Dr. V Sivadasan
SIKAR, a city whose art, architecture and culture bear the mark of a rich history of confluence and diversity, will host the 15th All India Conference of SFI from January 22 to 25. The rich legacy of spirited peasant agitations makes the choice of the city even more appropriate, as in a historic first, the All India Conference of SFI is taking place in the Northwest India. The conference is taking place at a time when the whole nation is witnessing an assault on the very idea of India as a secular and democratic republic. The air is vitiated by the attempts to spread hatred among the people with the aim to consolidate public support for the anti-people, neo-liberal socio-economic policies, by putting the real issues that affect the life of the people into oblivion.
The ruling elites are trying to advance their agenda of assisting the aggrandizement initiatives of the corporate class. Every single policy initiative undertaken by the present regime is designed to achieve this. It is the historic duty of Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and the Left and democratic forces to fight till the very end such anti-people measures. The strength and courage to stand up and fight such draconian forces emerge from the rich legacy of struggles which SFI has fought throughout the years of its existence. The past four years since the last All India Conference have seen a spate of arduous yet successful struggles fought over various issues that affect the life of the Indian student community.
As many as 46 comrades are in jail and more than a hundred are hospitalised. In Sikar, the workers of SFI are facing brutal attacks from RSS hooligans and the state administration. They are trying to disturb the conference. The hoardings and banners of the conference were destroyed. Leaders including the state committee members of SFI were attacked. Subash Jakar, the secretary of SFI Sikar district committee, was grievously injured and he was arrested from the hospital on false charges! But the student community in Rajasthan is fighting against them upholding the white flag and revolutionary ideas.
The memory of the brave comrades who sacrificed their lives for the cause of the student movement should inspire us to move ahead, braving all obstacles. In these four years, several comrades laid down their lives fighting for the student movement. Comrade Rohit, Saifuddin Mollah, Sajin Shahul, Comrade Faziland and Ajeet Sing Beniwal made the supreme sacrifice in the struggles, holding aloft the banner of SFI. Comrade Sudipta Gupta, a member of SFI West Bengal State Committee, was killed in a brutal police attack, while leading a ‘law-breaking’ programme to protest the draconian decision of the Trinamool Congress government banning all students’ union elections in the state.
In the state of Himachal Pradesh, the student community under the leadership of SFI has launched a historic struggle, demanding increased budgetary allocation, roll back of fee hike, students’ union elections and roll back of the disastrous measures like Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) and Choice Based Credit System (CBCS). Fifty-four students were injured in the brutal police lathicharge, while the entire leadership was put behind the bars. Policemen in plain clothes attacked the state office of SFI, ransacked the office and arrested all those who were present there, including a 65-year-old man. Al those who were arrested had to go through brutal physical torture inside the police station. But the attempts to suppress the movement were fought back with the solidarity and support of the student activists from all over the country. Campuses across India protested against the attempt to oppress the voice of the students in Himachal Pradesh.
Pondicherry University was witness to a heroic struggle fought by the comrades for a gender sensitive and democratic campus. The movement started with the refusal of our brave activists not to succumb to the undemocratic practice of ragging and subsequent harassing following the refusal on the campus. When they approached the authorities with a complaint, instead of assisting them to fight such regressive tendencies, the university administration tried to cover up the whole issue. In the course of the struggle, the students who fought the administration were suspended and they had to take the matter to court. In a historic judgement, the judiciary granted a judgement in favour of the victimised students and this marked a successful turning point in the course of the struggle. The agitation in Pondicherry University was the one that reasserted the right of the students to have a gender sensitive and democratic campus.
The SFI Maharashtra State Committee led a month-long protest of students in Industrial Technical Institutes (ITIs) with the main demand to scrap the negative marking system which was newly introduced leading to thousands of students failing in their examinations. More than 25,000 students successfully participated in these SFI-led protests in 20 districts of Maharashtra. It must be remembered that ITI students form part of the future working class of our country. The stir culminated on December 30, 2014 – which is also the Foundation Day of the SFI – with an impressive state-wide demonstration of over 3,000 ITI students in Mumbai and fruitful discussions with the state’s technical education minister. The main demands of this stir were the scrapping of the negative marking system, increase in the paltry stipend of Rs 40 per month, question papers in the mother tongue, hostels for every ITI, filling vacant posts of teachers and employees, and provision of all necessary infrastructures in all the institutes. The struggle forced the government to rethink about the negative marking system. The Directorate General of Employment & Training (DGE&T) had to issue a circular where it had finally agreed to give the question papers in the mother tongue from August, 2015. The struggle had given an added momentum to the student movement of Maharashtra.
The comrades of Calicut University fought a valiant struggle which started as a voice of resistance against the vicious attempts by the Congress-led UDF government of Kerala to destroy the democratic atmosphere of universities ever since it came to power in 2011. One of the first initiatives, the government took was to dissolve the democratically elected syndicate and senate in different universities and set up new bodies with the members nominated by Congress and its allies. The vice-chancellor has been playing the role of a lackey of the incumbent UDF government to perfection. Banning protests and demonstrations in the university, introducing punching system for research scholars who will have to go for field work and other research purposes out of the campus, stopping the scholarship money from being distributed, cutting down a huge number of trees on the campus and damaging the rich ecological diversity, selling the university land to private authorities were some of the regressive moves which evoked the protest. The struggle was one of the longest and most arduous ones put up by the students of Kerala.
SFI has taken a proactive role in supporting progressive student movement all over the country. Be it the struggle of the FTII Pune against attempts of saffronisation or the struggle of the students of Madras IIT against the ban on Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, SFI has tried to be part of such struggles strengthening the values of secularism and democracy.
The Indian student community has positively responded to such an effort is evident in the enthusing victories that SFI has achieved in this period. Out of the seven Central Universities where student union elections had taken place, SFI emerged successful in four of them. Central University of Hyderabad, Central University of Kerala, the English and Foreign Languages University and Pondicherry University have elected SFI alliances to lead the student unions.
SFI is marching into the All India Conference, with this enthusing support offered by the student community. The conference is an occasion to discuss and deliberate upon the functioning of the movement in the last four years. It is also an important occasion to chalk out the future action plan. In these days, when neo-liberalism combined with semi-fascism is trying to push the country back into the dark ages, an intense and serious effort should be undertaken by the comrades all across the country to make the All India Conference a huge success.