To be or not to be a Marxist @South Asian University

by Sandra Elizabeth Joseph, Apoorva Yarabahally, Sukanya Maity and Snigdha Jayakrishnan

South Asian University

A response from few members of Aijaz Ahmad Memorial Study circle(AAMSC), in the light of suspension of four professors from the university for their alleged association (which we completely deny) with our study circle.

It was not so long ago, in an interdisciplinary course called ‘Introduction to South Asia’ offered by the science department, the professor teaching the course showed statistical data to correlate the higher literacy rate among the female population in Kerala to the decreasing fertility rate in the state. When a student questioned the relevance of the data and the objective behind the comparison, he said, “I am not making any remarks, the data speaks for itself. Reproduction is necessary for continued dominance of the human race” Behind the garb of the science, lay bare the biologically deterministic arguments which simultaneously fetishises and demerits the female bodies for not being feminine ideals. Interestingly, the drawing of an example from Kerala, is very much in line with the central government’s right wing agenda to continue an unabashed attack on Communist Kerala. These are the very same classroom spaces wherein there will never be discussion about the need for free reproductive health care which is situated in the larger cause of “public health care for all”. These are the classroom spaces, where gnawing silence pervades when the issue of ‘working class’ comes up. But hey, today’s question in South Asian university is “To be or not to be marxist.”

Aijaz Ahmad Memorial study circle was conceived in March 2021, after a careful observation of steady decline in the markers of public education in the South Asian University. The university that once provided scholarships without any limitation to every student who was in need had begun to ration the scholarships. In the university, there were two types of scholarships other than the meritorious ones, them being freeships with and without stipend. While freeships waived all kinds of fees, freeships with stipend provided 5000 rupees monthly for sustenance. While JNU and many other institutions were battling fee hikes, South Asian University had dealt a blow to the student body by cutting off freeship with stipends and limiting freeships to six per department. It is of paramount importance to note that the fees at South Asian University is higher than most other central universities. After prolonged student protests by boycotting of classes, the freeships with stipend which was available for years was made contingent to the pandemic and political conflicts in South Asia. To those of us who were part of the movement in 2021, it was clear that over the years both freeship and freeship with stipend will be done away with. It is at this point, Aijaz Ahmad memorial study circle was conceived.

While freeships were in line with free public education (at least for the economically marginalised), freeships with stipend served another cause altogether, that being consideration of production of knowledge as labour, even though only given to those in dire economic need. At various points, in the initial days of the formation of AAMSC, it was discussed how to further students as equal stakeholders in the social production of knowledge, thereby seeing studentship as slogging. While South Asian university was sliding into the neoliberal abyss, AAMSC was moving in the diagonally opposite direction of making it the part of the new commonsense that students are in-fact workers. And as it happened the uniting factor in South Asian University, despite irreconcilable cultural and social differences, was our collective poverty. Therefore, class struggle became central to politicising and organising, educating ourselves and others.

In the past semester alone, the university fired thirteen house-cleaning staff even  though their contract has not ended. The sole reason being, these workers were unionised and were receiving better payment as per the Delhi government’s minimum wage criteria and in comparison to non-unionised workers. University, is acutely aware of the fact that unlike in Chanakyapuri where the location was posh, Chhatarpur which nears Rajpur khurd and Asola Village has many poverty stricken pockets of areas from where the labourers are easily available for meagre wages. Since it is a third party contract, the university does not have to bear the responsibility for consuming back breaking manual labour from its employees. So it becomes imperative that the unionisation of workers has to be done in residential areas, otherwise employers like South Asian University will benefit from the systemic and institutionalised violence against the oppressed. But the journey of AAMSC did not reach that far, because as our own members came under the direct attack of the university for being ‘marxist’, our struggles were disoriented due to the crisis of survival.

Each and Every time, there is a conversation about workers, minimum wage, academic freedom, right to protest and every other true marker of an egalitarian society, the oppressors launch an unabashed attack on those who speak up by calling them ‘marxists’. The imperial and colonial agendas which have created the ‘marxist boogeyman’ continue to use it as a strategy to undermine the struggles of the proletariat and class consciousness. While Aijaz Ahmad Memorial study circle, in its very nascent stage without a proper organisational structure, which has also platformed members of all ideological hues who intend to fight fascism has been targeted for being ‘marxist’, those of us who recognise ourselves as ‘marxist’ would like to respond by saying, “Well, there is no better time to be a marxist than today.”

Co-authored by Sandra Elizabeth Joseph, Apoorva Yarabahally, Sukanya Maity and Snigdha Jayakrishnan (Doing or having completed masters at SAU)

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