The recent ban issued by the Kerala High Court on student politics and protests on campus should not and has not shocked many. This prohibition comes in a long line of attack on institutions of higher education, following the M.Phil. /Ph.D. seat cuts by U.G.C., the revised structure of N.E.T. examination and the recent mandate by the U.G.C. following Allahabad High Court’s order which suggested that each department in a university should be treated as a unit for reservations, rather than the university as a whole. This decision could reduce the S.C. /S.T. and O.B.C. reservations for professors in universities where despite this, the professors from scheduled communities are not recruited and reserved seats are unfilled. Besides this, the recurring instances of repression of student protests in the form of police brutality, administrative neglect and harassment becoming regular in national news lends credence to the belief that higher education is under attack. However, this article is not an exercise in recounting the historical injustices done to the students. This article seeks to deconstruct the ‘politics of depoliticisation’ which needs to be understood as an ideological-cultural weapon against the students and the larger interests of the country, which the order of the Kerala High Court captures in totality.
Marx, in his famous dictum from the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy aphorised how the politico-judicial superstructure reflect the forms of social consciousness of the society and how the ideas of the ruling class are, in every epoch the ruling ideas in German Ideology. The order of the Kerala High Court has inadvertently summed up, as every student activist will corroborate, the primordial statements which every student-activists have faced.
The first lines which talk about Jishnu K, the secretary of the S.F.I. union in M.E.S. Ponnani College, say, ‘The first thing which crosses our mind is whether he goes to the college to indulge in politics or to study, a question which he and his parents must consider, for we hold that in academic institutions, politics or political activities cannot be permitted’.
The ‘Political’ as an exclusive category of practice and ‘student as a class’ needs to be understood as aspects of an ideological strategy by the state, threatened by the youth of the country. The hegemonic character of this ideological strategy can well be grasped if we were to look at thousands of students in India who accept this category and refrain from doing ‘politics’ and ‘getting their hands dirty’. On the other side of the spectrum are the student-activists who adhere to the belief that everything, in the first and last analysis, is ‘Political’. This ‘hyper-consciousness’, however, has not gripped the society, in which the apologists of student activism are soon losing the battle by being decreed as esoteric and elite.
This problem of self-image has crept up in our classroom discussions too where now we have people discussing ‘is the elitism of the academia a burden to bear for the transformation of the society into a more democratic and egalitarian space’? Self-conservational discussions like these should demonstrate, before reaching a concrete answer, the falsity of the academia or the students as a homogenous category or class. The problem of self-image, which the academiais trying to negotiate with, highlights the same. This is the reason why the question of which the academicians are most afraid of is, ‘why are you an academician?’. The answer to the question either betrays the vow of criticality undertaken by us or the utopia imagined by us when we write the histories of marginalization.
At the heart of this lies the problem of doxa. Any discussion on student politics entails at least one voice which disregards the exclusive movements and protests by, from and for the academia. The numbers of these voices are increasing with the increase in disillusionment with student politics and there is a general consensus among the student-activists who seek to strengthen the student’s movement. Student-activists are well acquainted with well-founded concerns of how to involve more and more students into their struggles and talks of ‘politicisation’ of the general student body. One even gets to hear how the student protests and activism functions as a sort of a catharsis or redemption for the students and academicians. This guilt, which some insinuate and mostly harbour, stems from the incongruity of the utopias built up of an egalitarian society (not necessarily liberal in its notion of egalitarianism) by the students and the immense repression which the student politics has already experienced – unemployment, suicides, caste and gender based harassment, police brutality, court cases, suspensions, rustications even the disappearance of Najeeb – which has crushed the spirit of student body-politic. The problem is of doxa and of specialized violence against students as a class, as is even seen in the Kerala High Court order.
When we write the histories of marginalisation, we are also constructing utopian societies from where our critiques generate. However, the dream is not our reality. The guilt which inhibits needs to perpetuate. We must remember that our politics today, when the superstructure has been appropriated by Neoliberal and Brahmanical forces, has to be of ‘Negation’ because the power of valuation is not with us – ‘We negate and must negate because something in us wants to live and affirm’. Afterall, student politics in India has had a historical connection with ‘indiscipline’ and the very reason why students have been targeted again and again, contemporarily, is due to the reasons of ‘indiscipline’ only. Arnab Goswami’s The Nation Wants to know with students of J.N.U. after the 9th February incident grabbed national-publicattention precisely because it channelled the collective urge of the society to ‘scold’ these undisciplined students and so does the repeated instances of police brutality against students. When lawyers outside Patiala House claimed that ‘Kanhaiya Kumar wet his pants while we beat him up in police custody’, they were merely reiterating the colloquialism which asserts one’s hegemony and is merely intimidation.
What we need, at this hour, is ritualized and essentialized practice and culture(s) of dissent and also rethinking the question of ‘student as a class’.
The author is a research associate at Institute of Perception Studies, New Delhi and currently pursuing his M.Phil. in History from Ambedkar University, Delhi.