‘No Protests in Colleges’: When Campuses Turn Into Cantonments

The Kerala high court, in a landmark judgement, has banned students from organising protests and agitations inside college campuses.

The judgment was delivered on a batch of petitions filed by various college and school managements against agitations on campuses disrupting the peaceful atmosphere prevailing there.

It reiterates the authorities’ anti-political and undemocratic attitude towards educational institutions. Apparently, they believe that educational centres are only meant for academics and nothing else.

The statement made by the ex-joint director of University Grants Commission reflects what the top echelons of the Indian educational system and bureaucracy think about campus politics and the politicisation of the youth in general.

Educational institutes in Kerala run by the clergy, which drew inspiration from the military barracks in terms of discipline, obedience and hierarchy, extolled the virtues of this decision.

Notably, there are no proper statistics or data to prove that wiping out politics from campuses increases the quality of intellectual output. This political cleansing, which is a reality in various educational institutions, has not just negatively affected the academia, but also the society.

According to the studies conducted by the World Bank and Stanford University, the quality of Indian tech-graduates is abysmally low as compared to their Russian and Chinese counterparts.

But involvement in politics doesn’t stifle the quality of academic growth. As per data from UNESCO, the number of Indian international students enrolled in degree programmes abroad doubled from 134,880 students in 2004 to 278,383 in 2017. This indicates brain drain and the degrading quality of our education system.

The authorities, on the other hand, are placing all the blame on campus politics and other non-academic activities in universities.

Also read: Why You Shouldn’t Judge the Students Protesting in Your Neighbourhood

However, eminent educational institutions such as Hyderabad Central University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Aligarh Muslim University and so on are the main centres of campus politics – a fact well represented in politics. Some of the most illustrious personalities such as Abhijit Banarjee, P. Sainath, S Jaishankar, Aung San Suu Kyi and an inexhaustible list of Indian political leaders are churned out by these institutions.

More importantly, a politically aware young generation plays a vital role in sustaining strong democratic values in the country. The first voice of dissent against tyranny, I believe, emanates from educational institutions. If the most dynamic section of the demography are asked to stay away from politics, the voice of dissent won’t be resounding enough.

Historically, no major political developments have occurred in the world without the active participation of the youth. From the French revolution, the Yellow vest movement, the Indian Independence movement to the recent Umbrella protests in Hong Kong and anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests in India – all have been driven by the youth.

However, the state always wishes to keep students away from politics. 

All the authoritarian regimes have tried to instil their ideologies among students to enforce their authority and legitimise their rule. The meticulous and well-structured propaganda programs of the Nazi party, the cultural revolution of Mao Zedong, CasaPound and many others were directly focused upon the youth in order to first seize power and then stifle the dissenting voices.

A student community, without any knowledge about politics, could face difficulties in taking decisions at crucial junctures in life.

For instance, the Time magazine has reported that one of the major reasons of the outbreak of Coronavirus in China is because the local authorities hesitated to act until they received a command from a higher authority. The indecisiveness and the inability to act using one’s judgement, nurtured through iron-clamped bureaucratic measures, have arguably resulted into a global crisis.

In India, strict measures and restricted thought processes are pushing us towards a virtual enslavement. A non-curious mind is a fertile ground to sow the seeds of communal thoughts, hatred, fundamentalism and even terrorism. Yung minds, which don’t have the ability to question, can be easily manipulated.

The Milgram experiment, conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, proves the disastrous impact of an obedient section receiving commands from a despotic authority.

Campuses are not spaces only meant for mugging up course books prescribed in the syllabus, but a terrain where you evolve as a person.

Hence, campus politics should be perceived as a training ground for the future leaders of the nation. The skill to lead, the ability to dissent in a democratic manner, the willingness to engage in societal problems – all should be cultivated on campuses. It’s not a happy accident that the best political leaders of the world are also the alumni of the best universities in the world.

Nevertheless, there will be politics in the country. If the best minds are not involved, politics will become the turf of outlaws and anti-social elements. I believe the only way to purify India’s political system is by politicising academia and making students aware about the social and political issues.

Unfortunately, the bureaucracy and educational authorities want students to be politically aware only during elections. The political participation of Indian youth culminates with a selfie posed with an indelible ink mark on their index finger.

Notably, a cliche dialogue in every speech in an educational institution is that students are going to take charge of the steering wheel of tomorrow’s India. But unfortunately, the same people are forbidding students from learning how to ride. In other words, they want us to ride without participating in the learning process. Ironic, isn’t it?

Mayukh Devadas is a post-graduate student in media and communication at Central University, Tamil Nadu.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty