Are We Reading Too Much Into the DU Protests?

Delhi University (DU) was rocked by protests and counter-protests throughout last week. Classes were ignored as students took to the streets under intense media coverage. It dominated headlines across news channels, with hardliners in talk shows stressing their views on support to ABVP or AISA, the two main politically linked campus parties.

A martyr’s daughter was unnecessarily dragged into the controversy and trolled, compelling her to leave the city and the protests, a poor show by our so-called ‘nationalistic’ members of society. Military veterans supported her mainly because she was a member of the community.

The sad aspect of the entire episode was the active participation of senior political leaders intending to score brownie points. Some even instigated protest marches, further inflaming tensions.

It was proven that our politicians are jobless and would undertake any activity just to grab a few moments of media spotlight. The protest, which would have passed without much fanfare like many before it, was blown out of proportion, turned political, and was thrust into the media’s glare.

Students, mainly in the teens or early twenties, are always hot-blooded and staunch supporters of their own views, whether leftist, rightist or centrist. The views may be self-created or influenced by their colleagues or peer groups.

As parents, we have seen the growing generation gap and observed our own children disagreeing with our views with a logic of their own, which we, at times, consider bizarre. In any educational institution, when varied views exist, there is bound to be a back-and-forth.

Youngsters cannot be expected to follow the norms and rules of mature adults at their age and especially when they are in large numbers. It is mob mentality and is normal in any society.

Considering the age of students in colleges, especially when we consider the first- and second-year students, the concept of freedom and supporting personal and peer group views assumes immense importance.

The present is the age of rebellion and needs to be considered in a mature manner. Rebellion against rules and supposed curtailing of freedom of speech is different from being anti-national, which the students are clearly not. Chanting slogans alone does not make a student anti-national, while organising specific events to commemorate anti-national activities does. This is the stark difference between the DU event and the incident in JNU last year.

The trolling of Gurmehar Kaur, by anyone and everyone, was immature and sad. The girl is barely out of her teens, like most others participating in the event, and possesses the freedom to express her views, right or wrong. She has faced tough times, especially with the loss of her father, and has attempted to get over her trauma. Her stance was a means of projecting her independent view, which should have been respected.

The media playing it up was a sad day for the nation. She and her kin are no anti-nationals. They would be the first to undertake a candlelight vigil on Kargil or Vijay Diwas and attend the last rites of a soldier martyred in Kashmir, as against those who trolled her, who would probably never even be seen in the vicinity of such events.

Terming the students’ participating in marches from colleges (again differentiated from JNU) as anti-national is only hurting the image of our youth. The Indian youth in general is more nationalistic than most adults.

Also Read: Viruji, Don’t Silence Gurmehar’s Idealism With Your Words: Tharoor

The terms ‘saffronisation’ and ‘politicisation’ of education are fake, as youth change their minds as they mature and proceed ahead in life. Most universities, DU being no exception, have been the launchpad of many a politicians’ career and hence would always be influenced by political thought. Most of our leading politicians have been members of the students’ unions in their college days.

The student leaders who stoked the present fire are the ones seeking a political future, not a student attending college to learn and pursue a career subsequently. Observing the active participants would show them not as students, but members of political parties, much older than students, seeking to impose their views.

In contrast to DU were the incidents at JNU last year. The support to anti-national elements and divisive forces was evident to the extent that some of those involved are likely to face sedition charges in the immediate future.

The event which led to nationwide criticism was organised in JNU to condemn the hanging of two anti-nationals, Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat, on Afzal Guru’s death anniversary. For ages, JNU has been known to be a centre of support to the Naxal movement. The movement controls vast tracts in central India, across states, and are battling central police forces. In 2010, members of student organisations of JNU organised a meeting to celebrate the killing of 76 CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh, which again resulted in widespread criticism.

Also Read: Ramjas Protest Gets Violent: Journos, Professors Among Injured

This is the institution that requires deft handling rather than DU. In JNU, an adult is termed a student, even at the age of thirty, as he spends years pursuing a doctorate, which he may never complete, nor even attempt to complete, while seeking a political career. Kanhaiya Kumar and his colleagues, involved in anti-national incidents of last year and likely to be charged for sedition, being prime examples.

The impact of the protests at JNU were such that my batch from the National Defence Academy (NDA), sent its representatives to the university, stating their desire to surrender their JNU degrees, feeling ashamed to be members of a university supporting anti-national sentiments.

Also Read: Ramjas the Reason for Venky to Call off All Seminars This Month?

Simultaneously, a signature campaign is making the rounds seeking to request the President to change the degree for the NDA from JNU to Pune University.

Our national leaders should let colleges handle student issues, as the staff is mature, understanding and capable, rather than become moral policemen (we have enough of them, anyway). The nation requires mature politicians, not those who exploit our next generation. The youth of today are more nationalistic than most of them and, unlike them, do not run to support anyone just to appease their votebanks.

The spread of protests across the country was the result of the intense media glare. A mature press, understanding the mind of the youth, should have given it normal coverage rather than raised hackles across the nation, providing avenues to future politicians to enhance levels of protests, disturbing the normal teaching process and impacting students’ future.

Within the colleges of DU, it is but a passing phase. Time will cool tempers, teaching will resume, but lingering tensions will continue. The issue will again come to the fore during elections to the university’s student council in the coming months.

(The author is a retired army officer based in Lucknow. He can be reached @kakar_harsha. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)