The indefinite hunger strike as part of SFI led occupy campus movement in Calicut university, Kerala raising the issues of hostel crisis and fighting the attempts to smash public education enters the 92th day and is getting strengthened day after day after gaining support from various sections of the society and until now unforeseen participation of the student community.
The hunger strike began as a voice of resistance against the vicious attempts by the congress led UDF govt to destroy the democratic atmosphere of universities ever since they came to power in 2011. One of the first initiatives they have taken 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. Ever since the current VC , Abdul salam, took the charge in the office the only thing he has been doing is that of playing the role of a lackey of the incumber UDF government to perfection. One after another the decisions taken by VC did nothing to improve the academic status of the largest university in Kerala , but it always involved snatching away all the democratic rights from the students making their academic life more difficult and putting it to the point of uncertainty. Banning protests and demonstrations in the university, introducing punching system for research scholars who will have to go for for field work and other research purposes out of the campus, stopping the scholarships from being distributed, cutting down a huge number of trees in the campus and damaging the rich ecological diversity, selling the university land to private authorities are jus few of the dirty games played by the obedient lackeys of the right wing government in the state.
The VC continues to impose his autocratic decisions on not only students but teachers, staff and karmacharies and this time around they too have chose the option of struggle protesting the injustices meted out. SFI is at the forefront of the fights to protect democratic rights and dignity of student community. The hunger strike began when the VC opened the already scarce hostel facility of the regular students to other pernicious money-making schemes.
As the strike is passing through its 92th day, around fourty comrades have been arrested and hospitalised with serious health problems. Still more students are coming to the forefront and the struggle continues with a determined mind that it will be victorious. The administration and government are trying their maximum to oppress the struggle using police and threatening the students with disciplinary action. None could weaken the spirit of the brave movement and it becomes an inspiration for all the students who fights neoliberal-anti democratic onslaught on education across the nation.
THE Students Federation of India (SFI) organised a successful three days long school for its activists in the Hindi speaking states was successfully in Chandigarh from June 3 to 5. A total of 91 activists from 10 states participated in the school which was first such exercise after a similar school in Delhi in 2007. Spread over five sessions, the school covered Marxist philosophy, current political situation, identity politics, organisation, and educational policy framework.
WHY A SCHOOL FOR HINDI STATES
The Hindi speaking states represent a majority of Indian population and the inability to break the organisational stagnation in this huge region has also translated into the inability to build a substantial students’ organisation at the all India level. Further, the entire region has certain definite socio-political similarities, apart from the linguistic similarity.
Firstly, all these states have historically shown poor educational standards, and particularly in the last 20 years the condition of whatever little public institutions were there has worsened, with neo-liberal dictum of ‘cuts’ directly translating into insufficient infrastructure in higher education as well as school education. Moreover, the number of private institutions in the region has meteorically increased and most of them are found flouting the norms, with active involvement of politicians of the ruling class parties in the management of these institutions.
Secondly, the rise of identity politics is clearly visible in the university campuses and colleges of the region with an ever increasing number of caste and region based groups. This has meant that while the assault on education is growing unabatedly in absence of any effective resistance, the possibilities of any wide unity are also being thwarted by identity based groups. It becomes necessary, therefore, that the activists are equipped with the politics and ideology with which they cannot only face this reality, but also gear the organisation towards expansion. It was with this understanding that a separate school for the Hindi linguistic states was organised.
MARXIST PHILOSOPHY: SCIENTIFIC METHOD
Dr Omkar Shad, a former leader of SFI in Himachal Pradesh and currently the state secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, took the first session on ‘Marxist philosophy’ and brilliantly showed how Marxist philosophy is a scientific method of seeing the world, which goes a step further and arms us to change the world as well. Some points in his presentation were particularly insightful. He outlined how the day-to-day issues of the students in their campuses might lead to spontaneous protest actions, but these have to be channelised and streamlined; for which there is a definite scientific method: “moving from quantitative change to qualitative change,” “keeping in mind the dialectics of this change,” so on and so forth. While shaping the spontaneity is one task of the organisation, the major task is to formulate “concrete slogans according to concrete conditions” and anticipate the response of the student community. The facts that some states have tremendous organisational strength means that the general understanding of the organisation is correct and that the organisation in Hindi states has failed to appropriately formulate correct slogans. Moulding of the subjectivities of the student community according to the objective reality is an essential part of the scientific method of organisation building.
PUTTING POLITICS IN COMMAND
Former all-India general secretary of the SFI, Nilotpal Basu, took the session on the current political situation. He pointed how the attempts of keeping students away from politics are not new and have always been part of the ruling class’ arsenal, but that they have intensified the drive considerably particularly in the last two decades. The student movement has to fight this depoliticisation and put politics right in front of its agenda. This doesn’t makes it ‘political’ in the sense of being merely a front of any political party; rather it stresses the fact that even the simplest of the demands of the student community can’t be achieved without being ‘political.’ The neo-liberal governance model is creating havoc in the field of education and the grievances of the student community are increasing day by day. Apart from the two main national parties of the ruling classes, almost all the regional parties are also in the grip of the neo-liberal ideology today. The student movement has to take up these issues more intensely, gradually build up the movement and move ahead.
CHALLENGE OF THE IDENTITY POLITICS
Suneet Chopra, former member of the SFI central secretariat and currently a joint secretary of the All India Agricultural Workers Union, took the session on identity politics and outlined how identity politics is a strategy of the ruling classed to disrupt the unity of the toilers and prolong its own rule. He underlined this process by citing examples from the pattern of land holdings to the mythologies. But the kind of identity politics that we are seeing currently is specific to international finance capital driven neo-liberalism where the dispossession and misery are at an historical high. Generations of ‘Eklavyas’ have been denied their right to education, with their ‘thumbs cut off’ by the Dhronacharyas of our today’s society. It is the prime duty of an organisation like the SFI to take up the dalit issues, as only by doing so would we be able to isolate the politics of identity groups. Neo-liberalism provides the material basis for the identity politics, as it elevates alienation to such high levels that individuals are reduced to separate compartments. Left politics, unlike this, has to counter the alienation and build the broadest possible unity. “Reaching out to those who are away from us” and “organising the unorganised” is the only way of countering the identity politics.
ON ORGANISATION & EDUCATION POLICIES
Vikram Singh, all-India joint secretary of the SFI, took the session on organisation and pinpointed the wrong tendencies which have hampered the organisation’s growth. He then put forth the correct organisational practices which can help us in expanding. Starting from the mass membership to building movements to consolidating the organisation to building activists and cadres --- the process of organisation building is an art as well as a science. In order to break the deadlock in the Hindi speaking region we will have to rectify the wrong trends in the organisation.
Vijendra Sharma took the fifth and last session on the education policies and demonstrated how the successive governments have enacted legislations to push forth the neo-liberal agenda in the field of education. More specifically, in the period of the twelfth five year plan, they have further intensified these moves and we are witnessing an elaborate legislative framework which would restructure education according to the requirement of the finance capital. Authoritarian regimes and undemocratic university administrations are part and parcel of this whole design and the ongoing process in Delhi University reflects the larger danger lurking ahead. These designs can be countered and effectively fought only by building greater unity among students, teachers, parents and employees.
Out of a total of 91 delegates, nine were girls. 20 delegates were less than 20 years of age, 48 were between 20 and 25, 19 were between 25 and 30, three between 30 and 35 and one over 35 years of age. Surya Prakash, 16, of Uttar Pradesh was the youngest delegate while Hargobind singh, 43, was the oldest delegate. Six delegates work at the unit level, 37 in the district committees, 32 in the state committees and 18 at the CEC level. Kapil Bhardwaj of Himachal Pradesh has been jailed maximum (27 times) and has been victimised on several occasions for participation in movements. A majority of the delegates want to work in the democratic movement in future, and also felt that such schools should be organised every year.
THE entire country is aspiring for a pro-people alternative at the centre, sans the Congress and the BJP. The Congress party, at the helm of power continuously for two terms now, has utterly failed to address the basic problems that pinch the people most. Its neo-liberal policies have caused havoc to the people’s livelihood. However, the BJP, though it is trying to cash in on the people’s anger against the Congress misrule, is equally infamous insofar as misrule and corruption are concerned. We are striving to form a government with an alternative policy framework that may render relief to the common masses from the stings of neo-liberal policies and save the country’s secular fabric. In this endeavour, the struggling people of Tripura, including the students community shall have to play a vital role, highlighting the successes that have been achieved by the Left Front government in Tripura.
This was the appeal made by Sitaram Yechury who was addressing an impressive rally on the occasion of the 18th Tripura state conference of the Students Federation of India (SFI) at Udaipur on January 10, 2014.
Apart from Sitaram Yechury, the rally at the KBI School ground (named as C Bhaskaran Nagar) was presided over by Nilanjana Roy and was addressed, among others, by the SFI’s all-India general secretary Ritubrata Banerjee and state secretary Nabarun Deb.
Attaching high importance to the ensuing Lok Sabha elections, Yechury these elections would decide which direction the country would take in the coming days. If the Delhi assembly election is any indication, it is evident that the people will favour those parties who can viably stand against the Congress and the BJP. These two parties had had a tacit understanding in passing through the parliament all the anti-people bills in line with the neo-liberal policies.
Scathingly coming down upon the ruling Congress party that patronised the unprecedented corruption scams occurred during the UPA regime, Yechury no less than five lakh crore rupees have been misappropriated from the government exchequer in several mega scams whereas only 1.75 thousand crore rupees are sufficient to implement the Right to Education Act, provide nutritious food for all the undernourished children of the country and draw them inside the school premises. While the UPA government is denying universal rationing of essential goods including rice and wheat in the name of lack of resources, how is it that billionaires were given tax exemption of thousands of crores of rupees, Yechury retorted. Our students must not keep their eyes closed to these facts of our national life, he urged.
Describing the semi-fascist attacks on democracy in West Bengal, particularly on the opposition parties, and the attempts to annihilate the communists in the state, Ritubrata Banerjee said the strength of the communists lies in their ideology, not in any muscle power. Terror tactics have nowhere sustained for long. It is not very far off when the democratic forces of West Bengal shall emerge victorious, Banerjee said, adding that in this struggle Tripura would be our guiding force. He highly appreciated the 21 percent budgetary allocation for education in the state whereas it is only four percent at the national level.
Prior to the rally, SFI leaders and delegates paid homage at the martyrs’ column in the lawns of the Udaipur Town Hall which was named as C Bhaskaran Nagar, the slain SFI leader of Kerala. The conference flag was brought by SFI volunteers from the place of martyrdom of Kanu Dey who was shot to death on July 8, 1991 by the police of the Congress-TUJS alliance government in Tripura Sundari Higher Secondary School while he was leading a procession of students demanding supply of school books.
In the evening, the delegates session started. Altogether 539 delegates attended the conference, representing from 19 subdivisions. In his inaugurating speech, the state’s higher education minister Bhanulal Saha said students are the most sensitive section of the society and that they should not be mere money-making tools. They should realise the problems of the people, the problems in the spread of education, why many shining students of the country fail to access high education, why universal education could not be implemented after so many years of independence, what is the implication of the neo-liberal polices for the education sector. Therefore while preparing their lessons in schools, simultaneously they should build up struggle for better educational infrastructure for the coming generations.
SFI state secretary Nabarun Deb presented the political-organisational report in the first session of the conference. The report dealt with the economic and cultural aggression of imperialist powers and the surrender of the UPA government that is pursuing the neo-liberal policies. Regarding the state situation, the report said the Left Front government is working amidst multifarious adversities including financial constraints. Following the debacle faced by the Left Front in West Bengal and Kerala in 2011, the Congress was expecting to dislodge the Left Front government of Tripura too in the 2013 assembly elections. But the conscious people of the state frustrated their designs by decisively voting the Left Front to power with more seats and more votes. The student community of the state played a commendable role in this victory, the report said. Regarding organisation, the report mentioned that while at the time of the 17th state conference the SFI’s total membership was 1,38,118 in the state, now it has risen to 1,48,524. This growth has to be maintained, the report said.
On the 11th afternoon, a programme named Fire Dekha (Looking Back) was organised. Former leaders of the undivided Students Federation and of the subsequently formed SFI were invited to interact in a seminar on the day. Bijan Dhar (at present the CPI(M) state secretary), Tapas Datta (now DYFI state president) and others exchanged their experiences of the formative days of the organisation with the audience.
The delegates discussed the report of the general secretary from the first session on January 11. In all, 32 delegates including seven girls participated in the discussion and raised valuable issues concerning the student community. The issues they raised included the scarcity of teaching staff in subdivisional colleges, increasing incidents of atrocities on women in the country, poor health services in remote areas etc. They pointed out some weaknesses of the SFI organisation in the state. The SFI has no access as yet in many of the institutions, they reported. The delegates also urged about exposure of the evil politics of some corporate media to detach the student community from politics on the plea they are learners. They also demanded early passage of the women’s bill in the parliament and expressed fraternity to the fighting people of West Bengal who are groaning under the Trinamul terror.
In the last session on January 12, the SFI’s all-India general secretary Ritubara Banerjee urged the building up of a bigger countrywide struggle for democratic rights of students. The student community cannot attain these rights without fighting against the neo-liberal policies, he asserted.
With a view to further strengthening the students movement, a 79-member state committee was elected by the conference, and the state committee then elected a 17-member state secretariat. The conference bid farewell to 47 members of the preceding state committee and the new members gave them mementos. Nilanjana Roy and Nabarun Deb were re-elected president and secretary respectively.\