT-M not justified in taking a serious view of the matter? Some sections of the media are trying to obfuscate the larger issue of campus discipline by referring to MHRD’s letter to IIT-M. 
It must be noted that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD’s) letter only calls for an explanation on the issues raised in the anonymous letter. Even assuming IIT-M decided to take action only after the MHRD letter, how can that justify any violations committed by APSC in conducting its activities? Where is the need for political leaders to voice opinion on this issue? It should be treated entirely as an internal matter of IIT-M, which does not warrant any attention from outside.

(The writer is a practising lawyer in Madras High Court)