Movement Features in Our Diary 2011: May

Students Resistance....University Community for Democracy

The University Community for Democracy (UCD) is a forum that was formed in Delhi University with the intent of resisting the outrageous and deeply undemocratic manner in which Delhi University as well as the city was being re-engineered for the 12 day Common Wealth Games 2010. Students of the University started the campaign in the immediate context of students of University hostels being evicted in the name of the Games, without due process of dialogue and information. Outraged by unilateral decisions made by the University authorities, a group of students organized an open call to the university community to launch a campaign against the forced eviction of students from college hostels. By the beginning of July 2010, the campaign emerged under the name of University Community for Democracy (UCD). Almost every week a planning meeting of the forum was held in the Delhi School of Economics campus, under the neem tree. While the campaign started with specific students’ issues, its understanding was to broaden the spectrum of its campaign and also talk about creative ways of resistance as well as doing politics. There was a deep concern for re-establishing the waning democratic culture in the university, as one of its slogans suggests – RECLAIM OUR UNIVERSITY! The UCD began with class-to-class campaigning, the distribution of pamphlets and attempting to mobilize people, especially students, to join the joint struggle. The aim was to politicize the student community as much as to expand the campaign.

The UCD was a unique forum which consisted not only of students of Delhi University but former students and teachers as well. The potential of the campaign was quite remarkable. The unique composition of the forum gave it a vibrancy which hoped to put sense into the minds of the university and city administrations. Apart from talking with the students and teachers as well as vendors and rickshaw pullers to build a broader coalition, it also tried to think about more creative ways of protests and campaign. While broadly critiquing the government for masking the exploitative and unjust nature of the ‘world class city’ that being imposed on the citizens of Delhi, the UCD was also concerned about the question of what a university space must be, how the very meaning of the University rests on the fact that it is a space and institution which is meant to set standards for society at large. Members of the university community were urged to join the relentless battle against oppressive state action that only intensified over the weeks leading up to the Games. With the intent of mobilizing and politicizing the university community, it held an open-air protest meeting in the campus, where the participation was large. Affected vendors, university and city activists, students, teachers and other concerned people came together to unitedly raise their voices against the disaster meted out on the people of the city in the name of the games. This opened up the possibility of a more connected and united struggle against the Games. Despite its specificity of location, the struggle initiated in the university was part of the larger struggle. While it cried “Reclaim our University”, it was also about reclaiming our city, taking back our walls and saying that we refuse to be taken for a ride whether in the name of national pride or profit of a few capitalist worms.

The UCD sat on a nine-day relay hunger strike which allowed for a collective resistance against the aggressive attempts made by the state to recast this city of 14 million people according to its own perverse will. The hunger strike was imagined as a means of collectively declaring that the people of our society cannot be discarded like unwanted waste because the nationalist imagination cannot accommodate them in its conception of ‘beauty’. The campaign declared in clear terms that to be reduced to the status of mute spectators watching the destructive reshaping of the city and university was and is completely unacceptable. It was a collective rejection of the sort of nationalism which deliberately caters to the urban middle classes as the only acceptable population for inhabiting the city, while systematically robbing people deemed unworthy by its standards off their livelihoods; which tosses students out of their rooms and thrusts aside the same labourers who build the ‘world class city’.

The campaign was born out of the urgent need to end this complicit silence. Various activities were taken up during the hunger strike which sought to re-imagine the existing understanding of a hunger strike, organizing talks, open-air film screening and many cultural programmes like protest songs. To mention a few, noted Pakistani labour historian cum activist Karamat Ali addressed during the strike and talked about the potential of students’ struggle, how it will eventually need to move out of university-specific concerns and bring questions of working class. Prof. Achin Vinaik spoke about the Nuclear deal. Prashant Bhushan, noted legal expert also came in solidarity and spoke about the possibility to struggle along with a legal framework and feminist historian Prof. Uma Chakravarty not only addressed the participants but gave her full solidarity to the struggle and hailed the efforts of an entity like the UCD. Apart from the numerous activists and scholars, some teachers also experimented with taking their classes at the hunger strike site as a way of carving out an alternative creative and progressive space in the deteriorating conditions of the university.

The UCD made many attempts and experiments to radicalize and create spaces of democratic culture within the university, which is increasingly seeing the decline and shrinking of democratic culture, whether it is the crushing of free and non-commercialised spaces or the methods in which the university authorities function which is so strongly evident in the ongoing teachers’ strike against the super imposition of the an ill-designed and mal-intended semester system. The concerns of the UCD went beyond the eviction of the students in the context of CWG; the issue of democratic culture was paramount to its understanding of what is to be done. It raised demands not only for the rehabilitation of the evicted students but also putting a stop on the regular violations of laws by the university authorities as well as stop violation of labour laws and rights.

Formations like the UCD are not only valuable but necessary in the face of the current trends that the university as a space and institution is inclined towards. We have all seen how the majority, whether it be right-wing or other sectarian organizations, have always gotten away scot-free and protected by the authorities despite their violent and regressive politics in the university. And to resist, we must come together, a collective with all our differences with a basic minimum understanding of what is democracy, equality and freedom.

Written by: Mayur Chetia (Research Student, Dept. of History, DU) and Kavya Murthy (Masters Student, Dept. of Sociology, DU)

Excerpted from an “An All They Chimed – 'Reclaim Our University'”, in Critique, October-November 2010, Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 8-10.

(published in Our Diary 2011 by Kriti team)