Political patronage unconditional, SFI goes on to hold campuses hostage

Back-to-back instances of violence involving outfits come a week after criticism came up in CPM meetings.
Representative image
Representative image

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: While being beaten up at SFI’s “torture room” on the Kariavattom campus of the University of Kerala on Tuesday night, all KSU leader San Jose could think about was J S Sidharthan, the veterinary student who had to reportedly endure brutal torture at the hands of SFI workers.

The public trial and torture of the KSU leader is the latest in the series of violence involving SFI workers. In a similar instance in Koyilandy, SFI workers not only allegedly hit the principal of Gurudeva College of Advanced Studies on his face but also issued a public threat that, if the SFI decides, the teacher will not be able to enter the campus on two legs.

These back-to-back instances of violence by SFI come barely a week after criticism came up in CPM meetings that Sidharthan’s death and the party’s inability to control its student arm cost it dearly in the Lok Sabha elections.

Armed with the unconditional patronage extended by the ruling CPM, a section within the student outfit has been on a rampage on Kerala campuses. The SFI, which had promised “self-introspection” after the involvement of its activists in Siddharthan’s death, is yet to walk the talk, if recent incidents in campuses are anything to go by.

Be it the manhandling of the principal or beating up of a KSU activist, SFI has emerged as the unquestioned perpetrator of campus violence, say academics as well as functionaries of other student outfits.

According to political observer and academic J Prabhash, lumpen elements have crept into the SFI leading to not only attacks on rival student outfits but also manhandling of teachers and heads of institutions.

“SFI has been at the forefront of agitations, many of them violent, for major causes and issues. However, the unrest seen on campuses now is over very trivial issues, often related to opposition to the functioning of other student unions,” he said.

On the CPM’s justification of the violence involving its student outfit, Prabhash said it reflects the lack of “self-criticism” or “self-correction” in the party.

“A communist party like CPM has not yet fully understood the requirements of democracy. As long as the party does not imbibe a democratic culture, this mindset will percolate to its feeder outfits,” he opined.

Prabahash said the unchecked violence by the SFI in campuses will also work against the interests of the Left democratic movement. “It is a paradox that Kerala follows a multi-party system, but in college campuses, only a single-party setup is allowed,” he said.

Representative image
SFI faces heat after alleged attack on KSU leader in Kerala university campus

KSU, which has of late been challenging the SFI’s monopoly in many campuses, is of the view that the pro-Left student outfit will never ‘mend its ways’ as long as it continues to enjoy the political patronage of the CPM. According to KSU state president Aloysius Xavier, SFI also realises that it will bite the dust if a student union election is held in college and universities in the “true democratic sense”.

“It is the urge to retain its hegemony in campuses that prompts the SFI to not even allow a candidate of the rival union to file a nomination in an election. The hostility towards rival student outfits begins with threats and ends with the assault on their activists in torture rooms set up in campuses where SFI enjoys a free hand,” said Aloysius Xavier, state president, of KSU.

Owing to the violence unleashed by the SFI, a large number of students are getting alienated from it, he said. “The arrogance and oneupmanship of SFI leaders and the outfit’s unquestioned acts of violence in campuses have prompted students to think of alternatives. This is seen clearly in the results of student union elections held in various colleges and universities,” Aloysius said.

MSF state president P K Navas said the writing on the wall for the SFI is clear. “After an eight-year gap, SFI tasted defeat in Calicut University. The KSU-MSF combine also won in Pariyaram medical college for the first time since its inception nearly three decades ago. Anticipating SFI-sponsored violence in Kannur University, the union election is being conducted on July 6 under heavy police deployment, on the court’s directions,” Navas said.

ABVP, which has had a history of clashes with the SFI, believes the latter’s ideology is being rejected by campuses across the state. This, the ABVP believes, is why the SFI uses violence as a tool to retain its toehold in campuses. “The SFI is keen on promoting gang culture in colleges and creating a space for the students to indulge in violence. The gangs unleash terror and most of the students against it are afraid to speak up due to fear of getting brutally manhandled,” said E U Eswaraprasad, state secretary, ABVP.

AISF blasts SFI

AISF, the student wing of LDF-constituent CPI, has hit out at the SFI for its involvement in recent incidents of campus violence and also the political patronage it gets from the ruling CPM. “Of late, SFI has been seen as the perpetrator of violence in most of the unruly incidents on campuses. Instead of opposing the violence, the government and the chief minister are justifying it,” AISF state president R S Rahul Raj said. He said it is high time that the CM corrects the practice of justifying the SFI, lest it leads to dangerous consequences, including a total ban on campus politics in the state. “If such a ban is imposed due to the wrongdoings of a particular student outfit, it will lead to anarchy in higher educational institutions and muzzling of dissent,” Rahul said.

SFI’s trail of indiscipline, violence

  • March 2016: SFI activists prepare symbolic grave for Palakkad Victoria College principal T N Sarasu on the day of her retirement

  • Jan 2017: SFI activists enter Maharaja’s College principal’s chamber, burn her chair

  • Sept 2018: SFI workers attack activists of Fraternity Movement and MSF, including women, in front of Government College, Madappally

  • July 2019: Third-year degree student stabbed in the chest inside the University College campus in Thiruvananthapuram by SFI activists

  • Mar 2023: SFI leaders barge into the office of a Malayalam news channel. The police arrest eight of them and register cases against 30 SFI members

  • Oct 2023: SFI members lock Maharaja’s College principal V S Joy inside his office along with the vice-principal for six hours

  • Jan 2024: Two SFI leaders in Ernakulam arrested for attacking KSU, Fraternity Movement members. Leaders disrupt duty of employees of Ernakulam General Hospital and vandalise hospital equipment

  • Feb 2024: Alleged torture by SFI members pushes second-year degree student J S Sidharthan to suicide in Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Wayanad

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