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Student Activism in Delhi University: does it add any value to the society and towards holistic growth of students

Aryan Sharma | November 20th, 2019 . 12:18 pm






A great thing about Delhi University is that it provides an environment that acts as an incubator for students to go beyond their classroom studies which ensures their holistic development. It provides ample space to think through its various societies which act as a platform for students to engage in intellectual discussions. Gaining this kind of education often makes a person uneasy with their surroundings as they start realizing that the world we are living in is far from ideal. There are multiple levels of oppression that we face unknowingly because of us being totally clueless about our level of privilege. You realize that the kind of democracy being espoused by your political science text book is limited only to the pages of that book. In reality, democracy is not dying in darkness, like Washington Post says, it is being butchered in broad daylight. Women are not getting the same space as men and casteism is still pliable at the roots of our country. Often we find that the bubbles we exist in within our DU societies are very receptive of alternative sexualities, but the same individuals are subjected to visceral brutalities by the world around us.

It is already well known that the politics in DU has no answer to these problems. The route that most revolutionary-minded students opt for is activism. Delhi University students have often been at the forefront of movements that question the audacity of government and university administration in issues that concern students. However, it is not limited to that. Students also take up issues that concern the wider society. For example, The Rohit Vemula Suicide case was a classic example of problems of the wider society that intersects with students’ issues. It brought to the fore the ugly side of Indian society where Vemula committed suicide allegedly due to facing casteism in hostel. Many DU students were involved in protesting against the menace of caste that is highly prevalent in India.

Similar activist tendencies were witnessed during one of the most infamous incidents in DU history- The 2017 Ramjas clashes. Students of AISA and ABVP were involved in violent clashes over an invite sent to JNU student activist Umar Khalid who had been charged for sedition. These protests became a part of the larger rebellion against the crushing of dissent by those in power and choking the safety valve of democracy as identified by Justice Chandrachud.

The scrapping of section 377 was one of the most revolutionary decisions taken by the Indian Judiciary to get rid of a draconian law that had already been done away with in progressive countries. However, the real fight was in actually granting the LGBTQIA+ community an access to safe spaces. DU students played a vital role in ensuring this change in the society takes place. Hundreds of students gathered for pride parades that carried rainbow flags, a symbol of emancipation, across the roads of Delhi. Student activism in Delhi University actually showcased the amount of positive change it can bring about when directed well.

Delhi University is also slowly becoming a place for feminist politics to gain ground. The recent wave of #Metoo swept through DU as well where even professors were called out through whisper networks and openly on the social media sites. However, such cases were quickly shut down. Hence, currently, the fight is moving in the right direction considering that more and more students are taking to activism and raising their issues.

It is not possible to end the discussion on student activism without talking about PinjraTod- an organization that picked up the most fundamental issue of curfew timings in girls’ hostels and turned it into a revolution. The organization worked across colleges and universities and engaged in protests to unlock hostels at nights and end moral policing of girls. It worked with various women’s colleges like LSR, JMI etc. It also partnered with local student groups to bring about change at the grassroots level. The curfew timings in DU range from 7:30-10:30 PM and are mostly imposed on women. This is a reflection of the wider society that seeks to restrict the actions of women as part of female safety but refuses to apply the same stringent measures on men. PinjraTod appropriately asks the question that if it is men who pose threat to women at night, why not ban men on the roads rather than disciplining women.

Students led by AISA President Kawalpreet Kaur protested against the decrease in grants to centrally funded universities and that universities are shifting towards autonomy, which is generally seen as a push towards profit making. Students protested against this move that sought to undermine the inclusive character of institutions like Delhi University.

All these protests are reflective of the proletarian nature of student activism that exists in university campuses. It is increasingly playing a more active role than student politics in giving a democratic structure to the University. Though it still struggles to make itself inclusive for all groups, it has a much greater chance of ticking that box than politics. The reason is simple. It is a space that the students have created for themselves and have much more control over than student politics which is controlled by money and muscle.

Only when more and more student activists gain entry into politics and occupy decision-making positions, will the student bodies of universities become truly representative in nature.

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