Under digitization of education the students would no longer be “stake holders in education, but would be at the mercy of foreign universities, multinational companies (MNCs), corporates and private industries
The Pandal was ready.
The Sainiks with their saffron bandanas – who were scattered here and there – were eagerly waiting to listen to another fiery call from their Senapati.
Time was already running out but the ‘Star Speaker’ was nowhere to be seen.
Little did they knew that their Senapati had already made an about turn and was headed back home as the district administration had ‘advised’ him against entering the district and was told that he would face ‘legal action if he dares to do so.’
For Yogi Adityanath, the firebrand MP of BJP, who is widely known for his controversial statements as well as acts and who every other day asks dissenters to ‘go to Pakistan’ , it was his comeuppance moment when he was rather forced to ‘go back’ to Gorakhpur. And all his plans to be the star speaker at the inaugural function of Students Union of Allahabad University – once called ‘Oxford of the East’ – lay shattered.
The Saffron Parivar had made elaborate preparations for Yogi’s welcome to the city taking advantage of the fact that its student wing – namely Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad – had bagged four seats in the elections held for the Student Union. Excepting the President, rest of the posts had gone to their candidates and they felt that for them it was a golden opportunity to generate conversation around their politics which would further polarise the people in this part of Eastern Uttar Pradesh. Perhaps then they could raise their off repeated slogan at a higher pitch ‘Purvanchal Me Rehna Hoga, To Yogi-Yogi Kehna Hoga’ ( If you want to live in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, You will have to say Yogi-Yogi)
The only ‘hindrance’ to their well thought out plan was the President of the Union – a student leader named Richa Singh, the first female President in the 128 year old history of the University – who had won on an independent platform duly supported by various left and democratic forces. The university rules mandated that without the consent of the President no such inauguration of the students union can take place and she resisted their proposal to invite Yogi.
In an interview to Indian Express (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/ausu-president-says-wont-let-adityanath-enter-allahabad-university-campus/) she made her stand clear :
“Yogi Adiyanath is a controversial leader who speaks on communal lines against Muslims. Here we have Muslim students too in the university. If any riot-like situation occurred after his speech on the campus, who will be responsible? ABVP members invited Adityanath without consulting me and that is against the AUSU (Allahabad University Students Union) constitution,” She said any educationist or Union minister was supposed to be invited to the event as “Adityanath has no contribution in the field of education”.
Her simple proposal – ‘An Appeal to Students’ – which received wide publicity made a point that instead of inviting a ‘controversial’ person like Yogi which would vitiate the atmosphere further and would impact the composite heitage of the region in negative ways and would further push back struggles for student rights it is better to invite someone – like President of India, Chief Justice, renowned educationist, scientist or literary figure – who would inspire the whole student community.
As expected the rest of the office bearers of the Union did not agree to it and with due help from a compliant University administration (see the postscript for further details)- which is running without a proper vice chancellor for some time – managed to get an official declaration that Yogi Adityanath would come to inaugurate the Students Union on 20 th November. Infuriated by this unilateral decision of the University administration – which clearly violated the Constitution of the Institution – a campaign was launched in the university and the city to stop Yogi from reaching Allahabad and inaugurate the Union. It was interesting that it received support from different sections of society, not only rest of the political parties – except offcourse BJP – issued statements and came out in support but lawyers, teachers, trade unions and other sections of the civil society also came forward to oppose this invite.
Looking at the fact that the university administration was adamant about its unilateral decision, Richa alongwith her other comrades launched an indefinite hunger strike in University campus. Hundreds of students and like minded teachers joined the Dharna (sit in) and raised voice of solidarity. In a preplanned move the sit-in came under attack in the night of 18 th November where saffron goons allegedly led by one of the office bearers attacked them, Richa and other comrades were badly thrashed, vulgar slogans were raised against the girl students and the attackers even did not spare some senior teachers and civil society activists like Padma Singh who had joined the sit-in. The most disturbing part of the whole episode was that the police remained a mute spectator of this attack.
This attack raised such a furore that the district administration decided to bar Yogi from entering the city and sent him the order ‘requesting’ him to comply with the decision. As expected the members of the Saffron Parivar tried to raise lot of hue and cry over this decision but they could not do anything about it.
Yogi Adityanath, the ‘Lion of Purvanchal’ – in the eyes of the Saffron Parivar – stood tamed, at least for the moment.
The Programme stood cancelled.
The Pandal was removed.
Spirited resistance by students once again demonstrated the oft repeated slogan ‘ Students United Shall Always Be Victorious’.
Post Script :
As we write these lines news has come in that the district administration has written a strong letter to Ms Smriti Irani, Minister for Human Resources Development protesting the ‘callous attitude of the University administration which had created a law and order situation in the city.’ In his strongly worded letter the District Majistrate said that ‘despite strong voices of opposition raised by students, teachers and other members of the civil society the Univesity administration gave permission for the said programme and did not even bother to contact the district administration when situation seemed to be going out of control’ He has asked for ‘exemplary action against the University officials’ ( Ref : ‘Hindustan’ 21 st November 2015, Allahabad Edition)
The BJP MP from Gorakhpur was to inaugurate a new building in Allahabad University on the invitation BJP’s students wing but the president of the union called for protests.
This September, only days after the re-election of SYRIZA in power, the schools in the country opened. The shortages the schools faced were severe right away ; extending from books, to staff, to regular cleaning and writing supplies. For example, my neighbourhood primary school had to close in September and re-open in early October. I had a discussion concerning the situation of the school with the headmaster, an independent syndicalist, who told me how the school had run out of paper, bleach, soap etc, primary supplies necessary for its functioning but that the budget for the month, and around three-hundred euros split around 5 different regional schools had run out before he had the chance to collect his share. In the end, he confided to me, he had to pay for those expenses from his own salary, making him really anxious concerning the running of the school on a daily basis.
For the purposes of writing this report I asked him to describe some of the most pressing difficulties he currently identifies in school education. He answered:
“For us in primary education, shortages in teaching stuff despite the large number of unemployed teachers, is no longer a surprise. Already in the official third month of the new school year, many schools are under-functioning. Probably more important still is that special schools, support classes and special courses, all-day schools and other specialised courses still await for the teachers to run them. Another problem is that many of the teachers are not permanent in their positions, despite working as supplementary staff for years, each year they face the uncertainty of re-employment and location of their work.”
He then adds that “the continuously underfunded education, lack of any supportive infrastructure in schools, problems of the actual buildings housing the schools, the labour obsolescense of the teachers coupled with the hard social and economic conditions that the typical Greek family, slowly fade away any positive prospects for the role of education in the academic, social and economic strengthening of a country in crisis.”
The Communist Party Youth (KNE) and its representative bodies at schools (SAS) gathered for a discussion concerning the effects of austerity on school education in late October. More specifically the student representatives of the KNE mention in their statement: “Through the discussions we’ve had, we realise that shortages of teachers and infrastructure, books and supplies exist across many schools as well as that our parents and ourselves are forced to put our hands deep in our pockets to cover these shortages.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the demands agreed upon in the meeting exceeded the immediate difficulties in school education and the students called for a better, more holistic and humane education system for them, their families and teachers.”It was emphasised by all that the only way forward is the coordinated struggle of students to cover our needs, for a school that will educate without exhausting us, for an education that is a right and not a commodity.”
These discussions resulted in the call for an all out demonstration of students and teachers across Greece on 2 November, followed with a call for ongoing occupations in schools. In Athens alone, official participation for the protest was agreed upon by 35 different schools- notably the schools from the most working class areas. The demonstration was the biggest and most vibrant we have seen in months, and the first one after the elections this September. Around five thousand students aged 12 to 18 marched alongside their teachers in the centre of Athens, organised in schools or in party and organisation blocs. Their slogans and comments from discussions we had with them showed frustration and angst over the future of their education. Deeply disappointed in SYRIZA (although most claimed to never have had trust in it) they could see no viable alternatives in the current political scene (with the exception of the Communist Party youth who, naturally, look to the Communist Party). The pamphlet that we were handing out, however, named after a recent campaign we launched for opening up revolutionary work in schools “Youth against Capitalism”, grasped their attention and they seemed to agree on most of our points.
The success that KNE saw with that demonstration was made concrete yesterday in the general strike called by both the unions of public and private sectors (GESEE and ADEDY) and the trade union of the Communist Party (PAME). With the students and teachers standing side by side the workers in their strike and demo, the mobilisation in the Syntagma square, reached some ten thousand people at its peak, despite the fact that no public transportation was operating in Athens. Surprisingly, SYRIZA also endorsed the 24-hour strike and announced its participation a day before, calling all the party members to attend the mobilisations in Syntagma.
It is interesting and important to see, how a period of political stagnation such as the one that Greece entered after the elections in September 2015 and which has led to an overall mood of defeat found amongst the working class layers at the moment, can still be punctuated by the inspirational determination of the students.
by Stella Christou in Athens, MSF Executive