Published: 31st December 2018
2018 in review: These 12 campus protests rekindled our belief in dissent
2018 was the year of solid dissent as far as colleges were concerned. We've listed the protests, the people, the campus politics and all the things that rocked our colleges
It wouldn't be too much of an understatement to say that 2018 was the year of the campus protest. From campus politics to international issues — the spirit of protest and dissent was alive and kicking, at least on available evidence. We take a look back at 12 things that shook campuses and academia all through 2018 and recap it in the shortest, sweetest way possible. Check it out!
From Dhabas to Mamidala: A cracker of a year at JNU
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that 2018 was quite an eventful year for Jawaharlal Nehru University. The entire year saw students protest against the administration and the current Vice-Chancellor, Dr Mamidala Jagadish Kumar and a lot of new policies, including mandatory attendance, a lecture by Rajiv Malhotra, reclaiming public spaces, the closing down of dhabas, an alleged fund cut in the library and prohibition of personal books inside reading halls, were launched. In the first half of the year, the campus also saw a number of protests against its professor Atul Johri, who was accused of sexual harassment by nine students from the School of Life Sciences. They had registered FIRs against him under IPC 354 and 509. A student, Rahul Rajkhowa, who spoke against him also received a number of death threats.
Raising their voice: From prohibiting personal books in the library to closing down dhabas, the JNU administration did everything to anger students and finally denied the claims stating that they did not do any such thing
The sixth best university in the country (according to the 2018 NIRF ranking), JNU’s students’ union has always been at war with the administration. In July, the union was barred from attending the academic council meeting for raising slogans against the Vice-Chancellor. In September, the new students’ union with a left majority took charge with N Sai Balaji, a first-year PhD student, as its President. Someone who was quite open in expressing his displeasure about the administration, he had his MPhil blocked by the university for raising anti-government slogans in December. The teachers also had issues with the administration, especially over mandatory attendance. The new JNU Teachers’ Association, with Professor Atul Sood as its president, was very vocal about it and also held a hunger strike against this.
There were also protests in the library with a demand to allow personal books and to stop the alleged budget cut. The administration, however, denied the claims.
Broke and broker: How researchers were left searching for a raise
Research scholars across India are protesting and campaigning for a stipend hike. But no one seems to be too bothered. Despite the fact that a Junior Research Fellow (JRF) or PhD student gets paid `25,000 per month and a Senior Research Fellow (SRF) `28,000 per month — less than what a Grade D government staffer earns. So they went the millennial route. They created #HikeResearchFellowship and have been creating some noise on social media.
These young researchers demand a regulatory system that will update their stipends every couple of years. They have sent an official note to the Ministry of Human Resource Development and finally got some response on December 26. The new stipend scale implemented in 2014 made little difference, says Mahesh Kumar, as the tuition fees increased subsequently and that left the students in a soup again. Mahesh is a PhD student at IISc Bengaluru, who is spearheading the campaign.
Hike it: Protestors are using the hashtag #HikeResearchFellowship on social media
India is a growing superpower with more than 50 per cent of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65 per cent below the age of 35. We have the highest number of youth in the world, but are we giving them the respect they deserve when they decide to become career academics or researchers? Only one in every 200 students who graduate from degree college go on to enrol for PhD and only 50 per cent of them complete their degree. Clearly, something is wrong.
The government has set a target of pushing up this rate to 50 per cent by 2030. In the last eight years, this statistic has increased from 15 per cent to 25 per cent — so we can say that the government is moving in the right direction, but not fast enough. To achieve this feat, India needs 40 to 50 lakh new teachers if we are to continue with the current teacher-student ratio, which is in a pretty bad state itself, say research fellows. “The ignorance of our country when it comes to researchers is very evident from the amount of its GDP (currently less than three per cent for education in total) the government spends on R&D and on stipends,” says Mahesh.
Because food is bae: When Calcutta Medical College students hungered for a good hostel
Students of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, withdrew their 14-day-long hunger strike on July 23, 2018, after the college authorities agreed in writing to concede to their demands for accommodation in a newly-constructed hostel. Junior doctors and students were hunkered down for a protracted protest lasting for two weeks, demanding basic accommodation facilities in the premises. The students had been on a hunger strike for more than 320 hours, demanding that second, third and fourth-year students at the medical college be accommodated in a newly-built 11 storey hostel.
Hunger game: The principal of Calcutta Medical College was stuck in his room for three hours when students blocked him inside
“There are two hostels that are in particularly bad condition and for very long, the students have been complaining about the facilities. The authorities kept saying that they would look into it but nothing ever happened. So when the new building came up, many of the students expected to be given rooms in the new building but when they realised they won’t be, they started to protest,” one of the students told Edex at the time. Several senior students studying at the college felt that they deserved the newly-constructed rooms as they had to put up with terrible conditions for quite a long time, “The protesting students wanted the college to conduct a transparent hostel counselling session so that a fair system could be put in place,” the student had said.
“The senior students will be accommodated in the new hostel for the time being, till the construction of another seven-storeyed hostel with a capacity of 500 students is completed, after which they will be shifted to the seven-storey hostel and the 11 storey hostel will be exclusively for the first year students as per the Medical Council of India (MCI),” Acting-Principal Ashok Bhadra said at that time. Following this statement, students had withdrawn the hunger strike and got on the road to recovery.
Communal, much: When the ABVP turned the heat on Jinnah at AMU
Following the uproar at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), after members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) entered the campus and allegedly beat up students with the demand to remove a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah that had been hanging in the university’s Students’ Union Hall for decades, similar protests erupted in Jamia Millia Islamia University. The protests were in solidarity with the protests at AMU and had similar demands.
Fact matters: Students at Jamia Millia Islamia have never experienced religious discrimination on campus before
On May 9, a group of students who claimed to be from the university marched to gate number 7, raising slogans and chanting against the founder of Pakistan. During the rally, the alleged right-wing activists walked from Sarai Jullena in Okhla to the university’s main gate shouting ‘Jinnah lovers, leave the country’ and ‘Stop scaring Hindus’. They claimed that Hindu students were facing intimidation within the institution.
Later, the protesters explained that they were chanting against the alleged discrimination of Hindu students. A number of university students believe that the protesters were outsiders and demanded action from the administration. At the time, the university’s Public Relation officer Saima Saeed said, “Though there are no photographs of Jinnah or anything related to it, considering the history of the varsity, the group was intending to incite violence by raising such slogans.”
Since then, the Delhi Police reported that they are on high alert. In the aftermath of the Jinnah protests at AMU, students of Jamia had come out in solidarity. Meanwhile, other students were upset about this act. They demanded improved security measures and that immediate action be taken against those who had forcefully entered the university campus and had tried to disrupt communal harmony.
Fight for food: When trouble that was served hot at CUTN
On April 3, a group of students at the Central University of Tamil Nadu, Thiruvarur banded together on campus to protest against the allegedly poor quality of food served in the mess. While there had been several complaints for months about students falling sick after consuming the food served, the issue hit boiling point when they allegedly found around eight packets of MSG stored in the cooking area on March 29.
A group of students, led by representatives of the mess committee, brought the issue to the notice of the Vice-Chancellor and made the following demands: Immediate closure of Sai Caterers, the contractor of the mess, alternative food provisions to be arranged until a new caterer can be appointed and compensation for the students who were affected.
While the agitation continued, CUTN issued a circular stating that the university would be closed until further notice and also asked the students to vacate their hostel rooms. This further angered the students as several of them were from far off states and had nowhere to go on such short notice. Moreover, the environment in Tamil Nadu was unstable, owing to a state-wide bandh then.
Mix up: Central University of Tamil Nadu promised compensation to those who fell ill because of the canteen food
However, within a day of the protest, the administration closed down the mess, set up a temporary mess and promised an investigation into the matter. The students were also promised compensation in case it was indeed the food that had caused the sickness. Another official statement also stated that once the new caterers started functioning, the food served would be monitored by both student and faculty representatives.
Some students even said that if the officials in the mess committee had tasted the food in the canteen regularly, they would have understood how bad quality the food was. After the protest, the college acted swiftly and ensured that the problems were fixed — and a reasonable response from the management helped. Unlike your average varsity, CUTN stepped up with vigour.
The stabbing of Abhimanyu: Poster rights can get you killed
Abhimanyu (20), a Students' Federation of India (SFI) leader and a second-year degree student at Maharaja's College, who was a resident of Vattavada in Idukki district and also a member of the organisation's Idukki district committee, had been stabbed to death in an attack that was allegedly by members of a pro-Islamic outfit at the college in Kerala. Abhimanyu and two others were allegedly attacked by workers of the Campus Front and its parent outfit Popular Front of India (PFI) inside the campus. The police stated that issues between student activists over using college walls had led to the attack.
His dream: Abhimanyu’s dream was to study at Maharaja's and become a member of the SFI — which he did manage
His friends told Edex at that time that one of Abhimanyu's greatest dreams growing up was to study at Maharaja's and he didn't spare any effort to make sure that he did. Another dream he had was to be a member of the SFI and eventually become a leader. "He had blind faith in the SFI. Every time there was a fight between two political groups he would always defend SFI, no matter whose fault it was. He was fiercely protective and defensive of the party. Others would ridicule him about this obsession but nothing deterred him," one of his friends had said then.
It was his blind faith in the SFI that probably made him stand up to the members of the Popular Front of India’s (PFI) student wing. The two organisations were fighting over a wall — about who had the right to put up welcome posters for their upcoming batch. Abhimanyu and two of his friends were cornered by the attackers and he ended up being stabbed to death. He is survived by his parents and his two older siblings. His parents had pinned their hopes on their youngest son to secure a better future. But all their hopes now lie in tatters. He always desired to provide a helping hand to his parents who toiled hard on their fields. Following the murder of this SFI leader, a total of 15 arrests were made. Of which, at least four were accused of being directly involved in the murder.
Nirmala Devi's Sex for marks scandal: Was it this year's indecent proposal?
On March 15 this year, social media exploded as a 19-minute audio clip was leaked, wherein a female Assistant Professor from Madurai Kamaraj University was heard soliciting female students to do 'certain things' for senior officials of the university. The allegation was made against Nirmala Devi, the Assistant Professor who was trying to lure four Devanga Arts College students into doing 'favours' in exchange for money and opportunities, provided they meet the expectations of the 'higher officials'.
Audio clip: Nirmala Devi's voice was recorded and analysed by experts
As per her confession, she allegedly called the girls on behalf of Assistant Professor V Murugan and S Karuppasamy, a former research scholar, assuming that they were working on behalf of the Registrar and Vice-Chancellor of the university. Devi had met Murugan — who later on, introduced her to Karuppasamy — while she was in pursuit of a refresher course in the university. It is unclear if she bagged the course due to Murugan's influence. In the said conversation, she even mentioned the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Banwarilal Purohit's name, which she later confessed to doing only to appear 'influential'.
As per screenshots of messages exchanged between the students and Devi, the latter messaged, "You all very well know about the competition that exists in the world and it takes not only talent but also an intelligent approach, mentally and physically, to achieve success coupled with money and fame." After the arrest of Devi, the matter was escalated to CB-CID, who took Murugan and Karuppasamy into custody. The Raj Bhavan denied any links between Devi and the governor who is also the Chancellor of the university. The latest development is that the discharge petitions of Devi, Murugan and Karuppasamy filed by them independently were rejected and The All India Democratic Women's Association have requested that the case be transferred to the CBI. Meanwhile, the trial of the case is underway at the Fast Track Mahila Court in Srivilliputhur.
TISS the season not to be jolly: Of hostels, fee hikes and TISS' terrible year
The Tata Institute of Social Sciences Students' Union started the year with a bang when they announced a strike across all campuses of the institute from February 22 against the administration who were demanding tuition, dining hall and hostel fees from scholarship students. The association also protested against the withdrawal of aid by the college.
Includes them all: This protest has encompassed students from all campuses of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)
The TISS administration stepped into trouble again when it denied admission to Fahad Ahmad, a student who was admitted to the Integrated MPhil - PhD course in 2016 because he was a part of the protests against the administration's decision to withdraw the fee waiver granted to SC, ST and other minority students. The trouble increased when a postgraduate student studying in TISS committed suicide by jumping off a building in Powai in December. A professor has been booked for abetting the suicide. The 24-year-old student, Sanket Tambe, had stated in his suicide note that he had fallen into depression after the professor had told him there was no scope for engineering students. Sanket's mother's statement said that they had submitted a letter to the institute about the professor threatening their son and subsequently, he fell into depression.
The TISS administration in Hyderabad was in a soup recently as the students boycotted their classes and were on an indefinite hunger strike, condemning the institute's decision to scrap the BA courses and make the institute non-residential from the next academic year. The strike was called off once the director accepted their demands on paper. TISS Hyderabad's Internal Management Committee said that the director has conveyed that they would reinstate the BA in Social Science course from the academic year 2020-21 and that hostel facility will be provided as it is now and that an "empowered committee” will look into the demands. But this was not a good enough deal, the students said as nothing was on record. They continued the strike until the director has a written acceptance of the demands.
When Kanu Priya first walked into the sprawling campus of Panjab University, she found herself in a patriarchal environment. Since its founding in the year 1882, no women has ever led the mass of students studying there. Even her accommodation, allocated to her during her first year of study, was adorned with portraits and political banners of campaigners who were shelling out the various beneficiary deeds they sought to perform, should they be elected to the post of the President of Panjab University.
The Kanu juggernaut at Panjab Uni: Shall we call the President?
The aforementioned deeds themselves varied in nature. In fact, the only thing that was common throughout the whole propaganda was the fact that all of the nominees were men. And the consequences were far-reaching — the university was plagued by cases of rampant sexual harassment and eve-teasing. Kanu Priya recalls how undisciplined rogues, supposed to be students at the university, used to roam about holding beer bottles, whistling and passing lewd remarks at female students and striking uncomfortable conversations even when the girl was unwilling to converse.
Girl power: Kanu Priya is the first women president in the history of Panjab University
Kanu Priya was determined to change that to the best of her abilities. The Zoology (Honours) student won a stunning victory against all odds, especially given the fact that earlier, women candidates were brushed aside with disdain. To add to the initial struggle, the general populace strongly advised her against contesting the elections. “People even told my parents to keep my younger sister away from all these things. But my parents responded by saying that they were happy with what I was doing and when my sister is old enough, they would support her,” beams Kanu Priya.
Since her triumph, she led a massive struggle against the administration for equal rights for women students on the campus — a stir that went all the way to the court and got much-deserved rights.
Fake it till you ‘make’ it? The curious case of ABVP's Ankiv Baisoya
For the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), spring came in September. The organisation swept the Delhi University polls and their poster boy, Ankiv Baisoya took charge as the Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) President. But little did this right-wing organisation know that they didn’t have many acche dins in store.
Soon after Baisoya, an MA student from DU’s Department of Buddhist Studies took charge as the DUSU president, and allegations about his bachelor’s degree being fake started popping up. NSUI was the first to make the claim. It was backed by a statement from Thiruvalluvar University (from where Baisoya allegedly pursued his BA in Economics), that said, “The candidate’s documents have been verified and (it has been) found that the said certificate is not genuine. It is a fake certificate.” However, the claims were refuted by the ABVP who stood by him steadfastly.
Conspiracy theory: Baisoya called all this a conspiracy to defame him and assured that he would prove these allegations false
Baisoya, however, dug his own grave in an interview that he gave to a media organisation, where he said that he had studied ‘several subjects’ while he was at Thiruvalluvar University but didn’t seem to remember what, saying, “I wrote several types of exams, in English and skill-based subject,” he said. When questions were raised on why there wasn’t any evidence on social media to show that he was in Vellore, where the university exists, Baisoya said that he kept travelling back and forth from Vellore to Delhi.
Finally, the rumours were put to rest when the registrar of Thiruvalluvar University wrote a clarification to DU saying that Baisoya never studied there. Soon after this, he was expelled from the ABVP and they pretty much disavowed him.
On November 21, a case was filed a case against Baisoya and the now Ex-DUSU President was booked on charges of cheating and forgery, and they have started a customary investigation. Despite that, the police are yet to question him. What’s going to happen next in this drama?
Did medicine do him in? How misdiagnosis led to the death of a UoH scholar
Rashmi Ranjan Suna was a Physics research scholar at the University of Hyderabad who died of dengue fever, after being taken to a hospital. It is yet to be discovered why Himagiri Hospital, which was once blacklisted, was added back to the list of hospitals. Due to what students termed the negligence of the University of Hyderabad, the Physics research scholar died on November 25, 2018.
A huge number of students gathered at the University campus on November 26 to protest against the Dean of Students’ Welfare (DSW). According to Suna’s classmates, he had complained of body pain and fever on November 19 to the UoH healthcare centre’s doctors. After the initial check-up, he was referred to a private hospital, Himagiri, in Gachibowli. Although the hospital had run a dengue test, it had returned a negative result and they had stated that it was a mere viral fever.
Just friends: Ranjan’s friends still remember him with fondness and they have taken a vow to fight for justice
Suna’s friend had observed that his platelets count was low and the hospital staff was not taking proper care of him. Thus, his friends requested for a transfer to another hospital, but they had taken a lot of time to process the same request and on top of it, he was charged a hefty amount of `34,000.
Later, when he was shifted to Citizens Hospital, they ran another dengue test again and this time, it came back as positive. But it was too late for Suna to be treated and survive. It had resulted in multiple organ failure and internal bleeding as well.
According to university students, Himagiri Hospital was blacklisted two years ago and was later added to the list of hospitals. Now, through their protests, they are seeking answers from the university’s authorities. As a response, they have put together a committee to inquire into the circumstances that resulted in the death of Rashmi Ranjan Suna.
The University, which hit the headlines when Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula took his life, saw an overflow of protests that resembled the events of that year.
This Hindutva idealogue's lecture at JNU made a lot of hue and cry
What is the future of Indic studies? Well, we wouldn’t know that. If you need an answer to this question, you would need to ask the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Sanskrit and Indic Studies, who attended a lecture on the same by Hindutva ideologue and author Rajiv Malhotra, who was appointed as an honorary visiting professor in the university on November 6.
A few days before this, Malhotra delivered another lecture on Sanskrit Non-Translatables at the university. But turns out, the only few people who were content with it were the university’s administration and Malhotra himself. The students and faculty of the university were extremely dissatisfied by the administration’s decision. If you wonder why, three years ago, Malhotra was accused of plagiarism by historian Richard Fox Young.
Random choice: His appointment as a honorary professor at JNU led to criticism from all quarters
And that’s not all — Rajiv Malhotra is the same person who tweeted during the recent Kerala floods, asking Twitterati to help the Kerala Hindus, as Christians and Muslims worldwide were raising money to help ‘their own people’. This did not go down well, clearly. These are just to name a few controversies that included Malhotra, who also published an essay previously, where he blamed University of Chicago scholar Wendy Doniger and her ‘cult of students’ for the ‘eroticisation of Hinduism’.
The decision was also denounced by academics all around the world. Famous historian Audrey Truschke tweeted, “Another nail in the coffin of Indian higher education. Hindutva ideologue Rajiv Malhotra — a hate monger, plagiarist, without academic credentials has been appointed an honorary professor at JNU.”
The JNU Teachers’ Association President Atul Sood said, “If collectively teachers feel that anyone must be brought in as a visiting faculty, that is within their mandate. But it should be representing the will of people in charge of the teaching-learning process. It shouldn’t be administrative.”