Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The central executive committee of SFI releases this note following a wide consultation throughout the country regarding the draft ofNew Education Policy (henceforth NEP) placed by the NDA government. We would continue the same process with larger participants in all the states and produce a detailed report on how the NEP is going to affect the education system in each state, later. Here, we are drawing the attention of the public to some of the crucial elements included in the document. It is also about certain key areas and issues which have been neglected in the policy document. In general we demand a complete re-working on the policy approach with much more deliberations and study about the existing educational system all over the country.

Over the years the education system of the country have been facing huge challenges of commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation. We have time and again raised the issues ranging from social justice to campus democracy and quality of  education to accessibility. This document have been prepared keeping all those discussions in mind and listening different sections on how do they perceive the NEP.

We recognize that the integral democratic processes, constitutional outlooks and progressive approach were missing in the very making of the policy documents which itself has made the draft ill-prepared. Merely, less than two months have been given for the public to study the 484 page (in English script) document (and in Hindi it is about 650 pages) for submitting their feedback. In fact the document has not been made available in different regional languages which itself makes the lesser possibility of large participation of people of all walks of life in the process. Among the eleven members in the committee who drafted the education policy more than half of them are neither experienced people from academia nor educationalists. Some of them were just part of the administrative positions at different educational departments. This does not suffice to comment on the different aspects of education. Even in the list of organisations and eminent personalities the committee consulted prior to the preparation the NEP does not include the representatives of many marginalised communities and different important stake holders of education because of which many aspects of exclusion have not been addressed with the vigour it demands. The committee also failed to listen the student organisations including the SFI and democratically elected students unions in different campuses which have been working actively for the betterment of the people of academic communities and to address the concerns they are raising over and again. We have also witnessed a lot of educational experiments taken place in different states in the country over the last seven decades of independence following which commendable progressive results have been produced. The public school education in Kerala, the strongest public funded school system in India, is one among them. Unfortunately, the committee could not study any of those properly to draw examples from such successful initiatives. Not only more time, but a more inclusive process is needed before preparing a policy which may bring gigantic changes in the Indian society as a whole, not limiting to the education sector per se. Here are some of the problematic elements in the NEP.

Any policy document prepared for the government to implement in any field must be framed under the constitutional parameters and also invocate the constitutional values and goals. The constitution does not find such a space and rank in the NEP. According to the chairman of the drafting committee, Dr.Kasturirangan, the attempt is “to create a new system that is aligned with the aspirational goals of 21st century education, while remaining consistent with India’s traditions and value systems”. What is evident is that the makers of NEP have forgotten that the constitution of India itself is made fighting the many so-called traditions and value systems existed/existing in the country.

Attack on Federal Character of the country and education

While drawing down the essential general character Indian education system ought to have, the NEPthrusts to create an “India-centred” education system that will lead to the creation of an “equitable and vibrant knowledge society”. But many of the proposed structural changes are standing contradictory to the actual sense of this.  The NEP does not consist of proficient suggestions to achieve this, rather goes absolutely against the spirit of ‘Indianness’ in education sector.

No reform can be made in education system without taking the federal character of our country into central consideration. Keeping the state also at the central stage of decision making and charting out the plans and implementation is important since the country cannot afford to have a homogeneous structure in education, neither in academic nor in administrative levels. Education, especially the school level education  was supremely handled by state government in India till 1970s. Therefore all states could design its educational sector according to their own specific needs and conditions. It was during the emergency period, the Indira Gandhi government changed it to the concurrent list and centre began sharing a major role. Even after that the primary and secondary level of education remained mostly under the arena of state governments. The NEP submitted by the Kasthurirangan committee proposes a complete alteration of this aspect. One single method have been proposed in administrative, academic and structural level for the entire country. This itself is a violation of the federal values of the constitution. The idea of ‘Indian-Centred’ education need not be completely isolated from all other orientations emerged in foreign lands, ratherit should be an amalgamation of the deferral characters, democratic ethos and vibrant diversity of the country in every aspect. But in contradictory, the NEP has copied many of the failed neo-liberal experiments from the global experiencesand heavily neglected the divergent plans and programmes the people of India needs according to the specific conditions of their societies.

We welcome the recommendation of renaming the HRD Ministry as the Ministry of Education. But just a renaming will lead to no progressive change unless a concrete plan is made to ensure fruitful functioning of the entire system. While the draft proposes to rename the ministry on the one side, it also proposes a more rigid and centralised political intervention in the name of national education commission (which is a supreme authority of all matters pertaining to education) led by the supreme political leadership and with prime minister as the head. This is a governing body which has a lesser participation of people of academia but filled with the political leadership and the high level bureaucrats. Such a state intervention will only destroy the democratic nature of any academic system. The proposed national education commission headed by prime minister will shape the entire education system into a tool in the hands of supreme political leadership of the country. This proposal must be withdrawn and the constitutionally guaranteed federal character of education should be upheld.

 School System

Changes in large scale have been proposed in school education in the NEP. If the New education policy is implemented there are all possibilities for the autonomous elected school boards to be merged to form larger boards. The proposed national education commission is a sign of it. The autonomous schools boards are responsible for decentralised management of school clusters. This includes teacher appointments, school structure, academic calendar and time table, curriculum, standards and exams etc. At any point, this cannot be managed under one centralised system as the diversity in different arenas, from the geographical conditions, historical experiences to the specific needs of each state are varying. The direction in the new education policy will only undermine the democratic participation of people in the decision making with consequent decline in the quality of management.

The draft proposes a formal schooling system from the age of three. This is contrary to the globally accepted norm that formal schooling should be after the age of five. ‘Early childhood education and pre-schooling’ is only a preparative phase before actual schooling. Integrating it with the formal schooling would not bring any positive outcome, instead it would reverse the welfare role played by theAnganwadis in the healthy development of children. The draft ignores the contribution made by the Anganwadi system in improving the health and nutrition of children.

By 2023, state governments are expected to cluster schools together into more viable units known as school complexes. The proposed idea of school complexes has completely undermined the diversity of the nation and the level of improvement it has achieved in educational sector. This will only lead to the closing down of many schools in the name of being ‘non-profitable or sub-standard’. What the government has to ensure at this juncture is to take measures to improve the infrastructure, academic facilities and proper teacher and staff appointments in all schools and develop those to the vibrant centres of learning instead of adopting a policy which will crush the fundamental elements of access to school education.

Providing an “exit” point from Class VIII itself without demanding a complete ban on child labour is problematic as the current child labour laws allow children to work in “family” enterprises from 10 years onwards, reinforcing both caste-based occupations and economic exploitation.  This will have a huge social implication and violation of child rights.

According to the NEP, states will have a very minimal role in preparing the text books. Centre will be preparing the framework for the study material. Even the private sector will have role in this.Such a move will cause undermining the specific needs of the states as far as the study materials are concerned. It is said that additional textbook materialswould be funded by the  public - private partnerships. We demand that all text books must be prepared by the academic bodies appointed by the government with transparent mechanism in the relevant department and distributed to all students freely. Making of text books should also keep nurturing of critical thinking, scientific temper and secular-democratic ethos among students as its core objectives. 

The NEP recognises that the mid-daymeal in public schools which played a critical role in the well-being of childrenhas over time become very insufficient because of inadequatefinancial allocation by the government. And it proposes food at all levels of the school to be improved to providefull and adequate nutrition to all students up to Grade 12. This is a positive approach and already been successfully running in states like Kerala. But more clarity is needed on which department and authorities will be made responsible and also the legal mechanism needed to be introduced for the transparent functioning of mid-day meal scheme. Huge corruption and malpractices have been reported from various states in recent years in the same. 

Campus Democracy

There is not even a single mentioning about campus democracy and democratic rights of the students in the entire document of NEP. We have witnessed over and years how did the de-politization and curbing of democratic bodies of students lead to increased  incidents of chaos, ragging, assaults on students, administrative highhandedness in  decision making, undemocratic relationship between teachers and students etc.  Education has an important objective of strengthening democratic values and training  the new generation to be potential contributors of a democratic society. Therefore it is  also crucial to ensure students and researchers are enjoyed all democratic rights  guaranteed by the very constitution of India. Students and researchers should never be  treated as a secondary citizens inside the educational institutions and should be  allowed to performs all democratic activities and engagements in an atmosphere of  zero surveillance. This is why we demand there must be a legislation by the parliament  of India to protect the campus democracy and free and fair elections of students  unions in all educational institutions, irrespective of public or private.

Social Justice

We recognise the absence of measures sufficient to address the question of social justice in higher education. There have been a number of incidents of discrimination against the students belonging to socially oppressed communities in the higher education institutions reported in recent time. Caste discrimination and violence are increasing in education sector. Reservation is not filled in many of the institutions including the central universities. We demand a special chapter in the education policy to  comprehensively address this issue and also propose a stringent law against any kind  of caste discrimination inside the institutions.

The share of student enrolment across all backward groups in India is lesser than their proportionate share in population. OBCs had the highest share of enrolments (35%), followed by SCs (14.4%), Muslims (5%), STs (5.2%), and other minorities (2.2%) following the trendof respective population shares of each group in thetotal population. In this phase, the question of ‘social Justice’ has been systematically ignored. The 27% OBC hasn’t been implemented properly in most of the educational institutions, with cut-offs and eligibility criterion been used to manipulate the rules. The constitutionally mandatory seats reserved for the SC/STs continue to remain vacant every year. There is not a single concrete proposal in the 484 page draft national education policy to address this issue of social exclusion in higher education. Despite this, the document stresses that Private higher education institutions shall not be mandated to adhere to reservation guidelines other than those stated in this Policy and their formative Acts with respect to local State students. This may lead to a situation of more wider exclusion while the policy is intend to increase the number of private institutions with autonomous status. The negligence towards the fundamentalduty of ensuring social justice is the major lapse in the document.

The NEP 2019 has been utterly insensitive towards the issues and needs of the people with disabilities. The draft which claims to be inclusive uses the term 'Children with Special Needs', a term rejected by persons with disabilities themselves. It not only fails to provide Braille or audio version of the draft but also shows no concern of the organisations that work for the betterment of disabled students. In fact, the role of special schools which are run mostly by NGOs is being neglected in the draft.

Moreover United Nations Convention on Person with  Disabilities (UNCPRD) and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act,2016 which predominantly deal with the education of the disabled students have given an iota of attention. The draft is completely oblivious of the constitutional remedies established for the upliftment of disabled students such as the 25 percent reservation for the marginalised sections mentioned in the Right to Education Act and the issue of suicide of students indicated in Mental Health Care Act 2017.

Commercialisation of education being the central agenda, the draft pushes the disabled children who mostly come from  poor socio economic background to further deprivation and discrimination. The suggestion to construct school complexes by merging schools will adversely affect the disabled students. The idea of alternate education suggested in the draft will prevent the children with disabilities from getting quality education. By undermining the federal system of the country the NEP 2019 has failed to incorporate best strategies adopted by various states in dealing with the disability issue in academia.

There are references on sexual harassment and legal protectionsand entitlements for girls and women including the Protection of Childrenfrom Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO), Prohibition of Child Marriage Act,the Maternity Benefit Act (along with its Amendment), and the SexualHarassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)Act. While these are welcome still sufficient measures have not been introduced to tackle the issues of gender discrimination, harassment and gender gaps.Many of the language used in regard to address gender offences lacks clarity and ends up without offering concrete long-term structural mechanisms of gender sensitisation, especially for men.

Though the draft indicates the necessity of “changing mindsets and halting harmful practices to foster gender equity and inclusion, any explanation about what these ‘harmful practices’  remain vague. Moreover, any kind of mentioning about sexuality or alternative sexual orientations fails to find a place in this 21st century document. The discussions about sexuality is hushed up throughout the draft though it mentions of providing working toilets, menstrual hygiene product, safe transport and gender sensitisation. Women and Gender studies departments, being one of the vibrant and interdisciplinary field present in academia, there is no mention about the significance, scope or challenges faced by such academic disciplines..

Undermining Independent Research

The NEP proposes to establish a National Research Foundation (NRF). The NRF will be a new apex body set up to facilitate research. The NRF willbe an autonomous body that will establish mechanisms to fund and mentorresearch capacity creation.Besides providing funds, it has also stated that NRF will create a mechanism for monitoring andmid-course corrections. This poses a serious concern over the independent nature of upcoming researches. It also undermines the civic or societal role of higher education. Through its Governing Board, the NRF will act as a liaison between researchers and the government helping to ensure that the most urgent national issues of the day are well-studied by the researchers. It is unclear that what all topics/research problems comeunder the purview of this ‘national issues’. Whilewriting down the examples the document has placed issues such as of clean water, sanitation and energy, but not ‘communalism, caste dominance, gender violence or corporate loot’.  Therefore, the idea that education at all stages should foster social transformation and strengthen democratic ideals has been side-lined with the proposal for NRF. More of a government intervention than an autonomous academic exercise is to be expected. We demand that the democratically elected credible academic bodies should have more say in matters related to research and it should also have a federal character in nature.

Commercialisation of Education

The country's education sector have been heavily privatised over the years. Majority of the education institutions are under private control in the County. This has a more scary picture from the higher education sector. Around 70% of total students in higher education in India are enrolled in private institutions. There are no concrete proposal in the NEP which addresses the issues of commercialisation of education. Rather it propose more of a free hand and autonomy to the private institutions. There are also proposals for government helping the private institutions to open their campuses in other countries. All these are to attract more students to the private institutions and to help government for further withdrawal from spending on education. There is nothing exciting about the offer that foreign universities will establish their campuses in the country.  Such ‘discoveries’ stem from the absence of any idea about how universities are established and developed. The suggestion of inviting global universities ranked by business institutions instead of equipping more than 700 universities in India to overcome the existing issues is utterly irrational.

The DNEP does not address the hostile attack on scientific temper. Even the institutions and offices which should be the carriers of scientific temper are promoting and circulating values which are utterly irrational and unscientific. The draft miserably failed to bridge the gap between the common people and scientific ideas. In fact, it is the responsibility of both the centre and states to raise awareness about scientific temper and aid the mass to incorporate such ideas using media and other faculties. Not only that the NEP provides any means to inculcate scientific values and ideas but it also shows absolute ignorance towards the growing threat on scientific temper. The recent times have witnessed the manipulation of academic equipments such as text books and examinations with the increased influx of unscientific approaches in education. The situation becomes worst when the people who occupy the superior positions in academic institutions themselves are becoming the promotors of such irrational deeds. It is alarming that the NEP does not provide any means or shows any concerns in order to curb such undemocratic an unscientific trends in academia.

In short, the NEP does not offer any kind of guidance on how to reform the education field in order to strengthen the fundamental ethos of democracy. Even though ‘democracy’ is mentioned superficially in some places, the words ‘secular’ or ‘secularism’ are not found anywhere in the draft. The report doesn’t have anything to say about the democratisation of the academic field and the development of a comfortable atmosphere where students from various backgrounds could confidently engage in academic activities.  The draft could cunningly ensure the agenda that the students always remain as second class citizens in academia.

The NEP has set its face against any kind of assessment of the existing education system or in providing alternatives to check the inequalities and inadequacies prevail in the sector; rather it is titled towards a structural transformation showing no honest concern for the betterment and inclusiveness of the education sector of the country. This becomes evident since the NEP 2019 has refused to actively engage with the significant documents on Indian education system till date such as the Radhakrishna Committee Report (1948), Mudaliar Committee report on technical education, Kothari Commission Report (1966). These landmark reports have in fact outline the significance of education sector in the over all, development of the country.

Students Federation of India will continue having larger consultations in state level with people of all spheres of education and civil society following which we will submit our feed backs and suggestions to the government along with a detailed alternative education policy material by July 31st.

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Ram Puniyani
(Prof. Ram Puniyani has sent the article based on which he delivered a thought provoking speech against communalism in the seminar organised at the venue of 16th All India Conference of Students' Federation of India, SFI held at Shimla. We are publishing it for the larger audience)
 
Prelude
The coming to power of Narendra Modi in 2014 has brought to fore the deeper agenda of RSS. During last three decades in India there has been an encroachment of fundamentalist politics in India. This politics has been focusing on the issues related to identity, like Construction of Grand Ram Temple at the site where Babri Mosque was located, those related to personal codes. This politics has whipped up the sentiments of people by abusing the faith of people in religion and used it for strengthening of a Right Wing politics, in the form of the party called Bhartiya Janta Party.  This politics has been spreading hate against minorities, initiating and leading violence against them, intimidating them, ghettoizing them and trying to relegate them to the status of second class citizens.
 
Rashtrriya Swamyam Sevak Sangh (National Volunteers Organization, RSS) has been the real force behind this politics. RSS operates through organizations like BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (Forest Dwellers Organization) Bajrang Dal (Storm Troopers in the name of Hindu God hanuman) and many lie this. It also operates through modulating cultural mechanisms through the Religious Saints (Clergy), through education (Schoolbooks, and chain of schools) through media (direct control over some and infiltration in to others) through infiltration in bureaucracy, police and military)
 
The History
RSS was formed in 1925 in Nagpur. The immediate cause of its formation was the discomfort amongst the upper castes/landlord elements due to the non cooperation movement launched by Gandhi as a part of freedom movement. This movement brought into fold the average people into freedom movement; this caused discomfort to the elite sections of society. At the same time the Non Brahman movement was shaking the social relations of Brahmin landlord on one side and the dalits-workers on the other. The founders of RSS were very inspired by the ideas of nationalism of Hitler. RSS had contempt towards the concept of Indian nationalism, which was the ideology of Nationalism, led by Gandhi.
 
RSS took off from Hindu Mahasabha, an organization which was formed by the Hindu Kings and landlords. Later this organization was led by a middle class intellectual, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. He propounded the ideology of Hindutva, Hinduness, which is the concept of Nationalism based on Brahiminical values of hierarchy of caste and gender. RSS founders were to make this concept of Hindutva and Hindu rashtra as their base ideology and politics.
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RSS in Action 
RSS began with training its volunteers into the version of History, which was communal and had nothing to do with the truth. It said that India has always been a Hindu state and Muslims are aggressors and foreigners. The concept being promoted by Gandhi-Nehru that India is a land belonging to people of all religions is wrong and that what is needed is to build a Hindu nation and undermine the Muslim nation. It decided to keep aloof from direct electoral politics and went to create a set of volunteer, swayamsevaks trained in the ideology of Hindutva. It kept aloof from freedom movement, as freedom movement was based on the values of secularism and democracy, while RSS was for Hindu nation and perpetuation of Brahmanical values in newer garb. 
 
It was/is exclusively male organization and when Laxmibai Kelkar wanted women to be taken into RSS, they were advised to form a subordinate organization, Rashtra Sevika Samiti. In the very name of this organization the word swayam (self) is missing as this organization, like all other communal organization stands for superiority of males, believes in patriarchy. It discouraged people from participating in movements related to freedom. Barring few exceptions none from RSS went to jail during freedom movement. And those who happened to go to jail went either for looking for more recruits for RSS or accidentally went to jail and later on apologized to British and got themselves release from the prison.
 
Political Intervention
RSS, Hindu Mahasbha held Gandhi as the person responsible for appeasement of Muslims, for partition of the country etc. On this charge Nathuram Godse and ex Pracharak of RSS, who joined Hindu Mahasabha killed the father of the nation. At that point Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel said that it is due to the hate spread by RSS that the country had to loose its father, Gandhi. Savarkar was also one of the accused in the murder of Gandhi, but he was let off for lack of corroborative evidence.
 
RSS started forming other subordinate organizations. One of them was Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which started working amongst students. In 1951, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of Hindu Mahasabha in collaboration with RSS formed Bhartiya Jansangh. Bhartiaya Jan Sangh raised identity related issues and resorted to war mongering by calling for the Nuclear weapons to be made by Indian state. It also demanded that, Muslims should be Indianized. It remained a marginal force till it joined the Jaya Prakash movement and got the chance to become part of Janata Party. Meanwhile RSS was silently infiltrating in all the wings of state and society, bureaucracy, police, education, media, judiciary and army. It was working to oppose the progressive liberal values by promoting religiosity and conservatism in cultural arena.
 
Jansangh joined Janata Party and came to power in 1977; its leaders became the part of Government. Using this opportunity they further planted their workers in media and other parts of the state apparatus. After splitting Janata Party, the Jan Sangh component remerged as Bhartiya Janta party on the grounds of Gandhian Socialism. The values which it never believed, but had to project those for electoral purposes! It lent support to Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 elections Meanwhile it gave birth to Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. VHP started taking up emotive issues and Ram temple issue was made the center of their political credo. Also they went on to form Bajrang dal on the lines of storm troopers of Nazi party in Germany.
 
Divisive Propaganda
During 1960s and 1980s, also it kept doing its work of propagating Hate against minorities, first against Muslims and then against Christians. The result was anti minority violence. In anti Muslim violence, amongst the victims of violence around 80% are Muslims. Most of the inquiry committee reports have concluded that riots are generally begun by RSS affiliates, pretexts are created for that right in advance. Also due to communalization of state apparatus most of the guilty of the crime are generally not punished. Many a times other political leaders have also used the communal violence for heir narrow political goals. The agitation around Ram Temple created a great deal of social hysteria, leading to Babri demolition and intense violence in Mumbai-Bhopal-Surat and other places. Mumbai violence of 92-93 shook the whole country and instilled a great amount of fear amongst the minorities.
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(Photo: Ram Puniyani Speaking at the Conference)
 
Violence in the name of Religion
Due to violence the RSS base went on becoming stronger and its political wing BJP went on becoming stronger to the extent that it could grab power at the center in 1996. Later again it came to power and ruled the country, under RSS supervision for six yeas. From 1997, in order to scare away the Christian missionaries from Adivasi areas, the areas where their work is leading to empowerment of poor Adivasis, the violence started and during its course, they also burnt Pastor Graham Stewart stains, on the charge that he is doing conversion work. The Wadhva Commission, which went into this murder, opined that Pastor had not done any conversions. Most horrific form of anti Christian violence was witnessed in the BJP ruled Gujarat and later BJP ally Biju Janata dal ruled Orissa (2008). With every act of communal violence BJP becomes stronger. 
 
Agenda of RSS: 
RSS has nothing to do with the moral values of Hindu religion. The word it has coined for its politics is Hindutva (Hinduness, which simply explained means a politics based on the values of birth based hierarchy of caste and gender. It is trying to propagate the virtues of Hindu Holy scriptures which glorify the secondary status of women and Dalits (ex-Untouchables). It is stands for abolition of democracy so that the feudal system of rigid hierarchies is brought back with hegemony of upper caste Hindu males. While it talks in the language of religion and glorious ancient traditions, it has subtly opposed the Father of nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who was a Hindu, but stood for secular democratic values and all embracing inclusiveness of people of all religions and castes.
 
As such India has been a plural society and people of all religions have lived in peace and harmony. It was during the colonial period that seeds of divisiveness on religious lines were sowed and fundamentalist organizations harped on their politics, which as not only opposed to the freedom movement, to secularism and democracy but also to plural culture of India. Today, politics of RSS poses a serious threat not only to the democratic edifice of the nation but also to plural traditions and the spirit of tolerance, which is a part of Indian ethos.
 
At surface its politics oppresses and intimidates the religious minorities, at deeper level it is opposed the rights of weaker sections of society, the dalits (ex-untouchables), women, workers and Adivasis (tribal). Under the garb of Hindu religion its aim is to subvert the values of Indian Constitution and that India has stood for during the freedom movement.
 
RSS progeny BJP in seat of Power
BJP first came to power as a minority Government in 1996. That Government fell in 13 days. Later it came to power again for in 1998 as NDA to last the full term. During that period Atalbhihari Vajpayee was the PM with many parties as the part of coalition. The major things they did was nuclear explosion in Pokharan, and saffronization of education in particular. Its real agenda got manifested with Modi coming to power with full majority in 2014. 
 
Modi’s campaign was high profile, backed by section of Corporate and Lakhs of volunteers of RSS Combine (RSS and its progeny-BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal etc.). Large section of media created blitz in his favor. The propaganda of Gujarat model of development had caught the imagination of large number of youth and some other sections of society. Modi derived enormous advantage from Anna Hazare movement for Jan Lokpal. Anna had a solid team in the form of Arvind Kejrival (Now Delhi CM), Kiran Bedi (Now Governor of Pondicherry), Gen Singh (Now a Minster), Baba Ramdev (now a bigger entrepreneur), Sri Sri Ravishanker to name the few. The primary target of campaign was to defame Congress. The Nirbhaya case was also taken advantage of by Modi, reminding people to keep Nirbhaya in mind while voting. Modi’s promises were sold in an impressive package; black money being brought back leading to Rs 15 Lakhs in every body’s account led the pack. Increase strength of Rupee (Becoming equal to Dollar), cheaper commodities and diesel did the trick; the people in some number got sold over to Modi. Still with all this BJP got 31% of vote share. As we have first past the post system, he was able to corner 282 Lok Sabha seats, a comfortable simple majority.
 
Though the Government was that of NDA, the other components of NDA had practically no say on the national issues. Forget that even within BJP, first thing which became noticeable was that all power is getting centralized in the hands of prime minster. The Cabinet system, where PM is first among the equals, got gradually replaced by a single leader, deciding all the issues related to policies and Governance. He undertook extensive tours abroad, more than any PM so far. The reaching of cooking gas to poor households and Jan Dhan Yojna, are some attempts to address the issues of poor, but that seems to be about all. In his absence Cabinet meetings are not held, as was the case earlier. Christian minority faced its own problems as now even Carol singing is being associated with conversion activity and sub radar violence against the community is going on.
 
Identity Issue to the Fore
His closer circle, which accompanies him in his travels abroad, is probably of business people, whose benefits have now become synonymous with development. The whole orientation of industries is revolving around the profits of corporate world; the employment generation has been given a go by. The promised creation of crores of job per year; has seen the practical jobless growth! The suicide of farmers has seen an upswing, as adding on to earlier issues now Holy Cow, has started affecting the agrarian economy. Now it’s difficult to fetch a decent price for old cattle. The prices of agrarian commodities are rising while farmers are getting deprived of their decent earnings.
 
Adding on to this has been the suicidal step of Modi, demonetization. Hundreds died while standing in the queues, the currency notes in circulation came back in equal measure and Government exchequer was burdened by lakhs of crores in printing of new notes. In addition thousands of daily wage workers lost their jobs, while Modi continued to show his arrogance and not admitting of his folly which plunged the nation in deep crisis. The whole claim of controlling terrorists and Naxalite violence through demonetization also turned out to be yet another of false claim. Adding salt to the injury, GST was applied in a manner which put large sections to discomfort. The people are still not comfortable with the financial hardships brought in by the economic measures.
 
Meanwhile the rot in the banking system has deepened. The Non Performing assets, loan primarily to big Corporate have increased in volume. Already Vijay Mallya made good his escape with huge loan and is living in London in a life of luxury. Two other business tycoons did the similar trick, right under the nose of Modi, who claimed that he should be elected as a Chowkidar, (watchman) to save the country’s wealth. Neerav Modi and Mehul Chowksi, known to Modi have made good their escape plundering our banks with huge amount of money. The poor farmers with small loans have to commit suicide as they are not able to pay the debts.
 
In matters of foreign policy, it was claimed that with Modi at helm the neighbors will shudder and behave. While Modi is seen roaming all around the immediate neighbors are what they are. India could not counter China in Dokhlam. There is a great sense of despair all around. The ‘Award wapasi’ campaign by noted citizens showed the despair due to the RSS combine affiliates taking law in their hands with impunity. On regular basis some or the other groups like Bajrang dal, Karni Sena unleashed themselves on emotive issues. Hate speeches went up in the extent with BJP leaders being foremost in such actions. The divisive activities ranged all around on the issues like Holy Cow, Beef, Love Jihad, Bharat Mata ki jai, Vande Matram and what have you. The issue of Ram Temple has been kept alive and surfaces whenever some elections are in the offing. Universities are another site where communal intimidation in the name of patriotism is ruling the roost. The hyper nationalist muscular policies are creating a situation in Kashmir where the alienation of the people is on the rise.
 
At the level of icons, Sardar Patel is being glorified and Nehru is being undermined. Rumors against Nehru are abounding the social media and his contributions in the building of Modern India being presented in an adverse manner. Since RSS combine did not participate in the freedom movement it has no icons worth its name. There are attempts to appropriate Ambedkar and Patel as its icons. Gandhi’s major contribution in Hindu Muslim unity is being erased and he is being presented mainly as pioneer of Swachta Abhiyan (cleanliness drvie). 
 
At the same time through sleight of hand attempts are being made about participation of RSS in freedom movement, which is totally baseless. Many ideologues of RSS are trying their best to stretch the facts to show that RSS was part of freedom struggle. As RSS is wedded to Hindu Rashtra, its workers do spill this out times and over again. One Anantkumar Hegde recently stated such an intention on the part of BJP. Also as they don’t believe in secularism, Mr. Yogi, UP Chief Minister is asserting that secularism is the biggest lie of Independent India. While on one side they want to change the Indian Constitution, some of them have been demanding that Gita should be declared as the National book. In the arena of education they want to change the content in conformity with the Holy Hindu scriptures and change the pattern of schooling to Guru Shishya parampara (Guru-student tradition) in contrast to the present goal of society, where teacher is the one, who helps the student learn.
 
Scientific temper and achievements of science are aimed to change for what the Holy Scriptures say. In accordance there are claims of plastic surgery, genetic science, pushpak viman, internet and what have you all being part of the ancient Indian society. At the same time history is being aggressively changed to demonize Muslim kings and glorify Hindu kings. The intimidating sectarian mindset and attitude has led to murders of rational thinkers like Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh.
 
On every conceivable occasion Muslim kings are being presented in negative light, be it Alauddin Khilji, Tipu Sultan or Taimur. The claims that Taj Mahal was a Hindu structure, or that it is a symbol of slavery are alternately being voiced too often. This does deepen the communal cleavages in the society. Issues like the Love Jihad led to the ghastly murder of Afrazul Khan and tried to annul the marriage of Hadiya.   
 
Anti dalit atrocities saw an upswing during last few years, while bigger garlands are being offered to the portraits of Ambedkar. At places, out of extreme intimidation, many a dalit groups are threatening and also converting to Buddhism. The violence against dalits in Bhima Koregaon was a sad reminder as to how planned violence against dalits is there in the country. The claims are that Modi government honored Ambedkar as no earlier Government did! Nothing can be farther from truth as the policies of BJP Government are polar opposite of what Ambedkar stood for. In tune with earlier Hindu communal organizations the present BJP regime is also  trying to portray as if Congress is anti-Hindu, perception is being created that it I a Muslim party.
 
Challenges to Democracy: Tasks for Future
Now the question also comes at electoral level, how do principled alliances can be built up to stop the severe erosion of democratic secular values? The lessons of four and a half years of experience of Modi rule is a wakeup call for opposition parties to hang together, else the victim will be the very concept of democracy itself! The agenda of Hindu nationalism has quickly unfolded itself during this period. The insecurity of minorities, the blatant corporate loot, the failure of governance in the form of destruction of institutions like CBI, RBI and Academic institutions is a matter of deep concern. There is a need to combat Hate in society, need to promote the interests of youth, dalits, farmers and Adivasis. Time is overdue to build a democratic coalition to take the country back to the path of peace, progress and development.
 
(Ram Puniyani can be contacted on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., web site www.pluralindia.com)  
    
 
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Interview with Comrade Prakash Karat (President of SFI, 1974 to 1979)
 
Late 60s and early 70s have been marked with vibrant student movement at different corners of the globe, mainly in western countries, in history. What were the important features of the international situation in the seventies which were relevant to the student movement?
 
The first half of the seventies was dominated by the national liberation struggle in South Vietnam. The indomitable struggle of the Vietnamese people against US aggression had a profound impact on the student movement internationally and in our country. The decade witnessed the historic triumph of the Vietnam struggle and the successful liberation of the Indo-Chinese peoples and many countries in Africa such as Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Ethiopia. These brought about a decisive change in the international balance of forces to strengthen the forces of anti-imperialism and peace. Alongside, the international situation saw in the first half of the seventies the process of detente, where imperialism was forced to relax tensions and recognise the growing strength of the USSR and the Socialist countries. The seventies also saw the development of the most profound all round crisis of the world capitalist system. The aggravation of the crisis saw the stepping up of the arms race and military preparations by U.S. imperialism, followed by reversal of detente. In the eighties, under President Reagan, a full fledged drive began to step up the arms race and develop new offensive missiles. In the seventies, the socialist bloc was strong but in the eighties for a variety of reasons, the reversal began.  
 
What was the national situation?
 
To sum it up briefly, the decade began with the new radical postures of the Congress under Mrs. Gandhi consequent to the split in the ruling party and its sweeping victory in the 1971 general elections. It also saw the emergence of the Left as a determined force which withstood the wave particularly in West Bengal. The emergence of the Left as the major opposition force was in the background of the most vicious attack on the Left led by the CPI(M) in West Bengal. The major part of the seventies upto the end of the emergency saw the systematic semi-fascist terror launched against the left forces in the state. This attack presaged the growing authoritarianism of the ruling Congress which culminated in the emergency in 1975. The fight against authoritarianism and for defence of democracy was a major political issue in this period. It saw the imposition of the Emergency after the bankruptcy of the Indira Congress's populist rhetoric was revealed and also the united fight put up against the danger of authoritarianism. This resulted in the victory of the Janata Party and its brief spell in Government. Contrasted to the short lived Janata experiment, was the emergence of the Left Front Governments in 1977 in West Bengal and Tripura which became the advanced outposts of democracy and for  implementation of alternative policies to those of the Congress (I). It is the character of these governments and fronts which have ensured their durability and attraction for the people all over the country
 
You were part of SFI in its initial decade. What was the characteristic of student activism during those initial years of SFI? 
 
I was in the SFI in its initial years. Earlier, as a student in the University of Edinburgh, I was active in the movement against the Vietnam War and against apartheid in South Afirca. The early 1970s were a period of heightened student activism. There were three streams in the student movement. The first was a Left stream which include organisations like the SFI, AISF and the Samajwadi Yuvajan Sabha. There was a second stream of the student organisations associated with the Congress party and thirdly there was the ABVP which is affiliated to the RSS. The SFI, after its foundation, had to contend against these rival political and ideological streams in the student movement.
How did the student movement involve with the challenges put forward by that period.?  How did we prioritize the issues to be addressed?
The period 1973 to 1975 saw widespread student struggles- in a scale and intensity which was more than a similar outburst in 1965-66. These struggles had as their focus- cheap and mass education to enable students to pursue their education; struggles to reform the educational system; and finally defence of democratic rights and fight against the government's anti-people policies.
The seventies saw the expansion of the organised, democratic student movement. This was reflected in the growth of the SFI since its foundation conference in December 1970. The SFI led many mass movements in defence of the economic and educational demands of the students. The economic crisis deepened in the first half of the seventies-and the student movement had to struggle to ensure cheap text books note books and educational material for the students, for cheaper kerosene in the villages, for mid-day meals etc. All these were directed to make education accessible to the common people. Further the progressive student movement and the SFI in particular fought for educational reform and to make a mass democratic and scientific educational system a reality. It was also in the forefront in the defence of students' rights in an atmosphere of growing authoritarianism.
Another major issue which confronted the student movement was the new orientation of government policy. With the deteriorating economic situation and growing educated unemployed, the Congress government at the Centre and in the states began resorting to hikes institution fees, restriction of entry in educational institutions and halting the trend towards abolition of fees in the secondary school stage. The student movement had to fight against these anti-student measures and struggles took place on the broad issue of defending the right to education. Big struggles were led by the SFI in West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura, Andhra and Punjab in this period. This served to channelise the student discontent on democratic lines.
On the international plane, the solidarity campaign with Vietnam was undertaken by SFI. No other organisation took the issue in such a big way to students as the SFI.
Apart from the organised movements, two major student upsurges were the Nav Nirman movement and the JP led Chhatra Sangharsh Samity movement in Bihar.The Gujarat student movement became a popular mass movement against the Chimmanbhai Patel ministry. It was sought to be crushed by bullets and repression. Scores died in police repression but it failed to crush the popular upsurge and the government had to go. However, in the absence of a strong democratic students organisation to guide it on the right lines and take it forward, there was no lasting influence of this movement. The same Chimmanbhai  Patel became a Janata leader later! The Bihar movement had a wider impact and it played an important role in mobilising the anti-authoritarian forces. The fact that thousands of students participated in these two struggles shows the deep impact of the harmful Congress policies and growing authoritarianism which drew the mass of students into these movements. These were paralleled by the big mass mobilisation undertaken by the SFI and its allies in West Bengal, Kerala, Assam, Andhra etc. on their day to day issues.
 
Can you tell us something more about SFI's role and development in this period?
 
The SFI began with a membership of 1.24 lakhs in 1970 and by the Third Conference at Patna in 1979 its membership was 4,12 lakhs. This was an advance. Behind this was steady organisational growth in many new states. The SFI was in the forefront in the struggle for democratic rights and defence of democracy. In West Bengal, the SFI played a heroic role in the reign of terror which was extended to the educational institutions in the period of semi-fascist terror. Hundreds of SFI activists had to leave the educational institutions. Teachers were murdered. Yet the SFI fought against the anarchy sought to be fostered by the Chhatra Parishad-Youth Congress hoodlums and the Naxalites. It was the most difficult but a glorious period in the history of the SFI. Because of its tenacious work, the SFI retained its links with the students and continued its mass activities.
The Emergency was preceded by growing militancy in student struggles. Because of the SFI's prominent role in defence of democracy and students' rights, the Emergency saw a severe attack on its leadership and cadre. Nine of the CEC members including the Secretaries of Kerala, Assam, Orissa and Presidents of Tripura and Orissa were jailed under MISA. 4 other CEC members were wanted. Over 60 cadres of the SFI all over the country were detained under MISA and Hundreds had DIR cases against them. In Kerala alone over 600 of DIR were filed against SFI activists. Along with this hundreds of SFI cadre were denied admission in educational institutions. The SFI despite all the attacks continued to organise activities and protest actions during the emergency.
The struggle of the students in JNU under the SFI-led JNUSU against the emergency period attacks was a notable chapter of the student movement. The JNUSU president and another SFI activist were in jail under MISA in this period.
The SFI brought out as early as 1973 an alternative plan for the educational system - from the primary stage to the university stage. Since the third Conference in Patna in 1979, the SFI took important initiatives to unite with other student organisations on question of war and peace, national unity, employment for all etc.
The first important step was the joint student-youth convention on democratic rights, educational reforms and unemployment in April 1979.
 
What would be the main lessons of the decade?
 
PK: The student movement learned by experience of the Emergency and authoritarian attacks that the preservation and extension of its educational and democratic rights is inextricably connected with the defence of democracy in general and struggle against authoritarianism. Apart from uniting with the other democratic  forces in society, it also brought about the realisation of the need for a wider unity of the students' organisations and for united struggles. It is only after the Emergency that the SFI also seriously oriented itself to this task as was done as the Third Conference at Patna. The earlier reoccupation with building its independent strength was now coupled within the necessity to unite with other student organisations for unity and effective intervention. 
One of the barriers to united struggles during this period had been the approach and role of the AISF. Its wrong approach to the questions of defence of democracy and authoritarianism and its lining up with Congress elements against the oppositional student movements prevented any vital unity of the progressive sections of the student community. This could be overcome only after the Emergency.
Secondly, those organisations which had purveyed the ruling class idea that students should be kept away from politics such as the AVBP, soon had to give up this stand. The SFI's consistent stand that students should participate in politics and choose the correct political platform to defend their rights and reform education get employment etc. found widespread acceptance.
Thirdly, a beginning was made to fight the retrograde educational policy measures of the government, right from its formulation stage rather than reacting to its implementation university-wise, and institution wise. The effort by SFI to pose alternative policies to the Sixth Plan prescription and its later effort by the end of the decade to unite with other organisations to adopt common positions on issues vital to the students, showed that the degree of organisation and consciousness was growing.
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SFI RALLY 2
Nitheesh Narayanan
 
The 16th All India Conference of Students Federation of India has successfully come to an end at Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. The conference has been concluded by taking the historic mission to complete a target of 50 lakh membership by the 50th anniversary of the organization.  SFI completes 50 years in 2020. The conference has been dispersed by forming necessary plans to add around 10 lakh members more in the organization to achieve this. In fact, the most important aim would be to reach out the areas where the presence of the organization is weak.
 
It is for the first time in the history, Shimla has become the host of All India Conference. Moreover, it is for the second time in a row SFI’s highest conference is happening in Hindi states/northern states.  Among the three All India Conferences held in north India, two were held during this period of time. This can be seen as the sign of influence and development the organisation could make in these areas. The conference reviewed that after the 15th All India Conference held at Sikir, Rajasthan, SFI could strengthen its presence and influence in new places. Apart from being elected to the union leadership in central universities such as JNU, Pondicherry, and HCU, the activities of the organization are extended to the Central University of Gujarat and Karnataka.   Recommence of organizational activities in Gujarat after 14 years, the formation of the union in Jammu University and the emergence of SFI as the single largest organization in the first election conducted in Ambedkar University are achievements worth mentioning.  Apart from the sweeping victories in the union elections in Kerala and Tripura, SFI could win the students union elections in Rajasthan, Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Tamilnadu.
 
The conference called upon to expand the organizational activities in north eastern areas- which is now largely limited to Tripura and Assam- to all the states. It has also decided to vitalize the activities in Jammu.  Formation of State Committee in Jammu Kashmir, Jharkhand, Manipur, Chhattisgarh and Odisha is one of the major goals. It is pertinent to enter into the private educational institutions which strategically keep the student politics at bay. These institutions are the fertile land for widespread looting and rampant violation of democratic rights and ethos.  The government is not yet ready to come up with necessary legal measures to limit such moves.
 
The conference has given a resounding mandate to fight the increasing case of sexual harassments occurring inside the campuses. The conference pointed out that, lack of democratic spaces and lack of sensitisation against gendered crimes and the existing power structure inside the campuses and many other factors create a hostile situation for the women students. To handle this out, there is a need for institutional mechanism such as GSCASH inside the campuses. The conference condemned the strenuous attack against such institutions, for instance replacing well functioning GSCASH with ICC in JNU.
 
An integral part of democratisation of campus is ensuring gender justice in all the spheres and to break the patriarchal hegemony which is normalised in such spaces. Conference decided to have a transparent and democratic internal mechanism to address this kind of issues within  the organisation. SFI hence becomes the first student organisation to take such a historic decision. 
 
From 30th October to 2nd November 2018, the 16th All India Conference of SFI, has critically evaluated the political and organisational tasks lying ahead. The conference passed 15 resolutions on various issues including the ones mentioned above. The conference discussed various issues such as the challenges faced by school education and the  danger in forming higher education commission by sabotaging UGC and many other.
 
The Conference welcomed the supreme court verdict on Sabarimala and pledged to strengthen the fight against the brahmanical-patriarchal Sangh parivar forces which is desperately trying to destroy the secular social fabric of Kerala. The conference extended solidarity to the efforts of left forces in Kerala to upheld the values of Kerala renaissance. This conference also mandated to build a broad spectrum resistance against the increasing mob frenzy and communal violence. Conference underlined the role of students in the struggle for ensuring equal rights, a life with dignity and social justice. This conference expresses it deep concern over the increasing number of suicides in IIT’s and other professional institutions and demanded laws to be formulated in order to check the physical and mental harassments faced by students particularly who are coming from marginalised backgrounds and gender. This is also important to make sure a healthy campus atmosphere where a vibrant political and cultural activism increase the inner democracy of campus life.
 
The student community expressed its solidarity to left-wing governments across the world fighting continuous imperialistic interventions, blockades and attempts to create internal disturbances, through anti-capitalist policies & tenets in their home countries. The struggles at Palestine, Syria and the persecution of Rohingyan refugees at Myanmar were taken up for discussion at the Conference.
 
The amendment to have National Conferences every three years was agreed upon. It has also been decided to have State Conferences every two years and other conferences every year. The Conference put forth demands for the extension of research scholarships and their timely distribution. Increased scholarships should be awarded to students from economically & socially weak backgrounds in general and women in particular. Transgender-rights and the rights of other sexual minorities should be protected.
 
Another crucial demand, for a widespread political alliance of the country’s left-leaning students’ organizations was also put forth, at a separate session with the national leaders of organizations like the All India Students’ Federation (AISF), All India Students’ Association (AISA), All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO) etc. In order to resist the privatization and communalization of Indian education, it was reiterated that there is a pressing need for a regional-level strengthening of this political alliance along with venturing into a concerted national-level fight with the larger student community of the country.
SFI RALLY
 
The All India Conference was inaugurated by P. Sainath and Prof. R Ramakumar. While Sainath spoke of the unprecedented rise of Indian inequality and how India was on its path to become one of the most unequal societies in the world, Ramakumar briefed us about the historical process of privatization of education in capitalist societies around the world. Seminars on communalism and higher education were inaugurated by Prof. Ram Puniyani and C. N. Bharati, [General Secretary, School Teachers Federation of India (STFI)] respectively.
 
Former leaders Nilotpal Basu, K.N. Balagopalan and V. Sivadasan shared their experience of leading the organization. Former all India president M.A. Baby also greeted the conference later. Former leaders released the book published by the Central Executive Committee on the history of SFI. M. A Baby released the conference special issue of student struggle monthly.  Ashok Dhawale (President, AIKS), Suneet Chopra (Joint Secretary, AIAWU), Abhoy Mukherjee (General Secretary, DYFI), Kashmir Singh (Secretary, CITU) greeted the conference with warm words filled with hope and confidence in student movement. 
 
647 delegates from 24 states participated in the Conference which was held at the manch named after martyr Abhimanyu Maharajas. Parijith, brother of SFI leader Abhimanyu who was killed by islamist fundamentalists in Kerala also attended the inaugural session of the conference. Unlike the earlier conference, there were delegates from Manipur, Sikkim and Gujarat this time. Vikram Singh presented the draft political-organisational report before the delegates. 58 delegates spoke in the seven hour long discussion session, representing 24 states, four sub-committees and Tribal students union. 
 
Conference elected 93 member Central Executive Committee with 9 vacancies. There are 24 girls in the Committee. The All India Secretariat Consists of 19 members with 2 vacancies for Bengal and Kerala. VP Sanu has been re-elected as the President of the committee and Mayukh Biswas has been elected as the General Secretary. 
 
A vibrant student rally through the valley of Shimla took place after the conclusion of delegation session, and culminated to a public meeting attended by a massive crowd. Both the rally and public meeting turned as a show of strength of student movement in the valley. The crowd was addressed by Nilotpal Basu, Rakesh Singha, Mayukh Biswas, Vikram Singh, VP Sanu and Dipsita Dhar. The Shimla conference has definitely been written in the history of student movement for providing a further push to the politically conscious students to spread across to new areas with a stronger organisation.
MAYUKH SANU