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Banning a Student Group: Fighting alongside Ambedkar & Periyar

Banning a Student Group: Fighting alongside Ambedkar & Periyar



Dickens Leonard M

dickensA war has been unleashed – political cultures that believe in dialogue and democratic transformation are battling against those which forcefully dictate determinism and fatalism!

Students across India protest against the “de-recognition” of Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle (APSC), an independent students’ group at the Indian Institute of Technology – Madras (IIT-M), by starting similar study circles, ultimately. An anonymous complaint had earlier reached the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India, against the student group, to which MHRD immediately sought clarification; and the IIT administration derecognized the group for “spreading hatred,” “criticizing PM Modi,” and “organizing the SCs and STs.”

Burnt effigies, vociferous slogans, massive hartals, hunger strikes, signature campaign, police action, group arrests, and counter protests mark the severity of the move, and the resistance of/to student action. Gramsci had argued for a “war of maneuver,” where there is an open conflict and direct clash between the classes; such boundaries are being clearly carved out between positions, so as they categorically fight it out, at times of crisis.

“A crisis cannot give the attacking forces the ability to organize with lightning speed in time and space; still less can it endow them with fighting spirit. Similarly, the defenders are not demoralized, nor do they abandon their positions, even among the ruins, nor do they lose faith in their own strength or their own future.” ~ Antonio Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks.

Meanwhile, the united opposition – to the land acquisition bill, beef ban, ghar wapsi, attacks on minorities and their places of worship, FDI and oppressive labour laws, surveillance of internet use – mounts pressure and criticism on the present “state” of affairs in Swachhed Bharat.

In this context, however, this student resistance against the “de-recognition” cannot, only, be seen as an opposition against Modi-led-BJP government alone. Instead, it endeavors to strike at the heart of the phenomenon that made “Modi” possible!

When autocratic dictats, such as: what one should not eat, which religion one should not follow, what books one should not read, and what one should not think – seem to be the priority, along with an unilateral developmentalist rhetoric, student movements, such as APSC, seriously disrupt and resist these neat discourses, as they counter to create an alternative.

As many APSCs bloom across campuses, following the ban, the question of shrinking dialogic public, megalomaniac authoritarianism, and hero-worship await exorcism.

In fact a silent, critical minority has been continuously doing this – even long before Mr. Modiji took over the steering wheels; particularly, movements that prioritized the iconic ideas of Ambedkar and Periyar.

These movements not only highlighted equality, liberty, and fraternity as hall marks of democracy; they also fore-grounded self-respect and social justice as fundamental criteria for a constitutive social democracy to emerge.

It is, in fact, IIT-like hugely funded higher educational spaces in India, which obliterate such transformatory ideals. They have continuously flouted constitutional and legal safeguards, as affirmative action awaits implementation, in the name of “autonomous” and “meritorious” existence.

These spaces are tacitly constituted as agraharas that enslave and impale. Higher educational spaces in India are founded on an entrenched cultural fabric, which functions as a hierarchical-executive structure. What is supposed to be technological and scientific has cultivated socially-distant systems of knowledge, so as, to generate practices of oppression. The continuous reports on students’ suicides, non-implementation of reservation policies, suppression of dissent, character assassination of the marginalized, intellectual goondagiri, and “de-recognition” of social merit only substantiate this argument.

However, when the state of affairs is out-rightly communal and casteist, driven through corporate capitalism, any attempts to resist such sweet-tongued governance, in these spaces, are at once suppressed and assassinated through fascist means. An unstated majoritarian consensus and institutional support are out, in the open, to engineer a crisis. Hence many students, who willfully participate in these groups, are threatened and attacked. IITs, especially, continue as centres of knowledge production till date, by sustaining such epistemological violence.

However, in resistance, the spread of APSCs, across campuses – even abroad now, foreground icons such as Ambedkar, Periyar, Phule, Bhagat Singh, and Lohia apparently. They inimically draw hatred that is casteist and communal at heart.

It should be understood that these are not mere names; they are legacies, and they signify hope for an emancipatory ideal. Spaces like IITs and MHRD, if committed to critical thought and creative enquiry, must have appreciated such initiatives, and could have engaged with them healthily. Instead, they have opened a Pandora’s box; a box that must have been annihilated long ago.

And, alternatively, these groups act as a counter-collectivity that is socially relevant. They critically dialogue about knowledge that affect and transform the social; even of their own constitution. For instance, the feasibility between Ambedkarite, Periyarite, Phule’s and Bhagat Singh’s thoughts, which are now being questioned, dismissed, and abused by Hindutva forces, are used as creative tools by the oppressed to imagine a counter-public, beyond the status-quo. A dialogic place is carved out, where “Annihilation of Caste,” “Why did Women become enslaved?” and “Ghulamgiri” co-habit, engage, and critique each other democratically!

They initiate an education that unravels the political nature of any education. Hence, it is not just freedom of speech and right action that should be defended; but far more fundamentally, whether justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity are practiced when APSCs bloom and bear fruits.

APSCs are a social necessity – they maneuver positions that war!



Dickens Leonard M is a Research Scholar at Center for Comparative Literature, School of Humanities, University of Hyderabad.