- Campus politics has increasingly become ‘marginalised identity’— oriented even as the state has sought to clamp down on it.
- NIKHILA HENRY
On July 30, 7 p.m., the University of Hyderabad (UoH), a central varsity, witnessed a Namaz-e-Janaza or funeral prayer observed by a small group of students to protest the hanging of Yakub Memon. Within a week another protest was organised on the same campus, this time against the disruption that the screening of the documentary, Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, encountered in Delhi University.
Underlying these protests was the emergent face of student politics on the eight varsity campuses in Hyderabad (three central and five state varsities) a face that reflects solidarity among Dalit, Muslim and Bahujan students in particular.
Steering away from left-right political spectrum, identity politics based on social solidarities has arrived on campuses in the city, irking the police and sometimes, varsity administrations.
The police presence is linked to the ‘Guidelines on Safety of Students on and off Campuses of Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs)’ issued by the University Grants Commission (UGC) on April 16. The objective of the guidelines, according to the UGC, is to transform the ‘campus’ “into oasis of safety, security and study”. It asks university administrations across the country to set up police stations within the premises of the HEIs, wherever feasible as the measure “can go a long way in instilling a sense of security amongst students and scare amongst nuisance makers and petty criminals.”
Currently, students of UoH are protesting police interference on campus which, besides the presence of police personnel, involves distribution of pamphlets related to law and order and also occasional enquiries and questioning. Students of another central varsity, English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) and the state-run Osmania University (OU) have pledged their solidarity with the ongoing protest.
From posts on social networking platforms to dharnas and rallies, the universities in the city and social media platforms are abuzz with the slogans of resistance.
Meanwhile, the police too have been busy. A flyer circulated by Cyberabad police, also distributed among UoH students, warns students of dire consequences including expulsion, suspension and other penal action, if they indulge in “irresponsible social media comments”. The flyer that quotes sections, 153(A), 295(A) and 501 of IPC pertaining to hate speech, hate action and defamation, asks students not to “comment on anything against the interest of the nation.”
Ironically these moves by the UGC and the state police have instilled a sense of insecurity and fear among students, silencing to some extent their political activism even as resistance is rife. In the past, police enquiries were made to determine “extremist” presence on campuses, they say. “Any criticism against the State and its idea of development, policies or exclusions can now be considered anti-national. Even a protest against death penalty can be penalised that way,” explained Dontha Prashanth, President of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) of UoH. Some campuses in the city had held candlelight marches after the hanging of Afzal Guru.
Police interference has been affecting campus politics over a period of time. “Starting in 2013 there was a major police crackdown in the campus following protests against abetment of suicide of a Kashmiri Muslim student, Mudassir Kamran. And over a period of time this has affected the vigour of resistance movements on the campus, especially those pertaining to identity politics,” said Mohammed Shareef, Vice President, Dalit Adivasi Bahujan Muslim Students Association (DABMSA) of EFLU. Intelligence officers still gather information on campus activists, students alleged even as administrations have set up CCTV cameras in some campuses.
However, political formations are getting stronger in educational institutions even though there is a State-wide ban on student elections in State universities in operation since 1986. The ASA at the UoH which has an estimated cadre strength of around 500 students and sympathisers that run into a 1,000 also has the support of Students Islamic Organisation (SIO). In EFLU, an older organisation that had earlier forged solidarity among students from marginalised communities, the Dalit Adivasi Bahujan Minority Students Association (DABMSA) still has its hold on campus politics. Four months ago, in Osmania University, the Backward Class students’ association had held a solidarity meet. Mala and Madiga (Dalit castes) student outfits hold meetings every month on the campus.
Student struggles in campuses have evolved over the years. During the Telangana statehood agitation (2009 to 2014), a bevy of student leaders from Dalit and OBC communities had made their presence felt on campuses in the city. In UoH and EFLU, Dalit, Muslim and Bahujan student leaders protested for weeks against the growing number of student suicides among marginalised sections. Even students from the North-East joined these groups in solidarity.
University administrations would like to sort the issues out within the campuses, they claimed. “The administration believes in solving the grievances and problems of the university community through dialogues using the internal mechanism,” reiterated R. P Sharma, Vice-Chancellor, University of Hyderabad in a written communication, adding that no police patrolling occurs on campus. As for police interference, their presence is a must to avert law and order situations, he claimed. “We try not to get involved, as far as possible in the business of any university. But if there is a law and order situation we interfere,” said Anurag Sharma, Director General of Police (DGP), Telangana. The police have no worries about democratic protests on campuses, so long as these don’t invite law and order situations, he added.
But as the protest in UoH intensified with numbers swelling from 200 students to 400 within three days since July 30, students said they will continue to hold on to their political ideology. “Historically solidarity has been between Muslims, Dalits and other marginalised sections. We have several examples to emulate including that of Dr. B. R Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and Jogendra Nath Mandal when it comes to this solidarity,” Prashanth of ASA affirmed. Student wings of the Left parties too have lent support to the marginalised sections.