Concept Note

People’s Tribunal on Attack on Educational Institutions in India

Introduction

One of the primary purposes of education has been the creation of active citizenry. This requires inculcating ethos of critical thinking and creativity, to reflect on real life challenges and opportunities. It is in this context, that educational institutions have always provided space for right to freedom of opinion, expression, association, assembly and dissent within their structures. These are also the values that are upheld and guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

With the advent of globalization, one has witnessed the degeneration of the focus of education from its primary purpose of shaping active citizenry, to that of building up a workforce that caters to the requirements of a market-based economy. The process of privatization of education made it imperative to dismantle the state funded public education systems wiping out the basis of a welfare state.

The reform and rectification of the inconsistencies and deficiencies of the existing public education system is used as a smokescreen to further saffornisation, homogenisation and corporatisation, and pushing aside the primary purpose of education from free, rational and critical thinking.

In any democratic and civilized society, the university is a repository of young and budding intellectual opinion, more often than not also being the bedrock of voices of sharp critical dissent. In an age of homogenisation and majoriatrianism, student’s movements who provide a voice of dissent are not only being targeted and criminalized but also being discredited and maligned, with a view to influence public perception and to quell any opposition to state action and policies. The trend encapsulates a broader agenda to wipe out the spaces that cherish differing opinions and an attempt to control Indian intellectual life.

While the fundamental right and freedom of expression is enshrined in the Indian constitution, and is recognised as an integral part and fabric of the Indian democracy, the State has left no stone unturned in silencing voices of dissent and creating a negative perception of the students’ movements by spreading false propaganda through the corporate media.

Contribution of Student’s Movements in India

World over students’ movements have played a crucial role in combating anti-democratic forces, initiating important political discourses and creating a new breed of thinkers, who have shaped important policy changes and decisions.

In India, students’ movements were an integral part of the pre-independence freedom struggle and posed a formidable force to counter the British colonial rule. Post-independence, student’s movements have initiated various national debates and been a significant voice of dissent, shaping changes in domestic policies in the country. The contribution and efforts of students’ movements in the Nav Nirman Andolan in Gujarat, which led to widespread agitations across the country, the JP Movement, Naxalbari struggle, formation of All Assam Students Union etc. and their strong opposition during the Emergency, have been duly recognized and appreciated in the history of Indian democracy. Post Emergency, the students’ movements, particularly in parts of north-eastern region of India and in Kashmir, continue to play an active role in addressing socio-political concerns. Dalit Bahujan and Adivasi students have also organised themselves and are at the frontiers of challenging discrimination on campuses and in society. The students’ movements have also played an important role in various labour movements and class struggles across the country. The critical role played by the students’ movements have without doubt shaped the Indian democracy.

Students’ movements continue to play an important role in the Indian democracy, questioning and critiquing anti-people government policies and state action, and constitute a formidable and necessary voice of dissent and opposition, outside the realm of parliamentary democracy. It accordingly comes as no surprise that they are subject to interference, repression and State action from the ruling governments.

Current Scenario

The past thirty months or so, under the new political dispensation at the Centre, a peculiar attack on the Indian educational campuses has been underway. Those universities that came into being through statutes that ensured not just their autonomy but also their being embodied – in theory and in practice with the constitutional values and vision where equality and non discrimination was key, have been subject to such attack. These universities over a period of time were exercising the vision of equity and non discrimination with the gradual implementation of affirmative action to ensure that students from rural, marginalised and discriminated against backgrounds made it to the institutions of higher learning. However, the dual assault of aggressive neo-liberal policies – that have ensured a cut in scholarships in institutions of learning, accompanied by an ideological assault of an authoritarian character, have rendered campuses in India today the focal points of a resurgent democratic movement with student leaders and student associations who do not fall in line with majoritarian vision.

On the one hand, the neo-liberal policies and privatisation of education by the State is making it impossible for dalits and other deprived sections to enter into higher education, on the other hand, those who are able to make it are being targeted & attempts are made to silence them.

Today it is the centres of higher learning in India that have become the battleground for the foundation of Indian democracy and all it stands for. The government is engaged in constant attacks on students, teachers, employees, intellectuals, university autonomy and academic freedom across India. Aggressively pursuing its right wing authoritarian agenda, it has attacked democratic voices from India’s educational institutes, including by using the criminal law mechanism to file fabricated cases, the worst even being the law of Sedition (Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860) being used against them.

The recent events that have unfolded under the new regime, clearly indicate the state’s intention to destroy premier centres of higher education to thwart intellectual political oppositions.

The government at the Centre imposed its loyalists on institutions like Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and Film & Television Institute of India (FTII). The government is giving a freehand to right wing ideology by suppressing alternative politics at campuses like Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi University (DU), Jadavpur University (JU), Allahabad University and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai (TISS). While the government tried to brand both JNU & HCU as “anti-national”, the recent MHRD rankings had to recognize them amongst the top 4 varasities of India.

Other campuses under attack include the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M), Benaras Hindu University (BHU), National Institute of Technology, Hazratbal (NIT), Guwahati University, Pondicherry Central University etc., where the university administration while openly endorsing right wing ideologies and government diktats, thereby compromising institutional autonomy, has given immunity and protection to right wing student groups thereby encouraging them to launch attacks on alternative political views.

Given the current scenario and the increasing attacks on educational institutions in India, People’s Commission on Shrinking Democratic Space (PCSDS) through its Permanent People’s Tribunal on Shrinking Democratic Space (PPTSDS) has decided to organise a ‘People’s Tribunal on Attack on Educational Institutions in India’.

Terms of Reference

  1. To record and enquire the repression, surveillance and administrative actions under which the students, faculty and employees of institutes of higher learning are subjected to.
  2. To record and enquire the deliberate criminalisation of students and teachers in various parts of the country.
  3. To investigate the undermining of the Constitution and Constitutional values in the creation and/or subversion of existing laws and policy changes, and to make a comparative study of the laws/policies in other countries on this subject.
  4. To record and enquire increasing government and State interference vs. autonomy of the institutions.

To record and enquire the discrimination with respect to students from Dalit, Adivasi, OBC, minority communities, the north east and Kashmiri especially issues related to admission, scholarship and evaluation.