Who is Afraid of Us? – When EFL-U Pushes Its Students to the Brink
On 19th October 2015, 11 students of Hyderabad’s English and Foreign Languages University (EFL-U) - a central university that comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), India - were given show-cause notices for staging a democratic protest. The students were demanding Students’ Union Elections and were denouncing the undemocratic and reproachful attitude of the administration towards affairs concerning students’ day to day lives.
The administration was holding back the elections for a long time by then and failed to provide satisfactory explanations to the repeated enquiries made by students. The Lyngdoh Committee Report, accepted by the Supreme Court of India, clearly states that, “Universities and colleges across the country MUST ordinarily conduct elections for the appointment of students to student representative bodies” (6.1.1, 40)1. To this ruling, EFL-U administration decided to respond indifferently.
The student community, who felt wronged by this outright denial of their basic democratic right, came out in large numbers under the banner of EFL-U Students’ Collective, raised slogans, did a poster campaign, and formed a human chain outside the university premises on 15th, demanding an immediate solution to this standstill. The protest was peaceful and was conducted after 5:00 PM without disrupting any of the academic activities on campus.
Four days later the Proctor of the University, in an unprecedented move, had issued 11 show-cause notices in a single day. This came as a shock to most of the students as the notices were served just two hours after declaring the elections to the Students’ Union on 19th October 2015. The administration was putting the students in a fix by declaring the elections and then issuing the show-cause notices. The people who were served the show-cause notices would be prevented from being a part of the election procedure. One of the 11 students was removed from the post of chief election commissioner, and another student’s candidature was cancelled.
On 5th November 2015, dismissing the explanations given by the accused students, the Proctorial Board had again issued a Memorandum of Disciplinary Action, amounting to the suspension of hostel admission, fellowship cuts and disqualification from participation in the students’ union elections. Three among these 11 students are restricted from being on campus after 6:00 PM, including two girls. Among them are SFI - EFLU’s Unit Secretary Com. Sarath M. V, Joint Secretary Com. Vidya Sukumaran and three other executive members. The Memorandum states: “Based on information from eye-witnesses, security staff and CCTV cameras, it is established that you were responsible for leading an unruly mob of students to indulge in behaviour amounting to violation of 3(i) Category 1 of Ordinance 13 governing Rules of Discipline and Proper Conduct of Students of the University.” Apart from this statement, the administration had not furnished any other proof to establish this “crime of dissent”. Also, the accused were not given an opportunity to defend themselves.
Apart from this statement, the administration had not furnished any other proof to establish this “crime of dissent”. Also, the accused were not given an opportunity to defend themselves.
The administration had also ignored the students’ appeal for a review of the Proctorial Board’s decision. Subsequently a representation was submitted to the administration, signed by more than 40 teachers of the University, to no effect. Given below is an excerpt from a notice issued by EFL-U Students’ Union on 2nd February 2016.
“The Students Union called for a general body meeting on 25th January in which a unanimous decision was taken to go on protest if the disciplinary action against the students was not revoked. The Union representatives met the Vice-Chancellor and as suggested by the VC, the students and Union had given representations to the VC’s office and had requested her to revoke the suspension. As we have not yet heard from the University even after waiting for more than a week, the Union has decided to go ahead with a democratic protest as that is the only option left before us. As part of the protest, the students have decided to live outside the Gate No. 2 of the university from Thursday, 4th February. We request all of you to join this movement for students’ rights by taking part in the protest. The protest will start with a mass rally on campus at 5 pm.” (EFL-U Students Union)
As the campus community is bracing themselves to deal with what lies ahead, let us take a look at the structural violence the EFL-U administration has been inflicting upon its students for a long time. Including the 11 show-cause notices that have been mentioned already, a total of 16 show-cause notices were issued in the previous semester.
Com. Sarath M. V. was served a notice for screening the Polish movie “A Short Film About Killing.” The movie was a strong political statement against capital punishment and was instrumental in the abolition of death penalty in Poland. The movie was screened around a time when the Indian public sphere was ablaze with discussions concerning the ethics of capital punishment, following the hanging of Yakub Memon. This was clearly in conflict with the right-wing ideology of the ruling party and the University’s action against Com. Sarath reflects the unholy alliance between the two.
Arjab Sarkar, an MA student was the next target. Sarkar was served a notice for one of his Facebook posts that criticised the manner in which the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Campaign) was conducted by the university administration. His post called attention to the plight of the sweepers, who did the real cleaning. The post, dated 1st October 2015, reads thus:
Obscenities in EFLU!
The ugly kitsch of our national government. Note the absence of such strongly highlighted commandments to take up the burden of cleanliness on ourselves, in the corridors and bathrooms of our hostels. Because that space is reserved exclusively for our sweepers. Let them clean up the real filth while we do the simple job of tossing a cup in the bin and feel proud as citizens of this country.
Elsewhere in Economic and Political Weekly, Subhash Gatade strip bares the caste-prejudices that underline Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. His observations on the link between the availability of cheap Dalit labour to do the dehumanising jobs and the underdeveloped and neglected nature of the Indian sewage management system concludes itself thus: “As long as the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan attempts to delink the relationship between caste and sanitization, its lofty goal of cleaning India will remain unachievable” (“Silencing Caste, Sanitising Oppression - Understanding Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, 29”)2. Sarkar’s words closely resemble Gatade’s and it comes as no wonder that the administration took offence of it. After all it is none other than Narendra Modi who had told that scavenging is a spiritual experience for Dalits3. Sarkar’s admission was later cancelled by the administration, citing a technical glitch that happened during his admission process.
The saffronised administration of EFL-U is clearly following the footsteps of MHRD in acting against students and organizations pursuing progressive politics. Denying them basic democratic rights ensured by the Constitution, the University is beyond doubt treading on the heels of the administration at the Centre.
Read these incidents along with a newspaper entry that was being widely circulated at the same time, by extreme-right-wing sympathisers in the campus. This particular entry blames the mess secretaries of EFL-U for serving non-vegetarian food on the day of Gandhi Jayanti (2nd October 2015). Afterwards, the mess secretaries were told by the OSD (Officer on Special Duty) - an illegally appointed retired Professor whose sole duty is to monitor the activities of the students - not to serve non-vegetarian food on National Holidays. The semester had also witnessed for the first time in the history of EFL-U, the setting up of completely segregated mess halls on the basis of gender. Prior to any of these moves, the authorities have not consulted the students or offered a referendum as was the practice before.
It is clear, who is afraid of whom. The saffronised administration of EFL-U is clearly following the footsteps of MHRD in acting against students and organizations pursuing progressive politics. Denying them basic democratic rights ensured by the Constitution, the University is beyond doubt treading on the heels of the administration at the Centre. The need for an apolitical student base is also symptomatic of the impact the neo-liberal policies adopted by ruling governments over the years had on educational institutions. The student community of EFL-U is all set to object this move by registering their dissent through democratic protests.