'Reclaiming the Campus and The Fight Against Depoliticizationí

Every day as students step out of their homes to come to college or  university, all their parents can do is hope against hope that, their ward not be subject to any violence at the hands of those presentlyin control of the campus of educational institutions. West Bengal has  historically been known to set the political tone for the rest of the country. Bengal was a fore-runner in the  socio-cultural reforms of the 19th century, and then played a pivotal role during the freedom struggle. Post independence, West Bengal is noted for having  brought about many novel and ground breaking economic reforms. This is enough proof of the progressiveness associated with our state. Against this background, it isn’t surprising that the students and youth of  Bengal have a legacy of being political aware. The rich tradition of students’ politics still continues in the state. In the past three years however, with the occupation of the college campuses high on the ruling party’s political agenda,  campuses across the statehave been converted to playgrounds of hoodlums, the  majority of whom have never  stepped onto the premises of an instituteof higher education as students. Violence and blunt force have made huge inroads where previously debate and political reason held sole sway. 

Instead of protecting the democratic rights of innocent students, in 2013, the government banned students’ council elections in the state, using as an excuse the death of a police officer on duty outside the Hari Mohan Ghosh college in the Garden Reach locality of Kolkata. What began as a scuffle with the TMCP over the filing of nominations, took on more sinister dimensions as outsiders (local TMC goons) joined in using crude bombs and brickbats. Video footage from that day shows a localgangster known to be under the protection of local TMC councillorshooting the police officer in question, in the presence of said councillor.  On the 2nd April, 2013 SFI organized a civil disobedience  to protest against the government’s decision to put a hold on students’ union elections. During this rally numerous SFI activists were taken into police custody,  student leader Sudipta Gupta was murdered in police custody. This incident sparked protest from the student community all over the country and reactions made their way from the world over too. Even more recently, the students’ community was outraged since, a third year college student was beaten to death by TMCP activists in Sabang following an altercation over the issue of going to welcome a TMC minister.

Now, in the light of the present stains that the political Indian tapestry bears, it is understandable why most guardians want their wards to be wary of students’ politics and stay clear of it. Bright young minds should not bother about obscene and dirty politics but rather, focus on building themselves up as individuals. In other terms, the student community should remain apolitical. But, what the advocates of an apolitical students’ community do not understand is that, it is impossible to become a complete student if he/she does not indulge in students’ politics. Say, the Chemistry lab in your college has been lacking certain essential apparatus and materials. This has been bothering you for quite some time now since, you are being unable to perform experiments as they are supposed to be done and the results are getting hampered. You and a few others bring this to the notice of your college authorities. You submit an application once, nothing comes of it, you complain again and further no action is taken. Finally your entire class goes up and stages a demonstration outside the office. You learn that, an order has to be placed for new apparatus and chemicals but your college doesn’t have the funds because the government hasn’t been sending the allocated money for your college for the past few months. So, now your demand isn’t only limited to keeping the Chemistry lab well-facilitated, but it has become a part of a larger issue i.e. the government is under-funding your college. Thus, now raising your voice is raising your voice against the state, in this case, the government which determines your politics. This is only but an example. Issues that started in one’s college campus are evidently linked with the state and if a student decides to raise their voice against one of these issues he/she is indirectly raising their voice against the state and thus he/she knowingly or unknowingly takes a political stand. So, how does one stay aloof from politics in one’s campus, by not taking that first step right? He/ she decides not to write about the lack of proper apparatus and chemicals in the lab. But then, what sort of a student does that make this individual?

In recent times, much has been written and said about the ‘HokKolorob’ movement that the students of Jadavpur University pulled off. The government was forced to heed to their demands. Now, there have been many critiques of students’ politics who say, that ‘Look, it is possible to bring the student community together and work against one cause without politicizing the issue.’ But, again they have misread the situation, all those who walked in the historic students’ rally on 22nd September, 2014 were representing anything butstudents’ community. So, evidently, banning politics in the college campus or defaming politics is not the solution. Depoliticizing the students’ community only clears the path further for rearing bad political culture. Keeping quiet is not a solution.

What the SFI as a democratic students’ organization demands is that, students be safe in their campus and can raise their voice and take their political stand without the fear of being gunned down or beaten to death. The control of the campus must return to the students and not outsiders or sponsored goons of the state. The campus was and is meant to be a safe haven for the students where they express themselves fearlessly and not a battle-field stained with the blood of young people who had raised their voices a little too much. SFI thus, calls for students all over the state to work towards taking back their campus and fighting those who are trying to deny them of their basic political rights.