University Campus or Cantonment?

In the mid-seventies, when I came to Delhi University (DU) from a small village in Haryana, the deployment of police or private security guards either in the college or the university campus was unheard of. There used to be university watchmen at the gates of colleges, hostels and faculty, who were generally befriended by the students. In the entire north campus, only one man from the intelligence used to be seen from time to time. That sociable police officer was often recognized by the students, who took part in student politics, debate, literary and cultural activities. Of course, back then, there used to be protests, elections of students’ and teachers’ organizations, big fairs and festivals; a wave of new ‘bad elements’ used to come in year after year; there was a race among certain colleges to be on the top as a ‘terror’ college; there were many kinds of fights in between, even knives were used, … but generally there was no need to call the police before or after the incidents. The college and university administrations used to manage everything on their own. Police intervention was allowed only on the permission and deliberations of college and university officials. This had no effect on the lives of the students, who were enjoying their studies and pursuing other interests. What it meant was that a large university, whose symbol is elephant, used to run only with its own arrangement, despite the fact that the campus is an open campus which can easily be accessed from all directions. The situation was more or less the same in all central and state universities and colleges. Obviously, this was possible due to a mutual understanding and a sense of responsibility among the teaching and non-teaching staff, students and, of course, the vice-chancellors and the principals.

As the influence or pressure of neo-liberalism increased in politics, society, religion and culture through country’s economy, the education system could not remain untouched by it. According to the Indian Constitution, education is the responsibility of the state. However, it was opened to the private sector under neoliberal policies. Due to the privatization of education, a large world of private educational institutions has come into existence. The pressure of privatization has also been put on the already existing public sector educational institutions. Under the earlier administrative setup, all employees from peons, chowkidars, daftaris, gardeners, scavengers, butlers, lab assistants, library assistants etc. to clerks happened to be permanent employees of the university. There was new recruitment after the retirement of a person. But that practice was stopped 20-25 years ago. Instead of making permanent recruitments, appointment on contractual basis became the trend. One contractual employee was made to accomplish the work of three-four employees and made to work for more than the prescribed hours of duty. The teachers, also, could not escape this trend. About 5000 teachers are ad-hoc or guests in the Delhi University, at present. Such vice chancellors and principals were appointed by the governments, who blindly implemented the policies of privatization in governmental educational institutions.

Meanwhile, the character of student politics also changed. The patent on ‘goondaism’ in student politics did not remain with the National Student Union of India (NSUI) alone. It was taken up by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and further, by the students’ fronts of regional satraps, which came to power in the states due to the politics of social justice, and by the communist students’ organizations in West Bengal and Kerala. Simplicity, healthy debate, common student interests did not remain the concerns of student politics. Student politics has become an endless series of confrontations, with opponents invoking their leaders, icons, slogans, parties, ideologies etc. The students from marginalized societies who, due to constitutional provisions, join the arena of higher education, have envisaged their own mobilization in student politics. So, this clash among student groupings is multi-cornered, which the RSS and the communists operate with a strategy of showing it as between themselves. This phenomenon of student politics is not one-sided or single-folded. Student politics of the neo-liberal era is a shadow of the corporate politics prevalent in the country in the present times. This is also true for teachers’ politics to a large extent. It has lost the strength to oppose privatization of education by securing higher pay scales and other facilities under neo-liberal policies. They are not ready to concede that the communalization of education cannot be stopped without abrogating privatization.

Wealthy students get relief by getting admission and campus postings in private educational institutions. Most candidates, who seek admissions and jobs in public sector colleges and universities, live in constant uncertainty. Government education is no longer as cheap and affordable as it used to be before. The pressure of an all-round consumerist culture also plays its role. They are constantly told by the political elites that the country is progressing very fast. When they try to find their place in that progress, then disappointment is often felt. Various kinds of debates, discourses and NGOs are waved in front of them. They join them and experience the significance of their being for some time. No solution seems to be coming out of this ‘touch revolution’ and the age goes on increasing. They live in a state of constant restlessness. The way the entire education system is being uprooted from the axis of the Constitution without proper thought and planning, and mounted on the pivot of privatization of a clumsy kind, there is no dearth of protest issues in front of them. Events at national and international level also agitate student groups. So, there is one or the other protest every day on the campuses. The student leaders, who see student politics as a means of making a place in party politics or have other vested interests, take advantage of this situation. Big and small leaders, media, civil society activists are ever ready to play their roles. Hence, there is a need to look into this background while discussing the private security arrangements and the presence and role of the police/paramilitary forces on the campuses.

If there is restlessness and uncertainty in the minds of students, then there will be protests. In the absence of trust towards students and teachers, university officials will continue to resort to the police again and again. ‘The police answers to those in power’ – this practice has been going on in India since colonial times. The police will defend those student organizations and leaders which have affiliation with the government in power and will suppress the opponents. It will also defend the anti-social and violent elements working for the ruling party. When the top leaders of the country do politics by making communal divide its basis, then the police will also practice communal behavior. In the last few decades, the presence of police on campuses and incidents of interference have increased very rapidly. Rather, the demand for permanent deployment of paramilitary forces on the campus by the vice chancellors has gained momentum. Last year, on the demand of the vice chancellor of the Vishva Bharati University (Shanti Niketan), the central government decided to permanently deploy the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) on the campus. This is the first time that this has happened in the university system. Earlier in 2017, the vice chancellor of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) had asked the government for permanent deployment of paramilitary forces on the campus. At that time, the government had not given permission because the vice chancellor had to go on long leave due to certain allegations. In November last year, the vice-chancellor of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) called the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on the campus to deal with the students’ agitation.

The increasing dependence on the police by the university officials, even in minor disputes, is converting campuses into cantonments. That day is not far when the police will enter the premises even without their orders. Recently, this has happened in Jamia Millia Islamia. In the absence of the police, a large number of private guards and barriers give the campus the look of a cantonment. The south campus of the Delhi University is small and compact. It has only six small buildings, including a library. There is a police checkpoint at the main gate. Despite this, there is a plethora of private guards. A person coming to meet a teacher cannot reach him/her easily. Not at all, if he/she is a media person.

In fact, all this is done to enslave the young minds so that they subordinate themselves to the system. It is the responsibility of university officials, teachers, students and administrative staff to not allow a campus to be transformed into a cantonment. Parents and guardians can also play an important role in this. They should insist that the primary responsibility of the university authorities is to create a safe, fear-free and creative environment on the campus, and not to obey this or that government’s order.

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