Published: 19th April 2017
Fast and Furious: Meet Joshil Abraham, a Keralite professor fed on Ambedkar and Marx, who has been on a hunger fast outside his college for 15 days
You've heard of GBPEC's protest for land. You've seen Joshil Abraham being carted off to AIIMS. You've probably seen pics of his mosquito net. This is his origin story and why he does what he does
Ironically, Joshil K Abraham said that he has never been a big believer in hunger strikes — his logic being millions of people go to bed hungry everyday and these kinds of protests were just a way of inflicting violence on the body. But that changed over time, clearly. He now believes that if it does yield a better world in the end for those involved, then it's worth it.
So, after trying every other democratic means of fighting for a campus for his students at GB Pant Government Engineering College, Delhi, Abraham decided that the only way left was to stage a hunger strike outside the college, mosquito net and all. Fifteen days on, he is nowhere close to giving up. But his story has caught on like wildfire and his cause has moved the nation — though very few people in the capital seem to be worried.
To the finish: The fast has dragged on for 15 days
This is not the first time Abraham has participated in protests though. Ever since he was a college student in Pondicherry University, the English Professor originally from Kottayam, Kerala has also stood up for what he thought was right and was completely convinced about.
When questioned if he was a communist, as many Keralites are, Abraham said that what he believed most of all is in humanity and an egalitarian society,"I grew up a believer, so much so that I was even the altar boy at my church. But when I was in the 11th standard I left the church and immediately people started asking me if I had become a communist. Despite my mother being very religious she did not question me, she said I was the same person and I had not changed in any way and that is all that mattered to her and she knew that I would not do anything if I was not completely convinced by it, so she let me be," he explained. So, if he wasn't fully convinced about his fight for the students, he would have never started it in the first place, he says.
I grew up a believer, so much so that I was even the altar boy at my church. But when I was in the 11th standard I left the church and immediately people started asking me if I had become a communist
Joshil Abraham, Professor-on-protest
For Abraham, his students mean the world to him — ever since he set up tuition classes for children as a n 11th standard student — so choosing the classroom as a career option was an obvious decision for him. "I have always loved classrooms, even if you are going through the absolute worse, those few hours in the classroom help you feel so much better. I've also had great friends who were teachers, so the classroom is where I've always belonged," he explained.
Where's the fire?
For almost ten years, GB Pant College has been functioning out of a hostel building so the students decided to protest in a way they deemed fair — by making the classrooms their home and refusing to leave after classes. But when the Principal slapped them with a notice, prohibiting the students from staying on campus after 5.30 pm, the students decided to have make-shift classrooms outside on the roads and invited their faculty to teach them there. But besides Abraham and another member of the faculty, no one turned up.
Anatomy of a long-term fast
2007 - Delhi Government promises funding for a good campus
2008 - Government grants loans and GB Pant campus as land for construction for a private public partnership college
2015 - Abraham becomes Head of Office, starts to push for a campaign for the land
2016 - Appeals made to government, promise an investigation
January 2017 - Professor makes attempts to meet CM, fails. Meets with Gopal Mohan, advisor to CM, makes presentation. Points out corruption. Authorities promise a solution but refuse to stop construction of the new institute, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology
15 days later, budget comes out. Government claims that student strength of the college will be increased from 3000 to 5000. Present strength - 860
March 2017 - Students file RTI, find that GB Pant college land is being encroached on by the private public private institute. Government had allotted land for parking and others in the GB college land illegally
March 23 - Students start to set up camp in their hostel cum college building. College issues gag-order. Over 300 students protests for two days in front of CM's residence, chased away by police.
March 30 - students demand to meet CM, no reactions. Students set up classrooms on the roads. Finally, students meet the CM. He claims no knowledge of the issue - is proved wrong by students.
CM promises action by April 24. Abraham to go on fast till CM meets students on April 24
Say my name: GBPEC students talk to social activists like Yogendra Yadav
Take that Mr Kejriwal
Alongside, the students were also protesting in front of Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal's office, but when the college management threatened to debar the students from the exam, Abraham began to get worried about the students suffering academically. "When the students met Kejriwal and he asked them why they were participating in hunger strikes when they should be studying, the students replied saying that they had been in fact been inspired by Kejriwal's hunger protests. So I also thought that since the present government had come to power this way, my hunger strike would create an impact and I didn't want my students to let their studies suffer because of this issue," Abraham said.
Engineering students can protest too
Nothing can curtail the student movement. That's what Abraham believes and the fact that engineering students are also coming out to protest shows that all students, irrespective of whether they come from the arts stream or the engineering stream will stand up for their rights. "So many of my friends from JNU are stunned that these students are protesting which goes to prove that everyone is political, it is not confined to a certain section. So there is hope left in the world," he added.
Even if he doesn't identify himself as a firebrand communist, Marx is still one of his idols along with Neitzsche, quickly adding that most of all Ambedkar probably inspires him the most, "I firmly believe in what Babasaheb said - Educate, Agitate and Organize."
Support from strange quarters
Besides the students, Abraham says that what drives him is the fact that he has the support of the common people. "When I began to work here I realized that the security guards were not even getting their minimum wages, so we fought for them. Those very same security guards tell us they'll support us no matter what. The security guards here at AIIMS, when they learnt about what I was fighting for also said they would support me, so did the shopkeeper, so do others who come from the deprived classes. It is because these are the people who send their students to study in government colleges. They are the ones who cannot afford private education, so they know the importance of a good infrastructure for their sons and daughters," Abraham said.
But what about his friends? Are they not critical of his way of protesting? "These last few days I've had calls from people I haven't spoken to in 15 years and from all over the world. Some support me, some have asked why I chose this method. But my father has never questioned me. But I think the body is very powerful and when the body knows that it is fighting for a cause, then it helps you as well. And in this case, the students are my strength too," he said.
Vital signs: Doctors check Joshil's vitals before he was forcibly whisked off to AIIMS
Is there an end in sight?
On what he expects to happen with him after this agitation ends, in the event that the land is returned to them, Abraham said that hopefully all will go well and the administration will let him be, " Or, of course, there are chances that I could get fired. But what I'm definitely sure of is the threats that will come my way if the land is returned to us. Its a 1000 crore scam, and all those corrupt individuals involved will begin to send threats. But like Neitzsche said 'That which doesn't kill you, makes you stronger', that will be my take-away from all of this," he explained.