Organised student movement in India is eighty years old as its origin dates back to 1936 when a permanent All India Student Federation was mooted to “prepare the students for citizenship in order to take their due share in the struggle for complete national freedom”. Since then, the students of India have been “arousing their social, political and economic consciousness”. They refused to work only within the realm of issues facing the students but went ahead and participated in steering the ship of the government. Student movements in India have always shown concern for wider sociopolitical issues.
The recent spate of protests at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi and the formation of human chain to condemn the arrest of JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar is just one such incident. If JNU demands dropping of “arbitrary charges” of sedition against Kumar, student in the past had raised several other demands that they felt were necessary to fix aberrations in society.
1. Nav Nirman Andolan (Reconstruction Movement), 1974
It is perhaps one of the few successful student agitations that led to the dissolution of a corrupt government. This sociopolitical movement in Gujarat was spearheaded by students and middle-class people who were angered by corruption in public life. The long-lasting movement started with the agitation by students of an engineering college in Ahmedabad on 20 December 1973 to protest 20% hike in hostel food fees.
A similar strike on 3 January 1974 at Gujarat University witnessed clashes between police and students. The protesters demanded resignation of Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel. On that note, a statewide strike was organised on 25 January that ended with another round of clash between police and protesters. Curfew was imposed in 44 towns and the army was called in to restore peace in Ahmedabad. The Indira Gandhi government gave in to the pressure of protests and asked Chimanbhai Patel to resign.
2. Anti-Mandal Commission Protests, 1990
When the VP Singh government announced its decision to implement the Mandal Commission report in 1990, spontaneous protests erupted. Anti-reservationists and students of higher castes organised agitation against the implementation of Mandal Commission report that recommended 27% reservation quota for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in government jobs and public universities. The government was caught unaware as the students from St. Stephen’s College and Delhi School of Economics launched an agitation and took thousands under its fold. Soon, the protests spread into other parts of India sending a strong message to the authorities: Reservations based on economic considerations, and not on caste considerations, is welcome.
3. Anti-reservation Protests, 2006
It was a second major protest against the reservation system. In 2006, widespread protests took place in India to oppose the decision of Congress-led UPA government to implement reservations for OBCs in both central and private higher education institutes. Students and doctors belonging to upper castes disregarded this move as discriminatory. According to them, the reservation system “discarded meritocracy and was driven by vote-bank politics”.
4. Anti–Sri Lanka Protests, 2013
The war crimes committed by army against Tamils in Sri Lanka during the Civil War has been a sensitive issue for the Tamil community. Students in Tamil Nadu were seen holding a series of protests and agitations led by the Students Federation for Freedom of Tamil Eelam. The protesters had only one demand from the Government of India: vote in support of UN resolution for an independent international investigation against alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. The agitations, which started on 11 March 2013, saw an ugly turn after Tamil Nadu police arrested students of Loyola College who were fasting in condemnation of alleged atrocities. A week later, large-scale agitations were held outside Raj Bhavan in Chennai which further led to the arrest of over 500 students.
5. Protests Over Suicide of Dalit Scholar, 2016
The news of a Dalit scholar of Hyderabad University committing suicide and its cascading effect dominated media throughout January. The country witnessed a massive agitation with students being at the forefront of seeking justice for the dead scholar – Rohith Vemula. The seed of the protest was sown when the executive council of the university expelled five Dalit students from the hostel and limited their access to campus for allegedly assaulting an ABVP student leader.
What kicked up a political storm was the suicide committed by one of the Dalit students, Rohith Vemula, in a hostel room on 17 January. Hundreds of students from universities across India participated in ‘Justice for Rohith Vemula’ protest rally and expressed solidarity with the students of Hyderabad university by converging at the campus.
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