2563 “NO”, 165 “Yes”: Students of JNU Vote Out the VC In a Historic Referendum !

A First ever referendum in JNU

On Tuesday, 20th April, as many as 2741 students of JNU cast their votes in a historic, first-of-a-kind referendum. The question posed before the student community was: Should the provisions of the JNU Act be amended so as to allow the VC to get a second term? The answer was a resounding ‘NO’, with 2563 students voting against a second term for the VC and a small minority of 165 voting in favour of extending his term.

Despite the fact that this was a busy period in the academic calendar and many were preparing for exams, students participated enthusiastically in the referendum, cutting across political divisions and groups. From the outset itself, AISA set the tone of the agitation and spearheaded student participation and mobilization against the administration’s attempts to tamper with the JNU Act. This exercise in direct democracy was organized and conducted by a referendum committee of students who ensured that the entire process was conducted in a peaceful manner.

Through this referendum, the message sent out by the students of JNU was loud and clear: that they had borne the brunt of this repressive administration for long enough and were ready to accept it no longer.  With their massive and spirited participation, they succeeded in delivering a body-blow to the administration’s agenda of destroying JNU.

The decisive mandate of the students’ referendum and combined protests by students and teachers occurred in the run up to the Executive Council meeting of 27 April. As a result, the proposal to amend the clause in the statute of JNU to allow a Vice-Chancellor to hold a second term was decisively rejected.

The students’ referendum proved to have a decisive element in this struggle. It showed that students have the power not just to embarrass and confront the administration, but to effectively vote out the VC. Against those who thought that a VC could be installed like a dictator, the students of JNU asserted that this could not be so. The example set in JNU has the potential to create a new chapter in the students’ movement, showing how we can translate opposition into an effective result. Students are the major stakeholders of the university and their voices must be heard.

The Dubious Politics of the MHRD and Moves to Change the JNU Act

The extension of the VC’s tenure would have meant the uninterrupted reign of an autocratic administration for a full 10 years. It would have meant a continuation of their anti-student, casteist and corrupt attitudes and policies. At present, in JNU, the Vice-Chancellor’s term stands at five years. For the VC’s term to be extended, the very act and statutes governing the functioning of JNU would have to be changed. The VC and his coterie in the administration were trying to do this behind the backs of the university community. But when confronted by the united resistance of students and teachers, they were forced to bow down.

What has been most shocking is the way in which the administrative coterie tried to push through this proposal in the EC without even engaging in a semblance of consultation. They did not think of consulting any section of the university community, neither students nor karamcharis nor teachers. As a result, the Students’ Referendum was held to give students a say. The referendum’s ‘NO’ to the VC served to tell the MHRD, the state machinery, this administration and this Vice-Chancellor that the JNU Act cannot be tampered with, that changes cannot be made against the wishes of the student community.

This game plan to tamper with JNU was not the brain-child of a few administrative officials alone. Rather, the directive came from the MHRD which spoke of allowing a second term for VC’s who have performed well. Even more shockingly, this circular spoke of how such a move was required since there was a ‘dearth of talent’ given the absence of capable VC’s who could run universities.

Such arguments by the MHRD are not only patently false but also discredit a university such as JNU. From its inception, JNU has functioned very well under VC’s who have been given only one five-year term. Also, at the present juncture, nearly fifteen of JNU’s senior professors are serving as Vice-Chancellors across the country and many have also done so in the past. Why then was the MHRD arguing for a dearth of talent in such a university? The focus of the MHRD’s intentions was clear: it was to allow the continuance of pliant VCs who accepted the pro-Corporate and anti-student agenda of the Indian state. The VCs of JNU and Delhi who have been marked by their slavish stances towards elitist and corporate agendas were singled out for this ‘honour’.

Assaults on the heart and soul of JNU

From the outset of his tenure, the present Vice-Chancellor has been opposed to the humanistic, egalitarian and democratic vision that represents the best of JNU. Instead, he has treated the very institution of JNU and its ethos with sheer contempt and open ridicule. The entire tenure of this VC was marked by attempts at implementing a whole range of neo-liberal agendas on the campus and at the same time, scuttling policies of equity and social justice as much as possible.

Student protests and campus democracy — a hallmark of JNU’s culture — were met during this administration’s tenure with brutal crackdowns instead of any sensitivity to appreciate the essence of the student’s concerns. Nowhere was this more evident than in 2006-07, when students took up the issue of minimum wages for workers, the VC should have been proud to be at the helm of affairs in a university where students expressed such concerns. Instead, he repeatedly tried to cover up the massive corruption of the contractor-administration nexus and punished students who stood for workers’ rights.

The last few years have been a period of uninterrupted and unprecedented assaults on the very heart and soul of JNU. The track record of the present VC has been one of a total assault on JNU’s ethos. All of this has been consciously done and implemented, it has been part and parcel of the VC’s vision and agenda for JNU, and his administration implemented it in every way. In sum, the last five years have been a period marked by:

  • Sustained attempts to roll in commercialization, fee hikes and user charges.
  • Pilferage of Public Money, Mindless Construction and ‘Beautification’, Corruption in Library and other Purchases, Massive violation of workers’ rights.
  • Criminal stealing of OBC seats using casteist and faulty “cut-off” norm for OBC students violating MHRD and Supreme Court Directives.
  • Flagrant violation of constitutional provisions of SC/ST Reservations in faculty positions.
  • Misdirection of funds received in the name of implementing OBC reservations on expensive instruments unrelated to the mandated infrastructural expansion.
  • Assault on political and cultural expression with draconian circulars to curb and censor public meetings and film screenings.
  • An authoritarian culture marked by repeated crackdowns on protests and student activists.
  • A free hand to communal lumpens and a biased targeting of all other political activists.
  • An insensitive administration which violates all promises and agreements, a Vice-Chancellor who is always unavailable to students and teachers and discourages all forms of dialogue.

The University Community Stands United

Over the last few months, the entire university community has stood united and opposed all attempts to amend the JNU Act and extend the term of the Vice-Chancellor. The students’ referendum and the combined resistance of students and teachers emphasized that if a university is to function in a democratic and accountable manner, then a nominated post like that of VC (where appointments are made on the basis of political patronage of the government of the day)  MUST NOT be vested in any individual for a whole decade.

AISA congratulates the student community of JNU for proving once again that they have the strength and courage to defend the humanist and egalitarian ethos of this university which has been built over the years against the organized assaults of governments or their pliant VCs.

Spying, Surveillance and Draconian Crackdown in AMU Once Again !

A series of extremely disturbing incidents over the past few months have revealed how the Aligarh Muslim University has been turned into a virtual police state.

Draconian Crackdown on Protesting Students

A couple of months back, some students of AMU started protesting against the rampant corruption and misappropriation of funds by the hostel administration in AMU. Not only had the quality of food deteriorated; the mess charges had also steeply increased by Rs 250 per month per student.  The students of one hostel (VM Hall) appealed to the AMU administration for permission to take charge of the mess for one month to set an example before them about its functioning. Subsequently, they received permission and under the charge of the students themselves, the quality of food improved dramatically. This created enormous pressure on the AMU administration. Their corruption had been clearly exposed, and students from other hostels too began demanding permission from the administration for running their own messes.

In order to document the success of the VM hall experiment, Afaq Ahmad (an M. Phil student of Mass Communications) one day started video shooting with his handycam inside the Dining Hall; asking students about their opinion on the functioning of the mess. Almost immediately, the Provost and Wardens of the hostel (who got to know about the filming because of the CCTVs installed in the hostels) rushed to the Dining Hall and stopped the shooting. Afaq was served a show cause notice by the Proctor Office, and subsequently his hostel facilities were withdrawn. Shockingly, Afaq was thrown out of the hostel even though there is NO rule prohibiting video shooting in the hostel premises. Clearly, the intension of the AMU administration was to punish Afaq for his role in the movement against the administration’s corruption, and also to deter other students from protesting.

After Afaq’s hostel eviction orders, the students conducted a huge signature campaign demanding immediate revocation of his punishment. The AMU administration, continuing with its anti-student and draconian track record, responded by issuing 20 more show cause notices against those who conducted the signature campaign – making its intensions even more clear.

When the students’ protests increased, the AMU administration suspended Afaq on the false pretext that a letter had been sent by him to the AMU VC ‘threatening’ to break all the CCTVs in the campus if his hostel facilities were not restored immediately. Interestingly, this letter which Afaq had allegedly sent had the signatures of several other students, and was posted from outside the AMU campus. At the time when the letter was allegedly posted, Afaq was admitted in the University Health Centre, where he had been quarantined for chicken pox. Obviously, then it was impossible for him to go around the AMU campus collecting signatures and posting letters!

When the University Administrations Turn Into Spies….

Clearly, the AMU administration is going to unprecedented levels to victimise protesting students, in the hope of clamping down the growing resistance to its corruption. And in order to operationalize this gameplan, the AMU administration has employed an extensive surveillance mechanism. AMU has a ‘Local Intelligence Unit’ (LIU), along with as many as 72 CCTVs installed all over the campus – from the university library, to all the departments, and even in all the hostels. This LIU, run predictably the AMU’s Proctor Office, has become a convenient tool in the hands of the AMU administration whenever it wants to penalise students who protest against anti-student administrative policies, or who expose the rampant corruption of the administration. A whopping Rs 10 crores that has allegedly been spent on the CCTVs, which has NOT been officially funded by the UGC or any other government agency.

And the cameras are just one part of the university’s ‘surveillance’ mechanism – as many as 300 men in khaki are part of AMU’s ‘Watch and Ward’ staff, whose job is to ‘patrol’ the university campus in the name of ‘maintaining law and order’.

The LIU is NOT just being used to spy on students – the victimisation of Dr. Siras, leading to his shocking death, starkly revealed the shady nature of this omnipresent spy agency. In February this year, Dr. Siras (who was a reader in the Modern Indian Languages department of AMU) was illegally filmed in his house, and the AMU administration shockingly suspended him for being a homosexual. Students allege that the LIU had a part to play in the illegal filming inside Dr. Siras’s residence. The FIR filed by Dr. Siras had named four AMU employees – Proctor Zubair Khan, Deputy Proctor Fareed Ahmad Khan, Spokesperson Rahat Abrar and Media Adviser NAK Durrani. No action has yet been taken against them for this blatantly illegal invasion into people’s private lives.

CPI(M) Scholar supports culture of spying!

What is most unfortunate is that in this dangerous and reactionary game of the AMU administration, it has found support from the ‘progressive’ CPI(M) lobby led by Prof. Irfan Habib. In a shocking stance (reported in Tehelka, UP edition, 30th April), Prof. Habib has justified the presence of spies and LIUs in AMU. According to him, they have been present in AMU since 1980-81. He has said that there is nothing wrong in the existence of such agencies – since it ‘frees teachers from administrative chores’ and enables them to concentrate on academics! It is indeed shocking that such a defence of blatant violation of civil rights in a university campus is coming from a respected historian of Prof. Habib’s stature. The fact that he commands considerable sway in the AMU campus and draws clout from CPI(M)’s political establishment, makes his stance doubly detrimental and goes against the struggle for democratising the AMU campus.

AISA strongly condemns the LIU and the use of CCTVs to control public and private life in AMU. Such tactics are dangerous for the democratic functioning of any university community, and must be strongly resisted. We also demand that all the punishments against protesting students be revoked with immediate effect, and a thorough enquiry into the rampant corruption of the AMU administration be initiated.

Presidential Enquiry Going On Regarding Corruption Of The AMU VC

Azis, vice-chancellor since June ’07, is himself at the centre of some turmoil. He is now the subject of an inquiry set up by the President of India after instances of financial bungling were reported by members of the university’s executive council. She appointed a second panel last month after the first committee’s members resigned last year reportedly due to lack of cooperation in the probe.

The list of charges is long: claiming travelling allowance against university rules, paying his income tax from the varsity fund, bringing in furniture worth several lakhs from Kerala (Azis’s home state) and paying another Rs 12 lakh for its transport, spending close to Rs 2 crore to refurbish the V-C’s residence (including installation of jacuzzis in the bathrooms), buying a Honda Civic despite the availability of two cars, and adopting improper tendering practices, causing losses of millions to the varsity. The principal auditor general of UP has established several of these charges and in a despatch in November ’09 says: “There’s  a complete collapse of financial management and the VC and registrar, instead of stopping this frequent financial irregularity, themselves became part of it.”

Even the UGC openly stated that it has withheld Rs 8.38 crore because of financial irregularities by the university administration during 2008-09.

— Excerpts from “These Walls Have Ears” published in Outlook Magazine, March 8, 2010

Adieu To Prof. Md. Hasan

AISA expresses its deep condolences over the demise of Prof. Mohammad Hasan on the night of 24th April at the age of 84. Prof. Hasan had not been keeping well for several months, and passed away in  hospital, where he was undergoing treatment. We stand by his bereaved family members in this hour of grief.
An eminent Urdu critic and playwright, Prof. Hasan was made Prof Emeritus in the Centre of Indian Languages after he retired from JNU. Despite his ill health, he was always accessible to the teachers and students at all moments of crisis. In July 2008, he was invited to deliver the first Prem Chand memorial lecture in CIL. And in October 2009, he was honored for his immense contribution to literature on the occasion of the second foundation day of CIL.
Prof. Hasan authored and edited nearly 75 books in Urdu and English. His significant contributions include books on Ghalib and Iqbal, as well as on the sociology of literature and the history of Hindi literature in Urdu. He also wrote several well-acclaimed plays and novels in Urdu.
He was an integral part of the left and progressive literary movement, and was the editor of the Urdu literary journal -’Asri Adab’.
In his death, the literary community has lost a powerful voice of secularism and peoples’ struggle.

AISA and RYA protest against Operation Green Hunt in Kolkata

Activists of the All India Students’ Association (AISA) and Revolutionary Youth Association (RYA) organized a protest in Kolkata on Friday, 23rd April against Operation Green Hunt. More than five hundred students and youth attended the rally which was led and addressed by comrades Malay Tewari and Jul Mukherjee, State Secretary and Joint Secretary of AISA and Souvik Ghoshal and Apurba Ghosh, State President and Secretary of RYA.
Operation Green Hunt is underway today in the forested regions of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, which are home to many tribal communities. It represents an all-out war on democracy and all-out land grab for corporate interests.
At the same time, the anarcho-militaristic trend represented by the Maoists recognizes only military action as class struggle. They neglect the painstaking tasks of popular struggles, of mass resistance and political awakening of the rural poor.
Today, reports of indiscriminate detention, custodial torture and harassment, cold-blooded ‘encounters’, and attacks on freedom of expression are coming in from every corner of the country. The meeting expressed its all-out condemnation of the assaults on democracy.

Speak

Speak, your lips are free.
Speak, it is your own tongue.
Speak, it is your own body.
Speak, your life is still yours.

See how in the blacksmith’s shop
The flame burns wild, the iron glows red;
The locks open their jaws,
And every chain begins to break.

Speak, this brief hour is long enough
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, ’cause the truth is not dead yet,
Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.

Translated by Azfar Hussain
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/speak-4/

Declaration of Emergency in JNU overturned

The Declaration of Emergency in JNU overturned by Students’ Struggle to Uphold Freedom of Expression on Campus

Behind the ‘democratic’ and ‘liberal’ mask of the UPA regime is its true face — its authoritarian colors which stand in favour of nothing but corporate interests. In universities and academic institutions the UPA seeks professions of loyalty rather academic quality. They speak of academic ‘excellence’ and ‘merit’; they speak of ‘world class’ universities. But what they actually want is that universities should become enclaves for the wealthy or else institutes preparing semi-skilled workers for sweatshops. Through the Lyngdoh Recommendations, they sought to do away with student unions. And now, even our basic political and cultural rights of debate and discussion are being snatched away.

The footfalls of such neoliberal censorship have recently come knocking at the doorstep of JNU. A recent circular issued by the JNU Administration tried to lay down a “Format for Seeking Permission For Booking Hostel Premises For Film Screenings, Public Meetings And Cultural Activities”. In the name of official procedure, it sought to implement a regime of fascist cultural censorship, regulating and dictating terms for the conduct of political and cultural activities on campus. Some of the highlights of this circular included:

  • Public meetings on campus involve debates that often continue into the early hours of the morning. But the administration wanted the applicant to specify in advance the ‘start-time — end time’ of the event as well as “an approximate number of persons expected to turn up”. What else does this show but complete ignorance of how JNU’s democratic culture works?
  • The circular even went to the ludicrous extent of asking students to specify “whether the event will be followed by talk/discussion”. But unlike the calculated applause manufactured on official functions, the students of JNU have always left open the space to question, discuss and even contradict.
  • Applications seeking permission were supposed to be submitted “at least one week in advance”. But what of meetings that are held in response to pressing national issues or for groups or individuals who may be in the city for a short while?
  • The circular states that “No film/documentary can be screened without Censor Board certification”. But JNU is not a commercial theatre. Films screened here are often those that the state would not “deem fit for viewing” because they expose the true face of the state in all its hypocrisy, violence and brutality.
  • And we save the best for the last. The circular says that “Any talk/meeting that may be sensitive to national integration/ national harmony  and may have implication for national security will not be permitted.” And who will define what is “sensitive” (a rather vague term in itself) to national integration/harmony/security? This right-wing administration that has perpetually allowed venomous communal pamphlets to go unattended? If this circular is implemented then JNU would no longer raise its voice against the status quo but sing only whatever tune the political powers-that-be are singing.

This perverted definition of ‘student welfare’ seeks to transform students from sensitive, concerned and questioning citizens into automatons looking for approval certificates. The present circular is the most shameful expression of this design.

Throughout their tenure, the present JNU VC and administration have cultivated a most hostile atmosphere towards the student community through draconian punishments, refusal of dialogue, and ignoring all genuine demands. They have tried at every point to curb JNU’s democratic culture and its democratic spaces. The present circular is the latest and most naked expression of this repressive agenda. Having tried to change JNU’s democratic ethos in every possible manner, the present administration is now trying to perpetuate its repressive regime by changing the very act and statutes that govern JNU, so as to give the present Vice Chancellor a second term!

This series of orchestrated measures was meant to turn a vibrant campus like JNU into a campus like BHU where all democracy is dead. For three consecutive days, the students of JNU came out agaisnt the illogical, arbitrary and high handed JNU administration and their attempts to curb the cherished spaces of film screening, public meetings and other cultural activities.

Due to the united effort of the student community more than 1000 protest signatures were collected against the circular in less than 24 hours since last night. During the protest demonstration on 7th April students also burnt a copy of this fascist circular. Following the demonstration, a joint delegation of students met the Associate Dean in whose name the circular was issued. The Associate dean agreed to take back the present circular and stick to prevailing norms of holding programmes followed in Tapti hostel. Students have also demanded that due flexibility should be given to hold programmes on emergency basis with a short notice as well.

Voices speak freely in JNU which have been stifled elsewhere. Without students’ rights to free expression, to film screenings, public meetings and cultural programmes, JNU will lose its vitality. It might remain a campus, but it will not be worthy of being called a ‘university’.

AISA congratulates all those progressive sections of the campus community, students and teachers alike, who spontaneously rose up in protest and through their large participation in the demonstration forced the JNU administration to roll back its draconian circular.

End the Spiral of Violence and Withdraw Operation Green Hunt!

The recent killing of 75 CRPF jawans in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh is unfortunate and deplorable as  the CRPF jawans haling from poor and common families were merely used as cannon-fodder in the state’s despicable game of furthering corporate interests. It must be emphasized that this incident is the result of the militaristic approach of the state to the growing opposition and resistance to displacement and corporate land grab.

AISA has always opposed Maoist tactics of mindless killings and violence, and the military offensive of the state justified in the name of ‘containing Maoism’. However, neither the state nor the corporate media has the moral right to cry foul over the recent killings. The very same media which is busy crying itself hoarse today over the killing of 75 jawans, for years remained silent while the Salwa Judum campaign was been launched in Chhattisgarh. 640 villages were razed to the ground in this campaign – 1,50,000 people displaced and either forced to move out of the state or into ‘refugee’ camps, its women molested and raped.

It is the Indian state which is primarily responsible for this spiral of violence – first through the criminal neglect of basic aspirations of the poorest of India’s citizens, and then through a single-minded, militaristic approach to peoples’ resistance. The stubborn refusal of governments to address genuine concerns of poverty, displacement, corporate land grab and privatisation of resources (even rives in Chhatisgarh have been sold out to industries), and the brutal crackdown on any opposing voice has led to this unfortunate situation not just in Chattisgarh but elsewhere in the country where the state is hell-bent on acting as a broker for industrial corporations. For the past few years, Dantewada has seen a virtual civil war as a result of the Salwa Judum campaign – which according to a report of the Ministry of Rural Development, was orchestrated merely to facilitate land acquisition of iron-ore rich lands in Dantewada by Essar and Tata. And the success of the Salwa Judum experiment has prompted the UPA to extend the scope and scale of this dangerous campaign under the name of Operation Green Hunt.

While holding the state responsible for the spiral of violence in Chhattisgarh, we have long maintained that the Maoist’s single-minded militaristic approach and their tactics of flashy attacks on public infrastructure and gruesome killing of individuals (including those hailing from the poorest sections of society) is weakening the growing people’s resistance to corporate land grab and state repression, since it gives the state an opportunity to justify as well as intensify its campaign of repression on people’s movements.

This time, the targets of Maoist attack were CRPF jawans. It has been well-documented by human rights as well as civil rights organisations that the CRPF jawans in Chhatisgarh and elsewhere have consistently killed innocent people in false ‘encounters’, raped women and burnt villages. And in this instance, the CRPF jawans who were killed were returning from a 3-day combing operation in the jungles of Chhatisgarh.

The Maoists have however shown time and again that they make no distinction between the police and civilians – we have not forgotten how they entered the Salwa Judum relief camp in Errabore and killed many tribals (including women and children). Nor have we forgotten the recent Jamui massacre, where in a perverted definition of ‘class war’, the Maoists brutally murdered 12 dalit villagers and wounded 50 others in Phulwaria-Korasi village of Jamui district of Bihar. These massacres have rightly been strongly condemned by several human rights organisations. Commenting on the Jamui massacre, PUDR for instance stated: “what causes concern to us is a party which claims to represent and fight for the emancipation of the `poorest of the poor’, shows such callous disregard for lives of the very same people, and considers them to be a fair target for acts of revenge”.

After every Maoist attack, it is the tribal population which bears the brunt of state repression. The Maoist cadres have the wherewithal to escape to the jungles, while the common people are left to face ‘combing’ and ‘searching’ operations, as well as ‘encounters’. In Lalgarh, young men from nearby villages were forced by CRPF jawans to check for landmines; villagers (including women and children) were assaulted during the ‘routine’ search operations, while the Maoists were nowhere in the picture.

AISA demands an immediate withdrawal of the Operation Green Hunt and other military offensives by the UPA. The genuine demands of the people in mineral-rich areas of the country and their opposition to the spate of MOUs being signed and the state-sponsored land grab has to be addressed urgently. We also warn the UPA that any attempts to further clampdown on democratic people’s movements against the state’s disastrous economic policies and against state repression will be resisted tooth and nail.

Laxamanpur Bathe Massacre of 1997 : Justice After 13 years

13 years ago, the brutal cold-blooded massacre of 61 Dalits – including 27 women (8 of them pregnant) and 17 children (the youngest being 1 year old) – at Laxmanpur-Bathe of Jehanabad on the night of 1 December shook the conscience of the nation in the 50th year of Indian independence. The victims were murdered by men of the Ranvir Sena – an upper caste landlord army which enjoys the political backing of the BJP as well as support from a section of the RJD. 13 years after this gruesome massacre, the Additional District and Sessions Court of Patna  came up with a significant verdict on 7 April 2010, sentencing 16 Ranvir Sena men to death and 10 to life imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 50,000 each. Though belated, the verdict is a step in the right direction.

The history of Bihar, for more than two decades, is replete with massacres of the rural poor of dalit castes by various landlord armies. In their desperate bid to suppress the ever growing rural poor uprising and to hold onto their caste-class privileges, the new classes of landlords and kulaks have frequently took recourse to this terror tactics as a means to terrorise the whole mass of people. The massacre at Laxmanpur-Bathe of Jehanabad in 1997 was a stark example of this phenomenon.

Laxmanpur-Bathe situated on the banks of the Sone river in Jehananabad district was targeted by the upper caste private army of Ranvir Sena. In all 61 persons — two thirds of whom were children, women and old persons — were butchered to death in a cold-blooded operation at the dead of night. All the victims belonged to the class of agrarian labourers and were dalits in the social hierarchy. In their struggle for socio-economic emancipation they had taken up the revolutionary banner of the CPI(ML).

Now, 13 years after the massacre, the courts have indicted the murderers. This verdict is a slap in the face of the Nitish Kumar goverment, which has been playing patron to feudal forces and protecting the same elements that unleashed the massacre. It was an indictment of the government that first disbanded the Amir Das Commission, set up in 1998 after the Laxmanpur Bathe massacre, when it recommended action against the political patrons of Ranvir Sena,  and then dumped the recommendations of the D Bandyopadhyay Commission  on land reforms in order to appease the Ranvir Sena patrons.

Notably Brahmeshwar Singh, the chief of Ranvir Sena and one of the accused in the case, has escaped the verdict and has not been brought to justice.

All democratic forces must come together to exert pressure on the Nitish goverment to ensure that justice to Bathe victims is finally not denied and to ensure the highest possible punishment to the political patrons of criminal-feudal gangs like Ranvir Sena.

Investigate the Unfortunate and Suspicious Death of Prof. Siras.

AISA expresses condolences over the shocking and tragic death of Dr Srinivas Ramachandra Siras, Reader and Chair of Modern Indian Languages at Aligarh Muslim University. According to reports, Dr. Siras’ body was found “in mysterious circumstances” with bleeding from the mouth in his home in Aligarh.

Dr Siras, as is known, had recently fought against his unlawful and unethical suspension from AMU on the grounds of “gross indecency”. After decades of teaching, he was suspended merely a few months before his retirement on the basis of videotapes filmed by intruders into own home without his consent in a blatant and homophobic violation of his privacy. Right after, he said: “I have spent two decades here. I love my University. I have always loved it and will continue to do so no matter what. I wonder if they have stopped loving me because I am gay.”

Dr Siras’ suspension had provoked outrage from countless citizens and teachers across the country. He had challenged the AMU administration in the Allahabad High Court. Just this past week, the Court stayed his suspension and his unlawful removal from his official accommodation. Dr Siras said, “I am happy because I have been judged in a wrong way. I have already said that I am gay. I am the same man, with the same qualifications, with the same features and personality. Now I can go back to my beloved University.”

Since the death of Dr. Siras has taken place under suspicious circumstances, and he has made powerful enemies in the recent past, we demand that the government conduct a full, fair and impartial investigation into the cause of death. A step in the right direction has been taken by sending his body for a post-mortem examination. The results of this examination must be made public immediately.

We demand that the concerned police officer should immediately register a case of unnatural death under Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure and forward this information to the concerned Executive Magistrate.We demand that the Executive Magistrate conduct an inquest as mandated under Section 176 of the Criminal Procedure Code to determine the cause of death.

That Dr Siras had to undergo incalculable trauma, fear, harassment and humiliation in his own University in what would turn out to be his last weeks is squarely condemnable. If his death is found to be a suicide, then it is no doubt linked to this trauma and harassment. The original offence of invasive videotaping (which in itself is an act of sexual harassment) was then compounded by the University Administration’s refusal to seek out and punish the guilty, and its decision instead to punish Prof. Siras himself by suspending him on grounds that were illegal as well as unethical. If he did indeed commit suicide, then all those responsible for the invasive videotaping as well as the insensitive and homophobic University Administration which stigmatised and isolated him must be held culpable and suitably punished.

Resist UPA’s Foreign Universities Bill !

Defend Sovereignty, Social Justice And Inclusion in Higher Education!

The Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill 2010 was recently cleared by the Union Cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This is a bill with dangerous implications, for it allows foreign educational providers to set up campuses in India and offer degrees. The UPA will in all likelihood get it ratified, as it is on its way to being tabled before both houses of the Parliament.

Behind The Smokescreen of ‘Choice’, ‘Competition’ and ‘Quality’

The Minister for Human Resources Development, Kapil Sibal his cohorts would have us believe that this Bill will ‘enhance choices’, ‘increase competition’ and ‘benchmark quality’.

But this smokescreen of ‘choice’, ‘competition’ and ‘quality’, hides the real truth behind this Bill. This is a bill that will pave the way for virtually unrestricted entry of foreign private players in higher education. It will only hasten the process of converting education into a commodity available to a select few who can afford it. Above all, it essentially absolves the state of its responsibility to provide affordable, quality education to its citizens and to ensure social inclusion in institutions of higher education in the country.

We need only remember that according to a story published in the Indian Express, the aggressive advocate of the liberalization policy, Manmohan Singh, objected to an earlier version of the Foreign Universities Bill on two counts: 1) fee regulations by the UGC and 2) the modalities of giving approval to these universities. The PMO apparently argued that if the UGC regulates fee for foreign varsities, Ivy League institutes would not set up their campuses in India! In other words, the PMO made an all-out attempt to dilute even the minimalist restrictions that had been inserted in the bill to curtail the foreign education providers..

While the UPA is hastily trying to lay the red carpet for the entry of foreign universities, we need only point to the mess that it is facing over the complete unregulated behavior of hundreds of illegal ‘deemed’ universities in the country. These deemed universities are pockets of profit rather than learning, where ‘education’ and ‘quality’ have been reduced to a complete farce. To turn attention away from its connivance in this wholesale corruption and destruction of quality education, the HRD ministry has an innovative solution: it is time to invite foreign players onto the scene!

And what is the justification being offered? That the proposed bill will open the floodgates for the best universities to set up shop in India, and therefore Indian students will no longer have to go abroad to pursue quality education! But will Ivy League Universities actually come running to open their campuses in India? The farce of this argument has been repeatedly exposed by experiences across the globe.  Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, USA, points out:

Most foreign providers are not top universities but are rather institutions at the middle or bottom of the hierarchy in their home countries. Some have financial or enrolment problems at home and want to solve them with offshore ventures. And some are “bottom-feeders” who will provide a substandard educational product in India. … International experience shows that the “market” is slow to detect low quality — and there seems to be a clientele for poor quality in any case.”

Universities as Shops and Sources of Profit

The fact of the matter is that foreign universities will be highly reluctant to enter India unless it is hugely profitable to them; unless they are given a free hand to decide on their fee structures and course content. Several foreign universities have openly expressed their strong opposition to any attempt of the Indian government to introduce provisions of reservations, or to introduce stringent norms on hiring faculty, on fee structures or bans on remittances back home. And this is precisely why no foreign university or educational institution has sprinted to India and established its offshore campus even though FDI in higher education has been allowed since 2000. The sole motivation of FDI is always profit. And if the sources of profit are curtailed, then investors look for other destinations for their investments.

A Setback to Social Justice

The proposed bill will also mean a setback to the hard-earned victory of the student movement to ensure a degree of social inclusion in institutions of higher learning. Quota laws mandating reservations for SC/ST/OBCs will not be applicable to these foreign universities setting up operations in India.

Will Knowledge be Free?

Also at stake is the important question of what exactly will be taught in these foreign universities? The fact of the matter is that FDI serves to strengthen the stranglehold of neo-liberal ideas in academia. It impedes the development of critical research within our university education system, geared towards meeting the social, political and economic imperatives of the poor and underprivileged majority of a country like India.

Re-ordering education is crucial in order to ensure a workforce tailored to the exigencies of global capital. Global capital requires that education be provided only to the degree and extent that it serves the market. The question, for us, is – do we in India need education that will further knowledge and make us more self-reliant? Or do we need education that is a slave to global capital and the ‘free’ market? The needs of our people and the needs of global capital are clearly at odds with each other.

Higher education and research are not just means of eking a livelihood or getting a job – they equip people with the capacity for critical analysis. And the market does not need or want people with a faculty for critical analysis. In fact, the market views such critical analysis as a threat – because it can see through the seductive mask of the market to the cruel face beneath. The market needs research, certainly, but not the kind of research that seeks to understand, change or benefit society.

As the Foreign Universities Bill moves to the Parliament for ratification, the entire student community and the democratic sections of society will have to rise up in defense of affordable quality education to oppose this anti-poor, anti-student legislation which will hasten the process of converting higher education institutions into exclusive enclaves of the rich.