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UP: Diminishing Democracy Across Campuses

Many believe that since the Right wing came into power, the attitude of the administrations of several universities has become dictatorial.
Many believe that since the Right wing came into power, the attitude of the administrations of several universities has become dictatorial.

Protesting to restore the student union proved costly to students at Lucknow University (LU). Students who spearheaded the agitation for union elections in October-November this year are now restricted from appearing in semester examinations. A student leader of Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University (BBAU) got a notice for organising a protest against Israel at the university campus.

In recent days, several such instances have come into the spotlight, suggesting that the democratic space in higher education is shrinking. In May, the LU administration suspended and dispossessed a student leader from the hostel for raising his voice for 24-hour access to the library. A proctor at Allahabad University beat up a Dalit student for protesting the arrest of his fellow students. 

Many believe that since the right wing came into power, the attitude of the administrations of several universities has become dictatorial. It is also seen that student leaders who participated in democratic activities either on the streets or on the roads faced harsh consequences. 

Students Incarcerated 

Many were incarcerated during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act movement in 2019-20. In the national capital, student leaders, including Kanhaiya Kumar, Zafura Zargar, Umar Khalid, etc., were imprisoned in Delhi, and students like Puja Shukla and Nitin Raj were incarcerated in Lucknow. It is noteworthy that Khalid is still in jail.

Movement for Student Union

At the University of Lucknow, a group of students not affiliated with any student union launched a 209-day-long movement to restore the student union elections. Several rounds of talk failed between the LU administration and the protesting students.

In the end, they sat on a dharna on the university campus in October. Aggrieved students started a hunger strike in November to mount pressure on the LU administration. Students called off their protest after meeting with the vice chancellor, Prof. Alok Kumar Rai, who assured the LU administration considered their demands and resolved all their issues on a priority basis.

Last Election in LU

Notably, in the LU and its associated colleges, the last student union elections were held 18 years ago, in 2005, when Mulayam Singh Yadav was the Chief Minister of the state. Bajrangi Singh Bajju and Vinod Tripathi were elected president and general secretary, respectively. Later, Bajju joined mainstream politics and became a part of the Bharatiya Janata Party, while Tripathi was shot dead in 2007 in Lucknow. 

Denied to Appear in Exams

These students were stunned when their admit cards were not available on the university website for download. Annoyed students complained to the LU administration about this.

According to students, on December 12, the LU administration informed them verbally that they were restricted from appearing in exams as earlier they created chaos at the university campus during their protest. 

Protest and Hunger Strike

Subsequently, the annoyed students again started protesting outside the VC office for their admit cards. They have been protesting on the shivering cold nights since the university denied permission for them to appear in exams. Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening, they started a hunger strike.


"Witch Hunt" 

Student leaders termed this action a "witch hunt" against the students who challenged the dictatorial attitude of the LU administration. Vindya Shukla, a student leader, says only those students who raised their voices for the student union are being targeted. According to Shukla, their protest and hunger strike continued until the LU administration issued admit cards and declared the reexamination dates. 

Suspension for Demand 24 Library 

At the same university, student leader Nikhil Kumar was suspended for holding an agitation for library timings. Nikhil, a member of the left-leaning student union All India Student Association, was suspended on May 17 of this year.

He demanded 24-hour access to the library for students and the installation of water purifiers at the university. Nikhil was dispossessed of his hostel room that day. Nikhil says the LU administration was mounting pressure on him to recall his demand, but he refused to pledge allegiance to them. 

"I continue my valid demand, although they have not revoked my suspension so far," Nikhil added.

Notice for Protest Against Israel

In BBAU, students organised a solidarity march for Palestinian people who have been facing Israeli aggression for the past few months on November 29. They also organised a picture exhibition of Israeli attacks on Gaza and other places in Palestine. Pictures depicted the rubble of destroyed buildings and the dead bodies of Palestinian children.

The BBAU administration got annoyed with the protesting students. It issued a show-cause notice to the Student Federation of India's (SFI) leader, Abdul Wahab, for organising a solidarity march without permission. It was also alleged that the march was followed by seminars, which disturbed the academic atmosphere of the university. 

University Denies Fundamental Rights

However, when contacted, Wahab said the university administration is on an incessant path to violate and neglect the democratic and fundamental rights endowed upon all Indians. That is why, as per Wahab, the university has given a show cause notice "for carrying out a candle march and organising a meeting or seminar" on the eve of November 29, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. 

Wahab continued, "On the eve of the gathering, the proctor interrupted the students with a team of guards checking everyone's ID cards and intimidating everyone, taking pictures of the ID cards after asking them if they were there for the solidarity gathering." 

Although fearless, students stood their ground and completed the solidarity gathering. 

Outside Allahabad University, the proctor allegedly beat up a dalit student who was protesting for the release of his fellow students in October. Vivek Kumar was raising slogans in support of the students who were incarcerated after protesting against the 400% fee hike at the university.

Suspension for FB Post

Manish Kumar, a PhD student from Allahabad University, was suspended and barred from entering the university for writing a post in support of their fellow students who were incarcerated after their dissent against the fee hike.

According to Manish Kumar, the AU hikes the PhD fees from Rs 500 to Rs 16,000 and the hostel rental from Rs 6,000 to Rs 26,000. 

"When the students raised their voices against this hike, they were booked and sent behind bars," says Manish Kumar. 

"The university administration is weaponising laws to gag democratic voices," he added.

Manish Kumar went on to say that he has not been allowed to enter the AU campus since October 2023, while his PhD course remains incomplete. 

FIRs and Debarred 

A similar trend is seen at the prestigious Banaras Hindu University (BHU). 

Roshan, a BHU student, says that of late, during the outrage against the gang rape case, the fringe elements from outside the university assaulted the BHU students in the presence of proctorial board members, but none of the members opposed it. The proctor did not dare to oppose outsiders, even though they (the outsiders) registered a frivolous case against the BHU students. But when we raise voices for our rights, the BHU administration makes every possible attempt to throttle us, says Roshan.

According to Roshan, students are seeking appointments from the protocol board to impose the Vishaka guidelines on campus, but they did not give them time and put the issue on the back burner, and as a result, the cases of molestation are increasing on campus.

"Sometimes the BHU administration paints our protest in a bad light," he says while remembering the 2017 students' agitation after the incident of molestation on the university campus. According to Roshan, at that time, proctor Royana Singh termed the student agitation "sponsored."

Proctor defamed our protest by stating to the media that there was funding. A big vehicle arrived at the protest site with water, pizza, and Pepsi bottles. The proctorial board claimed that they saw this on video. The board also added in its statement that "when students protest, they usually go hungry, but children are being properly sponsored and encouraged."

Roshan further said a First Information Report (FIR) was also lodged against the protesting students, and the BHU administration mentioned in its complaint that the students were chanting "abusive and anti-university" slogans. Roshan says that in this case, he received a notice from the crime branch of the police. 


He further apprised that a year after the protest in November 2018, nearly 11 students of BHU have been debarred from taking part in any future courses at the university for joining a protest over the alleged sexual molestation of a female student of the university.

Governor Concerns Over Student's Protests

A speech by the governor at LU also erupted in controversy in the first week of December. In her speech, Anandiben Patel, the governor of the state, expressed her concern over student leaders organising a protest, a strike, and a march on the LU campus. Patel dismissed the students' protest, questioning why there should be a dharna on insignificant issues while the LU is doing well.

The governor also added that she was informed that the protesting students aspire to become politicians. 

"Have you ever heard of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or any other prominent leaders staging a protest?" she questioned. The governor advised that students should protest against practices like dowry and child marriage.

Atmosphere is Suffocating 

On the other hand, academicians also feel that in the current political scenario, the universities are stifling the free voices of students. 

Professor Roop Rekha Verma, the former chancellor of the LU, talked with Newsclick about the current atmosphere in universities. She says the democratic space is shrinking, and students get an education in a suppressed and suffocating atmosphere. She believes the university is the first place any student learns democracy. She also added that in the past, universities in the UP, particularly LU, were primary schools for politicians.

"Every student has the right to raise their voice for quality education and better infrastructure in university. Unfortunately, in the past nine to 10 years, intolerance has increased in universities, and students are the ultimate victims of this new trend."

Student Politics Brought Up Ministers

While the student leaders expressed their dissent in her speech, the National Student Union of India's (NSUI) leader, Vishal Singh, said, "I believe that those who have never done student politics cannot understand its dignity and the struggle of student leaders for their basic rights."

Ayush, the AISA state president, confirmed that the student leaders have also brought up several ministers in the Central and UP governments who participated in LU's student union elections.

Democracy is Diminishing 

Another academic, Professor Ramesh Dixit, says that not only in universities but democracy is diminishing in our society, too. The former head of the Department of Political Science at LU said that students, labourers, and farmers were suffering, and the ruling dispensation was attempting to crush all the pressure groups like student unions.

Dixit argued that when the elections of teachers and non-teaching staff unions are allowed, why are only the students' elections not permitted? 

"The Vice-Chancellor is not responsible for the exploitation of students, and he is doing what his political masters ask him to do." 

Ultimately, he opined that universities should always be open for debates and dialogues, and ignoring students' voices is an assault on democracy.

When contacted for his comments on the ongoing protest, Dr Durgesh Srivastava, the LU spokesman, was unavailable to speak. 

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