I was one of the lucky few to get admission into my desired course at the prestigious Delhi University. I opted for Political Science (Honours) – a subject I had grown to love in 12th grade. Confused throughout the first semester, I hoped the next semester would make things clearer. I am not sure if it did, but I did have my first brush with campus politics during the Ramjas controversy in February 2017.
According to a report in the Hindustan Times, the clash between the members of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and the All India Students’ Association (AISA) in North Campus sparked a debate around the culture of dissent. As a person who only viewed issues on a 32-inch television screen or glaring newspaper headlines, a violent clash on my campus had a huge impact on me. I was overwhelmed with fear and disdain towards the forces that were trying to crush voices of dissent in academic spaces.
I had many questions, some of which could result in me being labelled an ‘anti-national’. “Why couldn’t Umar Khalid speak at a seminar on dissent, when not even a chargesheet had been filed against him?” “Why had raising slogans of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ become the only way of proving one’s allegiance to the country?”
These questions haunted me for days. I learnt that questioning was a crucial part of Political Science. For an individual who had just started questioning the structures of society and the forces upholding them, I was afraid of being dubbed an anti-national.
I vividly remember the day when many students from my college participated in a peaceful protest march organised by AISA and SFI, a few days after the clashes. My friends and I wanted to participate but were apprehensive of any violent outbreaks that may worry our parents. When I called my parents to seek permission, they were reluctant because of ‘security reasons’. So, unlike some of my classmates who rushed to the site of the march, I sat through my classes, distracted as my mind was fixated on the protest.
I came back home disappointed because I knew I had missed the opportunity to be a part of a cause that I felt strongly about. As I spoke to my dad about it, I was filled with revulsion towards ABVP. My dad’s response, however, forced me to think. He said, “Do you think that only right-wing politics is bad because of just one incident? Do you know that left-wing politics is equally bad?”
Although my dad’s words did not pacify my charged-up emotions, they made me realise something important. That while the ABVP indeed erred in this particular incident, it didn’t automatically make AISA and SFI virtuous. My realisations were supported by the news of how a student protest was hijacked by left-wing politicians for political capital.
Two years after the debacle and reflecting upon the experience brings a mix of realisations.
My first experience with campus politics was a lesson to look at both sides of the coin. ABVP was wrong because it tried to encroach upon academic spaces, but AISA and SFI were not valiant crusaders for students either. I still regret not going to the protest march because I wanted to call out those who had instilled fear in my mind and share my agony with those who felt the same.
I wonder how different and lucid my description would have been if I had gone for that march, for it is easier to be a an armchair commentator. But to become a part of the very issues that affect us and to hold to account the system before it fails you, is an experience that lasts a lifetime.
A protest does more than just channel your anguish against the injustices around you: it builds a stronger community with those who care just like you about these issues. As you shout against divisive forces, it is a manifestation of your refusal to remain silent because you rise up to be “heard”.
A protest march is all about reclaiming public spaces and holding the system accountable. The feeling of sharing this public space with other like-minded people is a liberating feeling reinforcing the belief that united we can do anything.
Shubhra Aswal is a 20-year old political science grad who constantly questions politics, culture, life, and can be found having an existential crisis quite often.
Featured image credit: PTI