There are many reasons as to why one chooses educational spaces such as Delhi University as the next step forward in their educational and academic passage, one being the diversity of thought and the space and freedom that allows this diversity to flourish through open debate and discussion, without the fear of being hounded for standing up in what you believe in. The student culture is one that is rich, with people from all walks of life, regions and backgrounds mingling and sharing a common space, creating a synthesis of ideas. It is, perhaps, one of the reasons that stand out more as to why it attracts and encourages the pupils towards a more structural, critical standpoint.
The nature of the student political scene also makes one very curious and invested in this space. Coming from Shillong, I had never been exposed to this culture of dissent as you do not even have the means to question authority in the first place, with private and non-private institutions alike, exploiting the lack of student rights consciousness. Student politics is crucial in maintaining and challenging the existing dynamics of culture within the campus and beyond; the discriminatory rules for women’s hostel under the pretext of “safety” being one and this as we have witnessed in Delhi University has been resisted and led to agitations and vibrant, powerful movements, Pinjra Tod being one. As a student existing in these spaces, you become a sort of sponge, absorbing the nuances of an argument, evaporating from your pores what you consider outdated and draconian in the path towards what you envision as a progressive, egalitarian society. It’s a beautiful process of unlearning that which you had learned all your life.
The first protest I attended was the occupy UGC movement, when I was in my first semester of BA. On my first day there, the atmosphere was overwhelming; since I’m not a Hindi-speaker, the language was one barrier which crippled my understanding of what was being sloganeered. The fringes of the crowds seemed a mild comfort zone, a moderate acclimatization area. Soon, things got heated up and the police started charging at students with lathis. I was caught in this event as things spiraled out of control, and eventually I also got arrested with the other fellow students. It was to me an introduction to a different kind of reality, a baptism of fire, if you wish. I was catapulted into this space, and this episode set a high standard of expectation of what my future involvement as a student, as an individual, would be like. Suddenly to a novice like me, the police station that I and a few others were taken to became an enclosure of vibrant discussions challenging the consensus and perpetuating an assembly of critical thought, refining ideas and redirecting outlooks.
However, as my involvement in various student movements in Delhi grew, I also recognize the visibly minuscule participation of students from the North-Eastern region of the country. The only rationalization that I can come up with is that perhaps with a prescribed geo-political identity, one laden with many discursive conjectures, students from the region may find it difficult to identify with mainstream student politics and also assume their involvement to be superfluous. From time to time during events, there is still a hint of alienation that I feel, although I’m not sure if this is something that emerges from me or others around me. Sometimes an air of awkwardness strangles you simply when you try to structure a sentence by using words of a foreign language that you’ve just recently inculcated but not yet understood the essence of. Like I said, perhaps this isolation is just a feeling within me and not an intentional imposition of student activists in Delhi. However, I am often compelled to conclude that the unconscious way in which it is laid leaves a possibility of the isolation being systemically defined and conditioned.It is a common pattern that in student politics in Delhi, the incorporation of concerns and issues regarding the North-East and the inclusion of students from the North-East in various movements is a mere tokenistic gesture.
Looking at the recent episode in Ramjas College, and having had first-hand experience of the ABVP-fueled violence unleashed there, I am shocked and traumatized by the unbridled attack on the educational space that first drew me to this university. The whole idea of Indian nationalism articulated by these factions is so alien and vague to me. Personally, I grew up being exposed to a different kind of nationalism, that of my own community (Khasi), and my encounter with any form of Indian nationalism was confined to televised programmes on Republic Day and Independence Day or at the most, when an important member of a national political party visits to assist with local election campaigns. In fact, before coming to Delhi, even a visit to Guwahati would be riddled with excitement simply because there was a latent perception of even Assam being a relatively foreign land. So when I first ventured out of Meghalaya and integrated myself to the social environment of Delhi, I had to learn how to manoeuvre myself as an individual with regards to the nation-state, to have a better understanding of the bigger context. However, I did not see the process of assimilating in a new city to be equivalent to imbibing a new sense of nationalism, that of the great Indian nation. I realised, in my short life that the regularly occurring theme of any kind of nationalism misdirects zealous emotions to act in hate and bigotry, to turn violent, to want bloodshed for a cause that is narrow and uni-dimensional. Hindutva politics is divisive and tyrannical to an extent where people who reject it feel marginalised and are constantly living under the threat of the violence. After the ABVP attack a few weeks ago in my college, where I was also physically assaulted even by my own classmates, I feel threatened, I feel unsafe and insecure, not just because I am a student who believes in ideas of free speech but because I don’t know Bharat Mata and I cannot ever be her blind worshiper.
Stuck between the wave of right-wing nationalist forces in Delhi and student groups which I support and agree with but still feel distant from, I can’t help but wonder if the methods of mobilisation of DU Students politics have failed to galvanise and collectivise the non-quantifiable spectrum of politics. As I have observed, the proxy protests that take place have not been able to channelise this inclusive principle to its full potential, making it hard to maintain the momentum of the movement. Sub-groups are formed within the expanse, many differing in politics and methods. On the 28th of February, on the occasion of a march at attempting to reclaim the university space, thousands turned up, individuals coming together for a shared, common cause and it was beautiful. However, on many occasions, student protests have felt like mere platforms where individuals share a common cause, rather than a collective coming strongly together against a common enemy. Therefore, if given a chance to share perspectives of various issues and different strands of socio-political thought through genuine representation, it may feel more like an inclusively structured fraternity, a fraternity that has depth, that which is not confined to existing perspectives, which is not divided and hierarchical, a students’ movement that has in its roots embedded in a wider and firmer ground bursting into a new imagination of student politics and a new wave of revolution altogether.