University Campus or Cantonment?


In the mid-seventies, when I came to Delhi University (DU) from a small village in Haryana, the deployment of police or private security guards either in the college or university campus was unheard of. There used to be university watchmen at the gate of college, hostel and faculty, who were generally befriended by the students. In the entire north campus, only one man from intelligence used to be seen from time to time. That sociable police officer was often recognized by the students who took part in student politics, debate, literary-cultural activities. Of course back then there used to be protests, students and teachers organizations elections, big fairs and festivals, a wave of new ‘bad elements’ used to come year after year, there was a race among certain colleges to be on top as a ‘terror’ college, there were many kinds of fights in between, even knives were used, … but generally there was no need to call the police before or after the incidents. The college and university administration used to manage everything on its own. The police intervention was allowed only on the permission and deliberations of college and university officials. This had no effect on the lives of the students who were enjoying their studies and pursuing other interests. What is meant is that a large university, whose symbol is elephant, used to run only with its own arrangement, despite the fact that the campus is an open campus which can easily be accessed from all directions. The situation was more or less same in all central and state universities and colleges. Obviously, this was possible due to mutual understanding and sense of responsibility among the teaching, non-teaching staff, students and, of course, the vice-chancellors and the principals.

As the influence or pressure of neo-liberalism increased in politics, society, religion and culture through country’s economy, the education system could not remain untouched by it. According to the Indian Constitution, education is the responsibility of the state. However, it was opened to the private sector under neoliberal policies. Due to the privatization of education, a large world of private educational institutions has come into existence. The pressure of privatization has also been put on the already existing public sector educational institutions. Under the earlier administrative setup all employees from peon, chowkidar, daftari, gardener, scavenger, butler, lab assistant, library assistant etc. to clerks happened to be permanent employees of the university. There was a new recruitment after the retirement of a person. But that practice has stopped twenty-twenty-five years ago. Instead of making permanent recruitments, appointment on contractual basis became the trend. One contractual employee was made to accomplish work of three-four employees and for more than the prescribed hours of duty. The teachers also could not escape this trend. About five thousand teachers are ad-hoc or guests in Delhi University at present. Such vice chancellors and principals were appointed by the governments who blindly implement the policies of privatization in governmental educational institutions.

Meanwhile, the character of student politics also changed. The patent on ‘goondaism’ did not remain with the National Student Union of India (NSUI) alone in student politics. It was brought up to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), further to the student fronts of satraps which came to power in the states due to the politics of social justice, and to the communist student organizations in West Bengal and Kerala. Simplicity, healthy debate, common student interest did not remain the concerns of student politics. The student politics has become an endless series of confrontation with opponents invoking their leaders, icons, slogans, parties, ideologies etc. The students from marginalized societies who, due to constitutional provisions, join the arena of higher education have envisaged their own mobilization in student politics. So, this clash among student groupings is multi-cornered, which the RSS and the communists operate with a strategy of showing it between themselves. This phenomenon of student politics is not one-sided or single-folded. The student politics of the neoliberal era is a shadow of corporate politics prevalent in the country in present times. This is also the truth of teachers’ politics to a large extent. Teachers’ politics has lost the strength to oppose privatization of education by securing higher pay scales and other facilities under neoliberal policies. They are not ready to concede that the communalization of education cannot be stopped without abrogating privatization.

The wealthy students get relieved by getting admission and campus postings in private educational institutions. Most candidates who seek admission and job in public sector colleges and universities live in constant uncertainty. Government education is no longer as cheap and affordable as it used to be before. The pressure of an all-round consumerist culture also plays its role. They are constantly told by the political elites that the country is progressing very fast. When they try to find their place in that progress, then disappointment is often felt. Then various kinds of debates, discourses and NGOs are waved in front of them. They join them and experience the significance of their being for some time. There seems to be no solution coming out of this ‘touch revolution’ and the age goes on increasing. They live in a state of constant restlessness. The way the entire education system is being uprooted from the axis of the Constitution without proper thought and planning, and is mounted on the pivot of privatization of a clumsy kind, there is no dearth of protest issues in front of them. Events at national and international level also agitate student groups. So, there is one or the other protest every day on the campuses. The student leaders who make student-politics a means of making a place in party politics or other vested interests take advantage of this situation. Big-small leaders, media, civil society activists are ever ready to play their roles. Hence, there is a need to look into this background while discussing the private security arrangements and the presence and role of the police/paramilitary forces on the campuses.

If there is restlessness and uncertainty in the minds of students then there will be protests. In the absence of trust towards students and teachers, university officials will continue to resort to the police again and again. ‘The police answers to those in power’ – this practice has been going on in India since colonial times. The police will defend the student organizations and leaders which have affiliation with the government in power and will suppress the opponents. It will also defend anti-social and violent elements of or called by the ruling party. When the top leaders of the country do politics by making communal divide its basis, then the police will also practice communal behavior. In the last few decades, the presence of police on campuses and incidents of interference have increased very rapidly. Rather, the demand for permanent deployment of paramilitary forces on the campus by the vice chancellors has gained momentum. Last year, on the demand of the vice chancellor of Vishva-Bharati (Shanti Niketan), the central government decided to permanently deploy the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) on the campus. This is the first time that this has happened in the university system. Earlier in 2017, the vice chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) had demanded the government for permanent deployment of paramilitary forces on the campus. At that time the government had not given permission because the vice chancellor had to go on long leave due to certain allegations. In November last year, the vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) called the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on the campus to deal with the students’ agitation.

The increasing dependence on the police by the university officials even in minor disputes is converting campuses into cantonments. The day is not far when the police will enter the premises even without their orders. Recently this has happened in Jamia Millia Islamia. In the absence of police, a large number of private guards and barriers give the campus a look of a cantonment. The south campus of Delhi University is small and compact. It has only six small buildings including a library. There is a police checkpoint at the main gate. Despite this, there is a plethora of private guards. A person coming to meet a teacher cannot reach him/her easily. Not at all if he/she is a media person.

In fact, all this is done to enslave the young minds so that they can subordinate themselves to the system. It is the responsibility of university officials, teachers, students and administrative staff to not allow a campus to be transformed into a cantonment. Parents and guardians can also play an important role in this. They should insist that the primary responsibility of the university authorities is to create a safe, fear-free and creative environment on the campus, and not to obey this or that government’s order.

The author is a teacher of Hindi at Delhi University.




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