Where do we look for safety? When libraries of universities are no longer pristine zones of silence, when mobs can enter women’s hostels inside campuses? That too with the police force watching on as enablers, being agent provocateurs, or itself acting as a rogue militia let loose on citizens, young and old.
Campuses around the world, and here in India, have routinely risen in protests, sometimes in carnivalesque enthusiasm, sometimes filling a vacuum in politics. Student politics is its own folklore. From our prime minister, who cut his teeth in politics during the Navnirman Andolan in Gujarat, to the late Arun Jaitley during the Emergency in Delhi University, they have all been there. Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee too has seen the inside of Tihar, as a protesting JNU-ite. In fact, student movements—whether on internal institutional matters or on broader issues—are as old as the university system. There’s no democracy or nation that has not seen young minds rise up in agitation: for civil rights, against war, fighting dictatorships. Does that mean universities should be disbanded? Or tamed into producing thoughtless robots?
Crackdowns on student movements too are global. Hong Kong now, Tiananmen Square back in the day. But not such brutality in a democracy, on students asking for a rollback of a fee hike that many from the underprivileged sections cannot afford. It’s up to the administration to reduce or temper the areas of confrontation. If the idea is to shut down non-science faculties and make higher education more classist, there exists a legitimate ground for dissent. Masked goondas roaming freely in campuses with sticks and iron rods, beating up boys and girls and their teachers, causing bloodshed in front of a mute police, is unheard of. Whatever the politics of it, the JNU V-C has entirely failed in his administrative duties, and would be better eased out.