Student Politics and Activism: Education Beyond the Classroom

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The enactment of Citizenship Amendment Bill (2019)  followed by the barging of police and attacking unarmed students protesting against the very unlawful law, in the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, had led to the wave of protests not just on Indian soil but across the globe. The series of demonstrations have been called by some as the largest in recent years. Though, simultaneously questions arose about the involvement of students in activism and dissent against the government?

Economic disparity and other structural restraints deprive a vast majority of youths from the benefits of higher education. This non-student youth, who forms a significant segment of the society, are kept far away from the intellectual stream. Student youth, the other segment, constitutes the most knowledgeable and dynamic strata. These students are politically educated and aware bound with idealism and energy. The emergence of student youth protest today, especially since fee-hike in Jawaharlal Nehru University and contended crackdown of the police against student protesters in two most prestigious universities in India, indeed delivers a glance of the history and the reforms that have been brought. The protest gives prominence to the right to education, unity in diversity, and the very right of the citizen to protest in a democratic nation.

The voices of dissent and resistance of the youths are being suppressed when they have been brought up on the lessons of revolutionaries in history. The occurrences of violence on the campuses of JMI, AMU, and JNU were not only spine-chilling but also depict what the future of India looks like. The campuses that were known for their exposure and safety of individual voices are now harbored with fear. When students roared against the authoritarian regime and its fascist policies, their demand for liberty and critical thinking were condemned as a “threat to the national security”.

 Well, India has a rich history of student activism. If we dig down deep, we find a long history of student protest. The earliest instance of student activism through political and social consciousness can be the Young Bengal movement in the Hindu College (now Presidency College), West Bengal, in the year 1830. During the partition of Bengal in 1905, students of Calcutta’s Eden Hindu Hostel burned Lord Curzon’s effigy and boycotted examinations to protest against the partition.

The vast number of youth and students were captivated by Gandhi’s Non-cooperation movement into intense political activism. Students gave massdemonstrationstheir numerical strength. They also supplied leadership to freedom struggle in some locales when Congress leaders were imprisoned.

The extreme of student political participation had been discerned in the national movement during the 1942 “Quit India” struggle. All in all, student political activism during the independence struggle had a grand and determined goal, namely, attainment of political freedom as a nation.

In 1965, student activism in Tamil Nadu came into the spotlight in the statewide demonstration against the exertion of Hindi as India’s national language. It became the breakpoint when a wide number of students across the state outcried against the OfficialLanguagesAct of 1963, which made Hindi an official language along with English though the protest against Hindi had been going on for decades in Tamil Nadu. The law was passed despite the protest in the Parliament. But the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru ensured that English will remain the official language.

The next milestone for student activism was the Emergency. Student Unions were gasped abruptly and many students, activists, and leaders were arrested. Campus politics diminished during those twenty one months of emergency. But as soon as emergency repealed, voices roared for the immediate release.

In 1979, all Assam students Union launched the agitation against Assam illegal migrants, which is now spearheaded as a protest against the amended citizenship act. The agitation was to safeguard the identity of Assamese people in the wake of the inflow of people of Bangladesh following 1971’s war liberation.

In modern Chinese history, student activism carried a crucial position. In 1989, a nationwide series of protests for ending the state despotism was precipitated by students. The same year students brought out an anti-communism rally against a totalitarian regime when the velvet revolution started in Prague, Czechoslovakia. In 1969, student activism in Congo took country towards the decolonization of higher education and national independence. Students from the University of Munich, in 1942, constituted a resistance group, namely, White Rose, to withstand Nazi monstrosities. The group leaders were eventually executed but managed to ignite many others to stand against the evil power. China, Hong Kong, United States, Germany, France, Argentina, Australia, Congo, Bangladesh, and so on, there is hardly a country on the sphere of the earth that has not been impacted by student activism.

Rather than becoming compliant subjects of the state, universities have endowed students with the cognition to talk back to power. This certainly implies that Indian universities have done well in enlightening the youth of their civic commitments and social duties and have fostered them forfuture leadership. Higher education functioned as a mechanism for shaping the ideas, thoughts, and trigger for political and social reform ever since it came into existence. Undoubtedly, universities across the world have been a locus of dissent against the ruling government. The universities more specifically ‘elite’ Universities, play a substantial role in the formation of ruling class hegemony.

To discern injustice and evil authority, politically mindful and socially conscious students cannot be hoped to be tongue-tied viewers. An education system is worthless and must be questioned for its own validity if it does not qualify students to question and challenge the standing theories and policies. Students must not be castigated if their stance is contrary to that of the government. It is crucial for all educated persons to comprehend, assess issues, and take a cogent outlook. History tells us certainly that activism is ingested in the youth through genuine democracy and debates on free speech only. The fundamental precept of democracy is the power to question, as it appears with dissent. Students involved in politics have kept it alive in our nation. The idea of the democratic spirit is exactly what the regime is committed to prevent from being in existence. The current assault against university students is an operation to abduct a critical occurrence of resistance. 

Nabeel Ahmad is a post graduate student of Library and Information Science at Aligarh Muslim University. He tweets at nabeel_ahmad20.


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