‘Celebrate, or Stay Silent’: Schools, Colleges and Article 370

Last week, students at various schools in Ahmedabad received a circular which instructed them to debate and discuss Article 370 and Article 35A on the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday.

The circular said: “Under Article 370 and 35A the Indian parliament has taken an appreciative and people-oriented step that has received lot of appreciation from the entire country.”

Does this sound like encouraging a culture of ‘debate’ in schools?

Across India, and on social media, there is an implicit narrative at play one which stems from the state’s consistent effort to scuttle voices of dissent in one form or the other. And while the Kashmir Valley continues to be under siege, elsewhere, people are either deliberately turning a blind eye to the grim realities, or are being conveniently blinded by the state and its extended machinery – in this case, educational institutions.

Praise be

The circular is hardly the first of its kind where the government has tried to direct the discussion.

The circular in Ahmedabad echoed the sentiments of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath who, at a Teachers’ Day celebrations in Lucknow, said that schools and colleges should have held debates on Article 370 and sent letters to Modi and Union minister Amit Shah lauding them for taking such a “courageous step”.

As he said: “Debate karwa kar, ek sarva sammat prastava lakar PM ka abhinandan kar sakte the (We could have held debates…passed unanimous resolutions to felicitate the PM).”

Essentially, he didn’t mean any real debate – only ‘abhinandans (gratitude).’

But while he and thousands of others may call the reading down of Article 370 a “courageous” step, they forget that there are many still suffering the consequences of a decision that they had no say in.

The Valley is yet to come back to ‘normalcy’ despite what many TV channels and media organisations are claiming by playing along with the government’s narrative. Hospitals are crowded with pellet gun survivors, schools have been shut for many days and rights of thousands have been entirely suspended with as many as 4,000 reported detentions.

A day ago, even former chief minister Farooq Abdullah was slapped with the Public Safety Act an act which enables the authorities to detain any individual without trial for over two years.

In such a situation, how is it justified to make schools and colleges outside Kashmir to heap praise on the prime minister?

‘Nation-building exercise’

On September 17, students of some universities in Gujarat participated in a rally called ‘Bharat Ekta’ organised by Vadodara Nagrik Committee – a local organisation – to celebrate the Centre’s decision to scrap Article 370.

A state-run university in Gujarat, Maharaja Sayajirao University, had sent a WhatsApp message to its students urging them to join the rally. The message called it a “nation-building exercise”.

Although it was not mandatory, several government and state university students turned up for the rally where the chief minister Vijay Rupani said, “Now the task of prime minister Narendra Modiji and home minister Amit Shahji is to merge Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) with Jammu and Kashmir…”

Similarly, about a month ago a day before Independence Day a school in Panchkula asked Class 6 students to write letters to Modi thanking him for “removing Article 370.

Also read: Everything Wrong With a Class 6 Student Being Asked to ‘Thank Modi for Removing Article 370’

Thus, instead of allowing students the space to form an opinion on the matter to foster individualistic growth – something our educational system already largely fails to do – students are simply being asked to follow the line and stay on path.

With this uni-dimensional teaching style, Schools themselves are killing dissent at the root.

Just a few days ago, a five-year-old child who lives next door told me how she and her school teacher are fans of the prime minister. “Everyone should be,” she said chirpily.   

No space for dissent

While the brainwashing of the many continues, so does the silencing of the few. Voices that are being raised in educational institutes against the central government’s decision are being stifled and any form of debate suppressed.

Sample this.

Just days after the fateful August 5 decision, several colleges deployed extra security forces on campuses, fearing any kind of altercation amongst students. More so, class discussions on Kashmir were disrupted, protests were cancelled and students were singled out for going against majoritarian beliefs.

On August 7, the district administration at Aligarh Muslim University deployed security personnel after hearing that a group of students were planning to hold a discussion on Article 370. The civil lines officer said that the step was taken as a “precautionary measure” to avoid any kind of unforeseen incident.

The university’s student union, however, clarified that no such debate was going to take place.

Also read: AMU: Ahead of a Debate on Article 370, Security Beefed up on Campus

Similarly, down south at the University of Hyderabad, the police allegedly dispersed students who had assembled to protest the reading down of Article 370. Hours later, the college registrar P. Sardar Singh issued a circular stating that no protests or agitations would be allowed in the campus. Prior to that, Section 144 – which prohibits the assembly of more than five people – was imposed in Cyberabad, where the university is located.

Around the same time, members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – BJP’s student wing – took out a motorcycle rally to celebrate the revocation of Article 370. Some students said that ABVP members were allowed to carry out the rally while their discussion on Article 370 was cancelled – an allegation that the administration denied.

A week later, the prohibition on protests and agitations was removed.

On August 13, Lalkaar – a student political body at Panjab University – was planning to hold a discussion on Article 370 and Article 35A. But the police intervened and “threatened” the students an directed them to cancel the discussion.

According to members of Lalkaar, the police told them that no event on Kashmir would be allowed on campus.

In the same way, the Central University of Tamil Nadu issued a notice to 30 students for holding a discussion on Article 370 in violation with a circular sent earlier which stated that strict action would be taken against students who “congregate and raise slogans in the name of freedom of speech inside the university campus”.

When it comes down to it, students are either being told to think about the Kashmir issue in a certain way or to not think at all. They are being asked to celebrate the decision with full pomp and glory or keep mum if they harbour a different opinion.

There is no middle ground.

If this trend continues, my five-year-old neighbour will most likely grow up to suspect my love for my nation if she finds out that I have written this article.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty