The student protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of India’s renowned institutions and subsequent reactions of the public, to the protest draws an interesting discussion. JNU is an institution that has produced 2019 Nobel Laurette in Economics, as well as some of India’s current Finance Minister and External Affairs Minister. The students have been protesting over an exponential hike in academic and hostel fees.
Irrespective of the cause, the entire narrative is built around this incident triggers a more significant question – Of student protests and the strengthening of democracy. There is a raging debate, currently on how the student protest on a fee reduction is anti-national and how public spending on education would need to be curbed.
The protesting students and the entire population of the University – past, present, and future are being vilified, insulted, slandered, and called as anarchists, drug addicts, and anti-nationals.
At a bare minimum, the constitution allows each citizen freedom of expression (including the students of their right to peaceful protest), and yet the reaction from the public is an example of brainwashing of citizens of an Orwellian regime.
Historically and throughout civilizations, students and youth have been the harbinger of change. Youth, with their unadulterated purity of ideals, their passionate beliefs, and pursuit of goals, raise their voice on a myriad of issues and, usually on what they believe is the need of the hour – for that day and the future.
A simple student dissent is what gave rise to the now-famous #GretaThunberg Climate action. Another student uprising gave freedom and liberty to the Middle East and sowed the seeds of Jasmine revolution or opening for civil liberties in Saudi Arabia. It is a student voice that had given birth to the freedom movement, or fight against apartheid across the world, through history.
9th Dec 2019, Students Take Out Protest March From Varsity Campus To President House
Closer home, a Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Chandrasekhar Azad were poster-by examples of the fire-brand youth, without whose protests and sacrifice, India cannot even imagine her freedom and independence from the British Raj. The means may have been different from the subdued approach of a Gandhiji or a Bose, yet their goal remained the same.
Even during the dark days of the Emergency in 1975, it was the likes of student leaders like Arun Jaitley that protested against the authoritarian Indira Gandhi government. That was again to protect our freedom. Over the last decade, students across the nation have raised issue on women safety as in case of Nirbhaya (leading to strong anti-rape laws), or the famous India Against Corruption movement led by Anna Hazare (leading to strong Lok Pal law), or removal of Article 377 (protecting the Freedom of the individual).
There have been innumerable student protests in IITs, RECs, IT-BHU, AMU, JNU, and hundreds of educational institutions across the country. The reason could be about access, opportunities, unemployment, or fees. The issues can vary.
Students have always given wings to a cause, and often it has been the right case. Student uprisings thus have a propensity; therefore, of toppling established regimes in no time. Governments and regimes across the world history are wary of such youth power and do everything within their power to silence such dissent. In almost all cases, as history shows, the general public has been in support is students, and thus, we have witnessed the most significant transformations in the history of the world order.
The youth in any nation is her strength and her future. And by supporting the youth, generations across the world can and have strengthened their own country, fine-tuned their own democracies, and furthered their freedoms for a better future.
Today, in India, however, a large section citizen is not just turning their back to youth but supporting the use of oppressive force against them. This is indeed a peculiar situation, for, with such a stand, the citizens are voluntarily and swiftly eroding their rights and personal freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. It is for these freedoms that millions have fought for over centuries and thus gained it from the British. This is the same democracy and freedoms that we protected with care and nurtured for 70 years.
Against this background, what have we come to? How else can one not see this denigration of another student protest (#JNU) for something as simple as the reduction in fees being termed as anti-national?
Do we have solutions? Have we lost our collective conscience as a nation? Is the brainwashing complete?
Disclaimer: The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of N4M Media.