You can see them in the distance. In large numbers. Cold. Shawls and jackets on their young backs. Only the fire within them to keep them warm. Call them what you like. Young blood. Change makers. Pseudo-Liberals. Terrorists. It’s this ‘garam khoon’ that will rewrite tomorrow's history. As they have done countless times before.
India transformed from a society that accepted discrimination as the norm, to one that fuelled change by taking a stand. From one where there was an increased demand for freedom, to an increased awareness for our rights. Throughout our history, we have seen students play an important role as a catalyst in transforming the country, bit by bit.
From the time of the freedom struggle, the young and newly enlightened students reflected the enlightened spirit of the nation; resulting in two major national students organisations - the AISF (All India Student Federation) and the Student Congress. Student movements across the country, along with their allegiance to the freedom struggle, questioned the education system itself. These student movements emerged in critical historical junctures responding to issues and challenges faced by them and the society at large.
There was a marked change of perspective within the leadership of the student movements post independence. In the place of mass student organizations, a number of local groups, mostly of an ad hoc nature, have come up in the past. Agitations have tended to be localized, focusing on university issues or local political conflicts, rather than on national or broader ideological issues plaguing our country. But students responded to the critical issues in the history of India, and agitated in the forefront. They were actively involved in the Naxalite movement, Chipko movement, Anti Emergency Movement and Mandal Agitations.
In 1961, Republic Yuvak Sangathan (RPI) became the first Dalit student movement in India. It was formed to fight casteism, to provide protection to scheduled castes and to survey atrocities faced by the targeted groups. Around 1990, the then gov’t of V.P. Singh, announced its decision to implement the Mandal Commission report. Soon after, spontaneous yet well organised student protests against the implementation of Mandal Commission rocked Delhi. Students from St.Stephen College and Delhi School of Economics led the agitation. The protests then caught the attention of most of the political student groups in other universities. More than two thousand Delhi University students protested at the directorate of Dooradarshan Kendra, with the banner of “Anti Mandal Commission Forum”. Students boycott classes in Delhi, UP, West Bengal and Rajasthan. Members of various student unions resigned from their posts in protest against the Mandal Commission. "A reservation policy based on economic considerations, and not on caste consideration, is always welcome" were the final words of the struggle, which the gov’t wasn’t prepared for.
Since then, the students of India have been greatly politicised, as new forms of governance and new reasons for discrimination emerged. Post 1991, most of the student movements faced ideological problems more, including the left student movements. The thinking and behavior of students totally changed. They were done with their part of visualizing the concept of building a just world order. Most of the student movements have made compromises for their very own survival. For the longest time, student protests, demonstrations and activisms have had a ripple effect; splintering across the nations fault lines, inducing change and having a cataclysm affect on the fundamental behaviour and beliefs of the nation. Student protests go beyond geographical boundaries, ideological blockades, and cultural backwardness.
Over the past few years, students have been at the forefront of any demonstration, minor and major, that have rocked the country. Apart from their internal issues of problematic college chairmen, or disrespectful treatment of a specific gender within the walls of their institutes - students have participated in agitations all over the country. Be it Nirbhaya rape case, disturbances in the North East, against Article 377 and scrapping of Article 370 as well, student and youth led protests have rocked the country at all occasions. It is through them, their grit, determination and outright stubbornness that the nations integrity remains intact.
We refuse to sit still as the society around us falls apart, tripping over its own debris. We refuse to sit still as the country grabbles its way through smoke, smoke from the fire it ignited. We refuse to sit still as the country tries to sustain itself precariously on the ignorance it breeds; ravaging on the leftovers of some archaic rulebook written at a time even history forgot.
As the law enforcers lay siege on colleges in the National capital, raising their state endorsed weapons on students, journalists and almost anyone in their way of fulfilling their sacred duty, we see the system rot. A colossal rot eating away the functional pillars of democracy. The Executive, the Judiciary, the Legislative and the Media, all being consumed by a rot. A tumour, spreading its miasmic maladies to all factions of society. Leaders of the nation make amendments sautéed in religious vitriol. The law is a thing, to be morphed into something grotesque and obscure until it becomes the very thing it stands against - anarchy.
It is this fertile ground of fascism that creates a system that will bring it down. Student protests are a direct response to skewed governance. The atmosphere of hate, fear and tension suspended in the air - all leads to a movement led by the future, for the future, of the future.
When asked about the conditions at Jamia Millia Islamia amidst the protests happening right now, this is what a student had to say to us all - “Protests in large public spaces are not happening right now the way they are being portrayed in the media. Our college faced heavy financial and emotional loss, so I’m not sure if people are pacified or not. A girl from my batch, was in the forefront of the protest. I have never seen her this outspoken in class before. Everyone is raising their voices, so should you. We even had preamble readings near India Gate. Peaceful protests like these aren’t harmful. But this (police brutality) is not going to stop unless the police behaves in a better way. Baaki sab changa si (Rest is all calm and fine).”
We need to find our collective voice. United we stand, divided we fall. If we are privileged enough to have a voice, let’s raise it, even louder for the people at the back. History has consistently shown us that students have triumphed before, and students will triumph again. No one can break a united spirit.
Let’s not get deterred by failure,
we have already wasted these tears.
Instead, let’s rise like a phoenix,
who knows just success, no fear.
We don’t know where this is headed. But we will lead the way. One struggle at a time.
For now, it seems like we have a long, cold winter ahead.
By Sonakshi Srivastava & Anandita Chandra