The blockade at the Ad Block continues, though the strength keeps fluctuating, a few still sit guarding the entrance. Students’ Union, on the other hand, had initially called for an indefinite strike. After a group of independent students on 9 February, forced their way into the building and refused to leave the premises till their demands are adequately addressed by competent authorities, the Students’ Union and political organizations were made to take cognisance of the growing impatience and anxiety among students. The call for blockade was already given by the suspended students at 7 AM on 10 February 2017, however, events on the previous day took a different turn leading the protesting individuals, organizations and the union to declare a bandh a day earlier. Whether to go for a blockade or a sit-in? The dilemma loomed large on the minds of the protesters the night before. However, as the night progressed, and events unfolded it became clearer what the future course of action will be.
The next day the crowd started swelling after 9 AM, and the Rector who arrived around 10 o’clock was sent back by the students. The guards stood outside quietly, the staff loitered around the Admin Block. At around 12 the number reached 500 students, with some professors also being present. All the entrances were blocked, the flower pots were re-arranged to not let any vehicle come near the building, posters and banners hung on the gates and music blared from speakers – a somewhat infectious spirit gripped everyone present.
There were students who have been holding the fort since the previous afternoon. At times, the crowd would clear some space for speakers among the students to address those present. Frequently you would hear heated discussions on strategies and tactics to be used, the differences between some political organizations and SU that threatened to polarize the movement and a lot of heated talk about ‘violent/aggressive’, ‘democratic/undemocratic’ and ‘spontaneous/planned’ ways of leading the protest.
Few things came to the fore: first, even though everyone agrees with the goals and agendas of the protest, there is no consensus on how to go about it. The Student’s Union has increasingly failed to mobilise the community for what can be seen as a crisis of an unprecedented level. The spontaneous ‘mobilizations’ if it can be called so, has been either from individuals completely distancing themselves from all or any political organizations; or from specific political factions most prominently from the minorities or oppressed communities.
Secondly, for quite some time it has become the trend, even though the Students’ Union has been on the same page with individuals and progressive political parties (at least most of them) regarding the agenda and the demands, it seems their methods and mode of protests are becoming increasingly toothless. A few months back, they were labelled as ‘event management’ and ‘publicity stunts.’ Karthik (CPS) from last year’s Tents@Ad Block described it as ‘lacking in intention and only a commitment towards projection.’ At the Ad Block, somebody commented on ‘the failed leadership’ and the other day, there were talks of the Student’s Union ‘trying to play it safe’: lacking a clear strategy, being averse to ideas and opinions from outside and backtracking when situations seem to escalate.
It is true that Students’ Union does not enjoy the legality and legitimacy of other unions existing in the campus, the Teachers’ Union, for example, is a duly recognised body by the administration. The Students’ Union, on the other hand, derives its legitimacy from the mass of the student community, who agree and acknowledge that the Union is elected through democratic means stands as their representative. All the flaws in the setup and process of electoral democracy; and the low turnouts for the voting kept aside; students have different views on the representatives, the political party reigning in the union and the politics they adhere to; but you would hardly (unless the times have changed drastically!) encounter someone questioning the role and relevance of the institution of Students’ Union. It is the firm belief in the institution as an arbiter, as a guardian for students’ rights, as a means of expressing dissatisfaction and dissent and as an interventionist force in the campus on behalf of the welfare of the students that the Union is able to function. It is this faith of the students in the Union which legitimises it and not the blanket imposition of the Union’s authority on the students which capacitates the working of the Union. Then shouldn’t the actions of the Union reflect the mood, intentions and motivations of the students rather than which is strategically the safest option?
The Union represents the students at large, yes, and they are working on behalf of the majority of the campus. Does it entail that democracy must mean pandering to the majoritarian cause, strangulating the cause of the few and the minority in the society, does it mean shoving off their concerns and issues under the carpet and in turn suppressing their cause and demands so that the majority can continue with their peaceful lives (and peaceful ways of talking to the VC)? The VC earlier mentioned that the blockade caused by a few ‘unruly’ and ‘adamant’ students is ‘unlawful’ and ‘criminal.’ For some time, the Students’ Union too, considered the movement to be spearheaded by ‘a few’ people. On Monday, 13 February, on the designated day of the meeting, the strength of the crowd present would have easily belittled the claim.
The strength keeps fluctuating and generally, the attendance of the students at the Admin Block are below par. The lackadaisical response by the majority on the campus, in the past few months, is not so much a result of lack of concern or interest but a growing weariness about the continuous, monotonous, ineffective and routinised protests throughout the academic year. What we need is probably new modes of engagement and new ways of mobilising.
Four-five-six days of hunger strike and sit-ins and what are the results? Some more draconian rules, cordoning off the Ad Block, some more regressive policies on admissions, that has reached such farcical extent that universities which are meant for research and higher education, will not only now not let in students but might have to throw out existing students enrolled under the linked MPhil-PhD programme? Then why protest at all? In protesting to the insensitive and unwilling to listen, how and what can you do to argue with them? If negotiations and conversations and discussions were that easy, then the meetings with the teachers and the AC meetings should have done the trick!
Besides what do you make of the instance, where on Saturday a meeting with VC is called for at 9 AM on Monday morning, after some time the Director of Admissions issue notice regarding 2017 admission intake stating that ‘UGC Gazette Notifications 2017 will be followed.’ If the VC missed the point, this is exactly what the students are concerned about, and this is exactly the point of discussion! If you have already taken the decisions, and hell bent on implementing them, at least don’t by hypocritical and tweet that the administration is keen on addressing students concerns but are not being allowed to by a mass of ‘unruly’ and ‘adamant’ bunch of students.
The question is are there any alternatives left? And is it an issue concerning only a faction of students?
Why not block the Ad Block?
If losing your seat, being forced to make compromises, pressurised to work under a professor just because she or he happens to have a vacancy and working constantly under the fear of the new ‘implementations’ and ‘guidelines’ – if this is how the future looks, then why not?
Do we have a choice?
The chosen mode of protest should be such that it gives at least some leverage, some bargaining or negotiating power to the protestors. It should, if nothing else, force those in power to take note and heed to the concerns of the protestors. And let us not forget the unprecedented nature of the situation. A criminal offence cannot be encountered by illegal means. But in a situation where the rampant abuses and ill-devised rules are continuously making a mockery of us all, what is there to do?
Isn’t it time we discard the plush comforts of armchair activism?
And this is not the first time, that students have taken to the streets, and erected blockades.
The writer works for The Informer. The views expressed are personal.