Allahabad, 9th August 2010: Celebrating Aisa’s 20 Year Legacy Of Resistance, Protest And Struggle

On 9th August, 1990, in the Union Hall of Allahabad University, the All India Students’ Association (AISA) was born. AISA emerged in a time of crises: the decade of the ‘90s saw both the beginnings of the neoliberal assault on people’s rights and livelihoods as well as the prominent rise of communal, chauvinist and casteist forces. In the face of these assaults, AISA established itself as a revolutionary student front that has taken forward the struggle for student rights and also allied itself with democratic movements across India and the wider world.

On 9th August 2010, AISA organized an ‘All India Student Convention’ to commemorate and celebrate the completion of twenty years since the founding of AISA. The aim of this Convention was to bring together students from different corners of the country, to engage with culture and ideas, and to understand what kinds of possibilities may be held out for the student movement in the future. The Convention took a strong stand against the corporate loot of resources and education and the repression being meted out on democracy in campuses and throughout the country.

Delegates from sixteen states attended the Convention, alongwith over two hundred students from Allahabad itself. The first session of the Convention had speakers reflecting on the legacy of the past two decades as well as the current political situation. Despite the fact that the Allahabad University administration refused to open the premises of the student union hall for the Convention, AISA activists in Allahabad, defying the orders of the administration, successfully managed to hold the convention outside the union hall. Ramayan Ram, State Secretary of UP AISA conducted the morning’s proceedings.

At the outset itself, Ravi Rai, AISA’s National General Secretary, welcomed the assembled delegates and called the speakers for the day to the stage. The guests included Prashant Shukla, one of the founding members of AISA, currently a faculty member in BHU; Sunil Yadav, student leader in BHU in the 1990s and subsequently National General Secretary of AISA; Girija Pathak, an AISA activist who was elected president of the Kumaon University students’ union in 1993; Kumudini Pati, one of the key activists of the Progressive Students’ Organization which preceded AISA and Vice-President of the Allahabad University Students’ Union in 1983-84;  Mohammed Salim, National President of the Revolutionary Youth Association;  Pranay Krishna, President of the JNU Students’ Union in 1993 and presently General Secretary of the Jan Sanskritic Manch; V. Shankar, AISA’s national president in 1997-98; Indiresh Maikhuri, former national president of   AISA; and Ramji Rai, former student leader of PSO and now Polit Bureau member of CPI(ML) Liberation.

A booklet entitled ‘Chhatra Andolan ke Pramukh Padav’ (‘Important Episodes in the Student Movement’) was released commemorating the occasion. It examines and offers a critical evaluation of the students’ movement in India, from the time of the freedom struggle to the present day.

Prashant Shukla recalled how AISA was founded in a period marked by the attack of communal and casteist forces, but had met this challenge head-on. Today, he said, there is an all-out attack facing the young people of the country in the form of commercialization and privatization. Education has become a business to be sold to corporates, it is nothing less than a means for some people to mint money. He pointed to how, when he was a student, there were only some six engineering colleges in the state of UP, whereas there are now over 450 such colleges where there is a complete absence of regulation or any checks and balances.

In his speech, Sunil Yadav pointed out that if we look today at the university where AISA was founded, then it is evident that not only is there no functioning student union, but there is also a complete absence of campus democracy. What we see reflected in our campuses is also reflected in our country: curbs are being placed everyday on our democracy. He spoke of the plight of the youth of Kashmir who are arrested and tortured daily under AFSPA, many of whom have been murdered or else have disappeared, and whose protests are met by police bullets and the repression of the army. What sort of democracy do we have in our country?, he asked, since when the PM visits Kashmir, curfew is immediately imposed.

Girija Pathak remembered the initial days of the founding of AISA, and spoke of his pride at having been a part of a radical student movement that has now spread across the country. He spoke of how,  today, when the country’s elites are feeding us narratives of India’s greatness, we must speak up for the more than 70% of India’s people who are forced to subsist on less than 20 rupees a day. In keeping with the slogan ‘Lado padhai karne ko, padho samaj badalne ko’, AISA must speak up and struggle for the rights of the ordinary citizen at every point. To do so, will be to prove that the revolutionary student struggle is not dead.

Discussing the undeclared emergency that prevails in campuses across the country today, Kumudini Pati saluted AISA’s attempts at challenging this status quo. The state wants to ban student unions so that no voices will be raised in opposition to their policies of privatization and commercialization. Kapil Sibal’s reforms, she suggested, should be discussed in every campus and students should put forward a blueprint of what kind of education they envision.  She cautioned that if we do not assert ourselves against the neo-liberal agenda, it may soon be much too late.

The government of the day, Mohammed Salim emphasized, spends all its time speaking of either Naxalism or terrorism as the greatest threats. But it does not see the great poverty of the country’s people as a challenge or a threat. Neo-liberal policies in agriculture are directly responsible for farmers’ suicides and Operation Green Hunt represents nothing but an attempt to hunt down the dalits and adivasis of our land. With regard to the ongoing preparations for the Commonwealth games, he said that the elite of the country have forgotten the legacy of the freedom struggle and are instead expressing pride at being host to the Queen’s Baton.

Pranay Krishna described how AISA was established at a time when the neoliberal policies had begun spreading their hold and people were quick to proclaim the demise of socialism following the collapse of the Soviet Union. AISA has however challenged these conventions and renewed the demand for peoples’ democratic space. It has sought to change the grammar of student politics by expressing solidarity with peoples struggles across the country. The struggle that we have to wage is a renewed freedom struggle, for a freedom that will have meaning for the most dispossessed of our country’s people.

V. Shankar spoke of how AISA has emerged as a political movement that links student issues with those of the polity surrounding us. He said that Chandrashekhar, rather than Rahul Gandhi or Navin Jindal, should be held up as a model for the youth of today. Chandu is an icon in our struggles against oppression, we have to follow his example in cultivating the same revolutionary spirit as we face the two-fold challenges of communal fascism and imperialist globalization.

Ramji Rai invoked the legacy of Bhagat Singh in asserting the power of youth to give a critique and an alternative to the politics of the Indian ruling class. He spoke of how under the of the UPA, the attack of Liberalization-Privatization-Globalization is growing even stronger. The ruling order wishes to suppress the dreams and aspirations of young people so that there can be no space to struggle. The challenge is to keep alive the spirit of struggle even in these dark times, for without the revolutionary spirit there can be no change in society.

Sandeep Singh, AISA’s national president, gave the vote of thanks.

From the afternoon onwards, the second session of the convention saw a multitude of cultural performances by different groups in the premises of the Nirala Delegacy . An array of songs were presented by Hirawal and Bangal Sanskritic Gan Parishad. A dance performance depicting Jhum cultivation was presented by delegates from Karbi. The theatre group from Jamia Milia Islamia, Awam, presented a play entitled ‘Bandi’ dealing with the issues of political prisoners and state repression.

The programme concluded with an evening of poetry marked by the presence of a range of poets including Sahitya Akademi award winner Viren Dagwal, revolutionary poet Ramashankar Vidrohi, Pankaj Chaturvedi, Rajendra Kumar, Harishchandra Pandey, Priyadarshan Malviya, and Ashutosh Kumar.

This year, as we celebrate twenty years of AISA’s existence, we thank all those who have supported us in our ongoing efforts to strengthen the radical student movement in confronting the challenges of our time. We wish to use this opportunity not only to recall past times, but also to introspect and reflect, and to engage with the problems and promises of the student movement in our times and beyond.  Many challenges confront us and we must courageously stand up to them in the days to come.

AISA leads the struggle for Campus Democracy in Gidderbaha, Punjab

The town of Gidderbaha falls in the Mukhtsar district of Punjab. It is the home turf of the Badals, the political family which currently rules the state. Manpreet Badal, the MLA from this constituency, is also the current finance minister of Punjab. A few years ago, the Badal family illegally acquired the building of the only government college in Gidderbaha. This building was allotted to the Badal’s own private school, and the college was shifted 4-5 kms away from the town. For some years now, the town had had only a single college — M.M.D.A.V. College, which is a private-aided institution.

This college is controlled by a managing committee that consists of some Congress politicians. All types of student rights were strictly curbed and curtailed by the college management and there was a complete absence of campus democracy. The college management was so fascist in its approach, that students were expelled from college for even the mildest of protest activity.  Monetary fines were imposed at will: for example, if a students’ mobile phone rang in class, he or she was promptly fined 200 rupees; if a student missed two consecutive classes of any subject, they were fined a 1000 rupees. Any type of disciplinary action, usually took the form of suspension, expulsion or the imposition of a monetary fine.

At the start of the new academic session in July, the college management imposed a new dictatorial decision: the classes of male and female students were to be separated for no given reason. All students opposed the move unitedly. But when the students protested, the college management called in the police and also ordered the expulsion of three students. The students then brought the matter to AISA’s national councilor, Harmeet Smagh.

On 30th July, the students observed a strike under the banner of AISA. All students gathered in a big, and the meeting was addressed by AISA leaders. Seeing this united action on the part of the students, the college authorities retreated and requested talks with the AISA leadership. A delegation led by AISA activists met the college authorities to discuss the students’ demands. After considerable discussion, the authorities agreed to accept all the students’ demands. Revolutionary slogans were raised at this victory and the students resolved to vigilantly continue the struggle for their rights and for campus democracy.

Poem by Agha Shahid Ali

‘Don’t tell my father I have died,’ he says,
and I follow him through blood on the road
and hundreds of pairs of shoes the mourners
left behind, as they ran from the funeral,
victims of the firing. From the windows we hear
grieving mothers, and snow begins to fall
on us, like ash. Black on edges of flames,
it cannot extinguish the neighborhoods,
the homes set ablaze by midnight soldiers.
Kashmir is burning.
—- From ‘I See Kashmir from New Delhi at Midnight’, by Agha Shahid Ali; The Country Without a Post Office; Ravi Dayal; New Delhi; 2000.

No Commonwealth Games at the Cost of Common People

Students, Teachers and Workers join AISA’s Public Hearing on the Common Wealth Games

In a Public Hearing on the Commonwealth games organized by the All India Students’ Association on Monday, 2nd August, 2010, students, vendors, workers, trade unionists and teachers came together to narrate their experiences. Members of the jury included Dunu Roy, from the Hazards Centre; Dr. Manoj Jha, Dept. of Social Work, DU; Dr. Maninder Thakur, JNU; Vijay Singh, Academic Council Member, DU; and Santosh Roy, General Secretary, AICCTU Delhi. Anupam Roy’s paintings on the condition of workers in the Commonwealth Games (CWG) projects were also exhibited at the venue.

At the outset, Sunny Kumar, AISA DU Unit Secretary spoke of how the Delhi University Administration has evacuated Undergraduate hostels of different colleges for the CWG, without even having considered providing alternative accommodation to the ousted students. At the beginning of this session, in Delhi University, over 2000 students have been evicted suddenly from their hostels and left with nowhere else to go. He pointed out that while the University Administration has been very active in pushing through the Semester System, they have been completely inactive while arranging lodging facilities for hostlers forcibly displaced by the Games. The Delhi Rent Control Act, which limits excessive increase in rents, is not being implemented which is leading to the great harassment of students.

Speaking about his experiences, Niraj a student of the MA, Linguistics DU said that he lived in the Christian Colony of North Campus, where many students are forced to live in unhygienic conditions, have minimal facilities of electricity and water, and yet are charged huge rents. He said that after the evacuation of Under Graduate hostels, the landlords in nearby areas have increased the rent manifold as they know that the students have no alternative left. Because of this, a one room set in the Vijay Nagar area, which earlier was around Rs. 3000-4000 per month, is now available at not less than Rs. 7000 per month, and the same in the Hudson lane area of the locality is available at not less than Rs. 10000 per month rent. He said that the girl students are worst affected because of these changes.

Vijay, from the Campus Law Centre said that although he topped the entrance of LLB in the Physically Handicapped category, he had still been unable to avail of hostel facilities. He said that the University Administration had not shown even the slightest concern for PH students, who were summarily asked to vacate their hostel rooms. It was only after the intervention of the Court that they were reinstated in the hostels. Another PH student, Kuddus from Zakir Hussain College said that the DU is the most insensitive University for the Physically Challenged students, as despite the court orders, PH hostlers in all UG hostels have still not been reinstated.

Nemwati, a vendor from Ashok Vihar area said that the police is harassing all vendors in the name of ‘New Vendor Policy’ (introduced in the wake of CW Games), which aims at giving licenses to only 50,000 vendors, out of 4 lakh vendors of the city. As a result, the vendors are left at the mercy of the police, which is continuingly extorting money from them. Representative of rickshaw-pullers shared similar experiences with the jury. They complained of the introduction of anti-worker licensing system which deprived most of them from licenses. The construction workers complained of less than minimum wages, and hazardous and un-hygienic living conditions. Indrajit, from PUDR provided a detailed report on the rampant corruption of the CWG and discrimination against labourers.

Responding to these testimonies, jury member Manoj Jha spoke of the need to save our democratic spaces of dissent in this present context of the CWG. Vijay Singh of Academic Council, DU said that when the powers-that-be try to project this event as an indicator of ‘India’s pride’, the ugly truth behind the Games has come to the fore. And the common people of Delhi are protesting against the exploitation of workers, the displacement of the poor, the reckless corporatization, the spiraling budgets, the substandard infrastructure, and the environmental degradation.

Dr Manindra Thakur of JNU said that it was shameful that more than about 1 lakh crore rupees had been spent on this game, in a country like ours where the percentage of children suffering from malnutrition competes the figures of sub-Saharan Africa. He said that the delay in the projects is deliberate, as due to this, the attention shifts from carefully auditing the expenses to hurriedly complete the projects, and the contractors make easy extra money, inflating the bills.

Santosh Rai said that violations of workers’ rights are rampant at CWG sites. Neither minimum wages nor overtime payments are provided. Working conditions are unsafe and worksite facilities, crèches or even proper housing are absent.

Dunu Roy said that in the wake of this assault, all forces of the affected students, vendors, teachers and workers needed to join hands to defend their rights. The hearing resolved to continue the struggle against these aspects of the games, in a united manner.