Protest: a strong complaint expressing disagreement, disapproval, or opposition
- Cambridge Dictionary
Student Protest: Student dissatisfaction
The current student protests in India are sending seismic shock waves across the globe. Time magazine, The Guardian, BBC, The New York Times - are all covering an in-depth reportage of the protests. As several campuses across the nation are being rocked by protests, with major government universities getting disrupted in the face of police assaults, we need to acknowledge the fact that we are not alone.
We previously covered how student protests in India were instruments of change; now we’re looking outward - several countries have been seeing massive student demonstrations for months now. For some nations, the discernible escalations of conflict, have stirred change. So what has led to a surge in student protests? The easy answer would be that the rise of protests are exponential to the rise of the internet. As students we imbibe ideas and opinions on Democracy and the debates circling it through the unfiltered stream of free speech on the web. Allowing us to be better informed. The present college-going generation has a heightened sense of morality, we are more sensitive to social issues, having developed a higher level of social consciousness through participating and witnessing online socio-political discourses. As a result we are more idealistic. And more aggressive in safe guarding our rights and defending our beliefs.
Now Democracy accommodates dissent. The fundamental tenet of Democracy is the power of the public to question, and those in power to answer. The demand for these answers are exactly what students protests are all about.
In 1989, students held demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, to protest the oppressive communist government. Within a month, the number of protestors rose to over 1.2 million, most of them being university students. Of course, the protests are better known for the massacre that followed. After several weeks of protesting, the demonstrations ended in slaughter with thousands of Chinese troops firing at the protesters. The official death toll was never revealed. The Tiananmen Square protests remain the most gruesome, chilling and yet prominent example of student protests.
Another Asian country currently in the midst of protests, is Hong Kong. 2019 saw the mega-city succumb to massive protests over the extradition bill to China - a demand for greater Democracy - freedom of speech, freedom of independent judicial powers and freedom of assembly. Students skip class in the name of Democracy, university campuses are the new battlefields, mobile messaging applications are the new method of mobilising large crowds. But Hong Kong is not new to student protests. Five years ago in 2014, the city staged demonstrations for universal suffrage - against a skewed voting system outlined by Beijing. The ‘Umbrella Protests’ as the demonstrations were called, earned the moniker from the use of umbrellas by the protestors as shields against pepper spray and tear gas. The protests failed to achieve universal suffrage but their enduring impact can be felt in the pro-democracy protests today.
A striking example of student protests in the West are the protests against Racial Injustice and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Things haven't changed much almost half a century later - The USA saw several student protests across the country in 2018 - against violence towards People of Colour in particular and against Gun violence in general. Boycotting lectures, singing the national anthem while kneeling with one leg and storming the streets in protest, 2018-2019 saw major demonstrations against institutionalised violence. Especially the violence that affects people of colour. Police Brutality against Black people, and the killing of unarmed black students in ‘self-defence’ by law enforcers, have been the biggest triggers of student unrest.
The #MeToo protests, though not entirely lead by students, is a significant example of student protests bring about change. One cannot list student protests that have changed history without mentioning #MeToo. Several student groups supported the victims, especially those of toxic campus culture, and have been instrumental to change. By calling out casual sexism on campus, discriminatory rules and blatant bias towards 'the white heterosexual male' at educational institution level, the #MeToo demonstrations by students have been crucial in allowing the voiceless find their voice.
Finally, the most recent and prime example of student protests is undoubtedly the Global Climate Change protests. Millions of young students raised their voices in unison, along with The Greta Thunberg, whose name has become eponymous with protesting for the climate. This 14 year old, globe trotting, pig-tailed teenager has caught everyones attention - reinforcing the notion that youth cannot be ignored, and that if needed, we aren't afraid of taking our future into our own hands.
With polarising public opinions dividing nations across the world, with world leaders nurturing authoritarian urges, with law enforcers leading brutal political crackdowns, students are leading change. Students are a breath of fresh air against the calcified leaders we see rising today on a global scale. A new form of politics requires new forms of resistance. The intersectionality of student protests are what make it all the more inclusive and non-discriminatory. Student protests thus begin with the feeling of solidarity, thinking beyond borders, breaking physical boundaries.
There’s a saying, “Politics decides your future.” It seems that now, the future is deciding your politics.
By Anandita Chandra & Sonakshi Srivastava