Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Public Meeting on "Discrimination, Racism and State Violence: The Farce of “Different” Laws for the North-East"

The rise of the Modi government has seen a marked aggravation of brutalities carried out by organs of the Indian state – the armed forces and the police in particular - against the people of North East India. Following and amplifying the policy direction of the UPA, the BJP-led dispensation seems hell-bent on using all its might to crush and muzzle voices of democratic dissent. The most recent such onslaught on the right to protest has been the brazen re-arrest of Irom Sharmila, tireless crusader against the draconian and colonial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), barely three days after her release. Sharmila has been on a hunger strike since 2000 demanding the revocation of the AFSPA, and her struggle has consistently foregrounded the manner in which the law has been shamelessly used by the armed forces to unleash a reign of terror in the North-East – employing the dastardly tactics of rape, murder, torture and other varied forms of intimidation. The re-arrest of Sharmila is yet another tactic of the Indian state to quell the ever-strengthening democratic upheaval against such untold human rights violations. The ascendancy of the self-styled “Loh Purush” Narendra Modi has emboldened the ruling classes in their constant crusade against the rights of the people, and increased the pitch of assertion of their feudal, misogynist, casteist and racist attitudes.

While on the one hand the draconian AFSPA is being used to ride roughshod over the rights of the people of the North East, on the other there has been a tremendous increase in incidents of racist violence and other forms of discrimination against them in various parts of the country. The racially motivated killing of Nido Tania, and the rape of a 14-year old Manipuri girl in Munirka are still fresh in public memory. Built on a foundation of racial stereotyping and prejudice, such attacks have rendered the lives and livelihoods of people from the North East extremely vulnerable and insecure. While the left and democratic sections have consistently demanded a comprehensive legislation against racial profiling, stereotyping, discrimination and violence, the ruling classes have turned a deaf year on every occasion. Both the current regime and the previous UPA government made no effort whatsoever to contain, check or prevent such forms of racist discrimination and violence. Despite increasing democratic assertion on the need for an anti-discrimination legislation, both the Congress and the BJP have tried to shove the issue under the carpet.

It must be remembered that question of AFSPA-related brutality, and the systemic racist discrimination and violence faced by the people from the North East, are deeply interlinked. The need of the hour, therefore, is to forge a larger united democratic struggle which battles both draconian legislations like the AFSPA, and systemic and entrenched forms of prejudice. This struggle has to begin with a recognition of the multinational character of our country, and with a re-envisioning of the republic on the basis of the staunch upholding of the equality of the nationalities which constitute India. A democratic churning is required demanding both the immediate repeal of the AFSPA and the setting up of institutional and legal mechanisms to counter deep-seated discrimination. With the firm resolve of strengthening and deepening such a united and democratic struggle, and to discuss the possible directions and forms this struggle should take in the days to come, SFI invites you to tonight’s public meeting at Kaveri Mess.


Kishalay Bhattacharjee, Independent Journalist, Author of Che in Paona Bazaar: Tales of Exile and Belonging from India's North-East
Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, Journalist, The Hindu
Vijoo Krishnan, Former President, JNUSU
Date and Time: 26 August 2014, 9.30 pm
Venue: Kaveri Mess

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

SFI’s Initiative Successfully Resists CITD’s Tactics to Deny Admission to Students!

SFI thanks the student community for rallying behind our initiative to ensure that students who were denied admission to the Centre for International Trade and Development (CITD) on absolutely unjust grounds are given admission in MA. The new admission criteria at CITD says that only those students who have a Bachelor’s Degree with Economics (Honours) with Mathematics as subsidiary subject,  Mathematics (Hons.) with Economics as a subsidary subject, or Statistics (Hons.) with Mathematics & Economics as subsidiary subjects would be eligible for admission to its MA programme. Given the fact that very few universities in India have Honours courses at all, this elitist criteria essentially meant the exclusion of the vast majority of students, including even students who completed BA (Economics) from various universities, from applying to CITD. Nevertheless several students from non-Honours backgrounds had written the entrance exam and cleared it, and the Centre had refused to admit them.
But following the protest on Tuesday (12 August), the administration was forced to give admission to those students who cleared the entrance test after studying economics as one of the core subjects in their under-graduation. This struggle has to be seen in the context where the students were made to run from pillar to post and had to undergo a lot of pain in the process.  Adding to the anti-student approach of the Centre was the apathy shown by JNUSU-SIS Convenor who was informed of this issue on 3 August. But even after coming to know of the issue there was absolute lack of concern from the Convenor. What is equally deplorable is the fact that the JNUSU, which should have taken up the matter, was slack in its approach. When SFI got to know about this injustice being done, we immediately took up the matter with the concerned departments and forced the JNUSU to take up the matter on an urgent basis in the All Organisations meeting called by us on 11 August. A call for protest was suggested to JNUSU in the All-Org meeting. The strength of the united protest by the students against this elitist discrimination ensured that the matter was taken to a logical end. The illogical stand of the Centre to put on hold the registration of students was defeated and four students, who had to face taunts and harassment, were at last allowed to finish their registration process.
This struggle doesn’t end here, as we need to ensure that the anti-student admission criteria which crept into this year’s prospectus are kept out in the next year’s prospectus. After all, the injustice done to all those students who didn’t appear for the entrance exam after seeing the new admission criteria cannot be undone. Let us also not forget that a similar move by the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning (CESP) which made it compulsory for students to have studied mathematics at the Plus Two level or during Bachelor’s in order to be eligible for admission had made it impossible for the vast majority of students in various universities in India to apply to the Centre’s MA programme. It had taken several years of efforts by perceptive students in the Centre to get this regressive move reversed.
SFI would like to thank the JNUSU for taking up the issue though it was late. We would also like to thank progressive teachers and officers who stood with us in this struggle. The democratisation of educational institutions is something that the left student movement has always stood for, and we will struggle to ensure that all students, especially those from deprived backgrounds, have the opportunity and resources to pursue higher education. The student community have to be in constant vigil against elitist machinations inside and outside the campus. We pledge to stand should to shoulder with the student community in such struggles.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Comrade Vijender Sharma Amar Rahe!

Comrade Vijender Sharma, veteran leader of the University and College Teachers’ movement, passed away on 9 August 2014 after bravely battling cancer for over eight months. He was 63. His demise is an irreparable loss to the left and democratic movement and the University and College Teachers’ Movement.
Com. Vijender began his political activity as a student in Delhi University and became a member of the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) in the early 1970s. He was also associated with the Research Scholars Association in Delhi University. He joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1974 and was member of the Delhi State Committee of the CPI(M) since December 2001 and that of the CPI(M) State Secretariat from November 2004 up until his death.
Com. Vijender did his B.Sc. and M.Sc. from Delhi University and became a lecturer in ARSD College in 1976. He was awarded Ph.D. by the University of Delhi in 1977. He later pursued law and completed his LLB degree in 1985 from the University of Delhi.
Com. Vijender’s name is synonymous with the teachers’ movement in Delhi University. He was one of the Conveners of the Temporary Teachers’ Forum and led a difficult struggle in 1978-79 that resulted in almost 700 temporary teachers being regularized. He was an elected member of the Executive Committee of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association from 1987 to 1989; member of the Academic Council from 1990 to 1994; President of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association from 1995 to 1997 and member of the Delhi University Executive Council from 2002 to 2006. In all these capacities he made a seminal contribution towards advancing the rights of university and college teachers.
An excellent trade-unionist, Com. Vijender was a fearless militant. But he did not thrive on slogans alone. Rather his forte lay in the in-depth study of different issues and challenges facing the education system as a whole in the backdrop of the impact of neo-liberal policies. His incisive analysis of such challenges was of great use not only to the teachers’ movement in Delhi University but outside it as well.  He was in regular touch with the leadership of the All India Federation of University and College Teachers' Organizations (AIFUCTO) and teachers’ associations of different universities and provided them with whatever inputs and help he could without any hesitation.
He was a convinced Marxist-Leninist. This helped him seek truth through concrete study of facts. It also gave him the courage to fight all that is wrong and oppressive not just in education but in life in general. He was associated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions all-India Centre in the late 1970s and early 1980s and helped in the publication of the CITU’s journal the Working Class. This experience helped steel his resolve and partisanship. His life was a classic example of an intellectual born in a middle class family devoting his entire life to the working class movement. At a time when international finance capital is using commoditized education to create its own foot soldiers, Com. Vijender’s life is a pointer to the importance of organic intellectuals of the people.
Comrade Vijender’s was a life full of struggle and courage in adversity. He was an extraordinary leader of the University and College Teachers’ movement and the left and democratic movement, and a conscientious human being. He will be remembered and sorely missed by all those who had the good fortune of knowing and working with him. SFI dips its flag in memory of Com. Vijender and resolves to champion the ideals he stood for by fighting to fulfil his unfinished tasks.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Carry Forward the Struggle to Restore the JNUSU Constitution!

Over the past few days, a “joint front” comprising a handful of political organizations has been campaigning towards a referendum asking the students to reject the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations (LCR) in toto. While the objective of rejecting LCR is laudable, the campaign leaves several questions unanswered. But before getting into those questions, let us briefly review the history of the struggle against LCR.
Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations – A look-back
The Lyngdoh recommendations had its genesis in the Sojan Francis case, born out of the attempt by college managements to trample upon the democratic rights of students. The Kerala High Court which heard the case filed by Sojan Francis, an SFI activist who had been debarred from sitting for his examination due to his political activism in St. Thomas College, Pala (Kottayam, Kerala), had given a verdict which effectively allowed the college managements to prohibit political activism in campuses. This draconian order was challenged in the Supreme Court by the Kerala University and the Kerala University Students’ Union led by SFI, and the Supreme Court issued an order on 12 December 2005 directing the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to constitute a committee to “frame guidelines on students’ union elections in colleges/universities”. The committee thus set up, with J M Lyngdoh as Chair, submitted its report on 23 May 2006. Notwithstanding the recommendations of the committee, which upheld the need for students’ union elections in all colleges and universities in the country, including private colleges and universities, and its praise for JNU and HCU as “models”, the ultimate effect of the LCR has been that these very unions which were held up as models were targeted because the students’ movement in such places have challenged the unbridled march of neoliberal policies in education and in other spheres.
The objective of the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations (LCR), contrary to all pious statements, is to weaken the students’ movement so as to pave the way for fee hikes, commercialisation, privatisation and centralisation of higher education — a process that is already underway. LCR has put in place restrictions that are fundamentally undemocratic and exclusionary (particularly adversely affecting students from deprived sections). For instance, the clause that stipulates an age barrier of 22 years for BA students, 25 years for PG students and 28 years for M.Phil./Ph.D. students (30 years for JNU as per the relaxation granted), militates against students from deprived backgrounds who are often forced to enter higher education at a later age. The clause that prevents candidates from contesting more than once in the central panel and twice for councillor posts defies logic even as it serves to constrain the development of a mature leadership for the union. The eligibility criteria which prevents students who have been “tried/convicted” for any criminal offence and those who have been “subjected to any disciplinary action by the University authorities” only aids the college/university administrations to victimise student activists who have participated or led any kind of protests against unjust measures by the authorities. In short, the overarching framework of Lyngdoh curtails students’ rights and has been damaging to our fight against anti-student college and university administrations and the neoliberal policies of the ruling classes.
The students of JNU, having recognised the perils of the LCR, rejected LCR at the very outset, and held elections for two years (in 2006 and 2007) as per the JNUSU constitution without accepting LCR. But in 2008, the Supreme Court stayed the very JNUSU elections which Lyngdoh had held up as a “model”, thus exposing the real intentions underlying LCR. The students of JNU, however, rejected the LCR and chose to battle it out in the Supreme Court by constituting a Joint Struggle Committee for the purpose. But the Supreme Court referred the case to a constitution bench on 11 November 2009, and the said constitution bench has not been formed till date. When it became clear that the formation of the constitution bench and the final settlement of the case will take several years, the SFI in 2010 took the position that we should go ahead with the JNUSU elections as per the JNUSU constitution. If the election process is challenged in the SC or if it takes suo motu cognizance, the JNU students would be asked to explain their stand. We argued that it is likely that the SC, given the fact that it is deliberating on the constitutional validity of the Lyngdoh recommendations itself, would agree with the position of the JNU students and restore the JNUSU constitution, at least till the final verdict on Lyngdoh Committee is delivered. It might of course disagree with the JNU students and issue specific directives on JNUSU elections, and the question of any “contempt of court” would arise only if the JNU students wilfully defy those specific directives. Many other progressive organisations in the campus agreed with the SFI position and supported holding the elections as per the JNUSU constitution. But the AISA went on a scare-mongering campaign arguing that there would be a crackdown on the JNU student movement if we went ahead with our elections as per JNUSU constitution. Ultimately the UGBM did not accept the proposal to hold elections immediately as per JNUSU constitution, and SFI and the JNU student movement, respecting the verdict of the UGBM, went ahead with other initiatives to take our struggle forward. Negotiations were held with the SC-appointed Amicus Curiae and the students, in a UGBM in 2012, decided to restore JNUSU elections, the election process being governed by a modified LCR. It was agreed that the modified LCR was being accepted as an interim arrangement pending the judgement of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. It was also decided that the newly elected JNUSU would be mandated to carry forward the legal and political struggle to restore JNUSU elections as per the JNUSU constitution.
Elected Unions Cannot Run Away from Their Responsibility
But the unions which were elected subsequently (two AISA-led, AISA-majority unions and one DSF-led, AISA-majority union) have done precious little in carrying forward this struggle. It is indeed ironic that the DSF, which did nothing to intensify the struggle when it led the Union is now part of the “joint front”. It is also to be noted that the DSF holds the position that the association of student political groups with political parties is the biggest impediment to the student movement in the country (something that the Lyngdoh Committee would gladly endorse).
The restoration of the JNUSU elections as per the modified LCR was definitely not the first choice of the JNU student community, but something that was forced upon it by objective conditions. The student community took this difficult decision recognising the fact that not having an elected Union in JNU was doing immense damage to the student movement, causing depoliticisation among students and making it extremely difficult to wage powerful and united struggles against an emboldened, anti-student administration. In doing so, the students rejected farcical arguments like those put forward by DSU, which essentially holds that almost nothing can be done to advance the student movement when Lyngdoh is in place. It was plain for the students to see that the DSU’s argument against having an elected union at a time when the administration is on a rampage trampling upon hard-won students’ rights was, in the ultimate analysis, a brazenly pro-administration argument — after all, not having an elected union would simply mean handing the decisive upper hand on a platter to the anti-student administration.
Incidentally, the “joint front” has been arguing that episodes like the militant student struggle by the SFI-led JNUSU of 1998-99 when 63 students were arrested and 14 students were sent to the Tihar jail are no longer possible now. We would like to remind them that seven SFI comrades, including two JNU students – Com. Rahul N and Com. Nitheesh Narayanan – were sent to Tihar jail in July 2013 for protesting against the corrupt Congress government of Kerala, and both of them contested as candidates to the JNUSU elections later in September 2013. In spite of Lyngdoh, SFI in the recent past has successfully waged a number of struggles in different parts of the country against fee hikes, for student amenities, for increasing seats in colleges, for restoring union elections in several places where they had been scrapped and so on. Therefore while it is true that the Lyngdoh clampdown is a significant setback for the student movement, it cannot be the case that the LCR, which governs the election process, is the factor that conclusively determines the character of the entire gamut of the student movement. We have seen in the recent past forces like the DSF trying to wash their hands off their failures in the Union by blaming LCR, and we will have to remain guarded against such opportunism. Nothing can justify the unwillingness of recent Unions, whether led by DSF or AISA, to take up and fight for core student demands.
The SFI restates its commitment and resolve to carry forward the struggle to restore the JNUSU constitution and to uproot Lyngdoh from the campus. A democratically elected JNUSU should lead this struggle rather than ad-hoc “fronts” which are not accountable to the larger student community. Further, the struggle against LCR and for campus democracy essentially has to be an all-India struggle. The JNU student movement and the JNUSU have important roles to play in this struggle – what is required is concrete study and sincere struggles that would in all probability be protracted, not opportunist alliances devoid of any politics.
Srabani, Secretary, SFI JNU Unit       
Viswanathan V, President, SFI JNU Unit