Campuses across India clashing for rights

Student agitations showcase growing sentiment?

News - India & You


September 26, 2017

/ By / Kolkata

Women took to protesting for their safety in Banaras Hindu University, and were met with strict police action. Photo: PTI

Women took to protesting for their safety in Banaras Hindu University and were met with strict police action. Photo: PTI

Students of a university in India being booked for protesting inadequate response to a sexual harassment comes at a time where the right wing across campus groups are facing the backlash.

A string of student elections at some of the top ranking universities in the country has showcased a rising anti-right wing sentiment with Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which is affiliated to Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological mentor Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), facing defeat in several campuses. While it took a united left front in some as well as coming together of student parties in some other, the absolute majority held by the right seems to have taken a hit, if we are to go by numbers in campuses. The recent incident at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi, the constituency from which the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected to the parliament, was triggered by the reported inadequate and insensitive response to the sexual harassment complaint of a female student.

The ABVP, which saw a surge in hold in educational institutions after and during BJP’s electoral wings, has this year seen a lacklustre performance in universities across the country. It most notably lost elections in India’s capital New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University as well as southern Indian city of Hyderabad’s Hyderabad Central University. In addition to several issues challenging the ABVP, opposition student parties have also shown unity in ensuring their defeat by coming together to form coalitions. Though this is being reflected in the university space, it hasn’t exactly translated to the political arena in the government, yet university spaces are being observed closely in the country with a number of incidents occurring in the past year.

As cases are filed against close to a thousand students who took to challenge the institutionalised patriarchy of the educational campus in question, a professor of Political Science at a Calcutta University affiliated college in Kolkata stated, “There are several questions being raised not only about women’s safety in India but also what this means for the status of the hegemony of the ideological right over students. After all, it is the age and positional factor of students at these elite universities that are crucial to shaping the public debate for any political party. The majoritarian hold of the BJP will certainly see a growing challenge if dissent gets more widespread, as it has been in the past few months.”

Tactical opposition

The BHU incident has brought back the aggressive nature with which several leaders are handling student protests as well as the increasing politicisation of the same. In this case, the alleged sexual harassment of the student that was the trigger point for the protests and consequent police crackdown was remarked by Girish Chandra Tripathi, the Vice Chancellor of the university as “a simple case of eve teasing,” as reported by national media. He was also noted as claiming that the “incident was deliberately staged,” remarking it on one day ahead of Modi’s visit to his parliamentary constituency, Varanasi.

However, what is remarkable about both the growing number of instances where dissent, as well as protests, is met with the rhetoric of it being an act of political vendetta or conspiracy against the ruling party is that such protests are growing in numbers. Dissenting students, who are finding the support of the masses elsewhere may currently be in minority but the numbers are growing. Even as instances of an intensifying debate on the importance of nationalism over free thinking has spread all over the educational institutions in the country, campus politics can go a long way in impacting the future of the BJP in 2019’s general elections.

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