George Reddy to JP: How Student Protests in the 70s Shook Up India

Here’s how students in the 70s shook up India with their protests.

Updated
Explainers
6 min read
From the early 70s up to 1977, India’s college students revolutionised politics, education and protests.
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Snapshot

Did you know? The Sampoorna Kranti Express travels from Patna to Delhi – a distance of over 1,000 kilometres – in less than 14 hours. It’s one of the fastest trains in India at the moment.

And it’s named after a protest in the 70s - Sampoorna Kranti aka Total Revolution - which spread to every corner of India, toppled a government, created dozens of political parties, and left behind the most important legacy of all – organised public dissent.

And all of this began with a bunch of hungry, angry, college students. Welcome to the world of a 25-year-old gold medalist in physics who was also a kick-boxer, a 26-year-old Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Beatles and Bobby!

Today, the nationwide protests against the CAA and the NRC have gained prominence, strength and global support thanks to the students of Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi. In this context, the Bihar Movement, aka JP Movement is a forerunner, from which one can take lessons and the way forward.

George Reddy to JP: How Student Protests in the 70s Shook Up India

  1. 1. That 70s Campus

    When I say 70s, you think; bell bottoms, disco, sideburns, garish bollywood costumes, Nirma and Liril ads, shirts with flowers in them and R D Burman. But contrary to popular belief, the cool cats on campus in the 70s weren't driving plymouth cars with the roof down, or adjusting the 'Saadhana' bangs. They were out on the streets, protesting.

    But this was not to say they were no fun. You could see Bob Marley on the walls of the DU canteen. Students ambling about the campus in Osmania University would have Beatles-styled haircuts. And there was a thriving psychedelic garage scene in Madras (Chennai), one of the first cities to allow rock music to flourish. The problems that plagued the students though, persisted.

    “We are tending to not look at problems as they arise, but let them grow till they reach a serious proportion. Also, we have a large number of staff (teachers) who preach but do not practice.”
    Professor Chari, from the documentary ‘Crisis on the Campus’

    The first generation of children in independent India were the college students of the 70s. They were educated, erudite and curious on one hand. On the other, they were faced with rampant, systemic corruption, large scale unemployment, and an economy in which even essential goods (like wheat), were either hard to get, or un-affordable.

    Strikes in college campuses across the country were common, on the rise, and were dealt with through more and more violent means.

    Expand
  2. 2. Hyderabad: Jeena Hai to Marna Seekho

    “We have raised our voice in protest. Our voice has remained unheard. We have marched in procession. Our procession has been broken up by the police. We have erupted in violence. Our violence has been met with greater violence. Today, what option do we have left, but to organise ourselves and meet violence with violence?”
    George Reddy, in an interview in the documentary ‘Crisis on the Campus’

    In 1967, twenty-year-old George Reddy joined Osmania University in Hyderabad, as a research student in Physics. He was a gold medalist and practised his own version of martial arts - part Kalaripayattu and part kick boxing, and led one of the biggest student revolutions to date. It began with discrimination in the hostel canteen, corruption in the management, squatters inside the campus, and an attempt to break ABVP’s monopoly.

    His death brought about the formation of the Progressive Democratic Students Union (PDSU), and he is credited with the slogan that one still hears among student protests and communist gatherings till date:

    ‘Jeena Hai to Marna Seekho, Kadam Kadam Par Ladna Seekho (If you want to live, you should be prepared to die and fight at every step).’

    George Reddy was found brutally murdered in one of the hostels, with multiple stab wounds on 14 April, 1972. This was the second murder attempt on his life. His legacy was the PDSU, and a political bent to protests.

    And of course, a Tollywood biopic, with song and dance.

    Expand
  3. 3. Gujarat: Navnirman Andolan

    We’re now in 1973. Bobby had hit the screens and the name of the film was printed on T-shirts while Dimple Kapadia’s two-piece swimsuit photo was pasted across dorm walls. Project Tiger was launched to save the remaining 1,827 tigers in India.

    That's about the end of good news for that year.

    The Hyderabad student rebellion was confined to the Osmania University. But it shook up and woke students across the country, to the potential of organised protests. But in Gujarat, the issues went far beyond campus walls. It went right up to the Chief Minister's chair.

    Phase 1

    20 August 1973, L D College of Engineering in Hyderabad hiked hostel food fees by 20%.

    And so the students went on strike. On 3 January 1974, the students of Gujarat University went on a similar strike. They wanted a reduction in educational fees, quality food, elimination of black marketeers and more campus facilities. Almost the same issues George Reddy had protested for. In order to curb the student unrest, police resorted to brutal force, injuring a number of students.

    Phase 2

    But instead of dying down, the protests grew. Factory workers, middle class family men and other youngsters joined the protests. It spread to other colleges and out on to the streets. It grew so large so fast, that by 7 January, just four days later, a total Bandh was declared across Gujarat.

    Why did commonfolk choose to join a students’ protest? And that too in such large numbers?

    The year 1973, by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s own admission, was ‘a very difficult year’. Crop failure, serious fall in food production, inflation at 16.79% (it is around 4.6% this year), and loans from Japan, Canada, Britain and the World Bank, and a slowdown of industrial growth. In a nutshell, everything was costly, nothing was working and nothing was available. And to top it all, there were incessant charges of corruption against the sitting Chief Minister.

    Phase 3

    The protests turned to two days of rioting. By 9 January, the Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel was forced to resign. The protests spread into rural Gujarat. The students, who had by now organised themselves into the Nav Nirman Yuvak Samiti wanted the entire assembly dissolved, and fresh elections to be held. By March, the students had forced 95 of the 167 MLAs to resign, and the assembly was dissolved.

    The Navnirman movement was the first, and so far, the only movement that ousted an elected government.

    Over 100 people had died, over 1,000 people were injured, and more than 9,000 were jailed by the the end of this movement. The army had been called in, by the time the agitations came to an end on 16 March.

    Jayprakash Narayan used this movement as the blueprint, for the much larger Bihar Movement.

    Expand
  4. 4. JP Movement: Student Protest And Satyagraha

    By the time students in Gujarat had managed to take down Chimanbhai Patel from his Chief Ministerial high chair, students in Bihar had already started a movement along similar lines. The difference here though, was that it was political from the beginning. Student wings of the Jana Sangh (ABVP), Samajwadi Party (SYS), Lok Dal and the CPI (AISF) were involved.

    Two days after Independence day in 1973, three students were shot down for having taken part in the protests. Police brutality continued to be a clear and present danger. While agitations continued in a staccato fashion, there was need for a more cohesive approach.

    The students of Patna University invited student leaders across the state, to come together, on 18 February, 1974. The Bihar Chaatra Sangharsh Samiti was formed. The BCSS then invited Jayprakash Narayan, a freedom fighter, staunch Gandhian and socialist to lead the protests. Despite the fact that he was 70-years-old, and had retired from politics more than a decade earlier, he agreed.

    From a student movement that could escalate into riots posing risk of life and limb to the protesters, JP turned the Bihar Agitation into a Satyagraha. No more arson. No more damage to public property. A peaceful protest, with every demographic participating in an imposing majority.

    On 8 April, a silent student protest was held in Patna. Over 10,000 people took part in it.

    He also came up with something that seems to be in vogue till date; the Break Year aka a sabbatical year;

    "Give me one year, to build a new country."

    Expand
  5. 5. The Sabbatical and the (Almost) Victory

    In addition to agitating against the oppression of the government, JP urged youngsters to take a year off from college, and involve themselves in field work. It was this aspect of the protest that earned it the name of Total Revolution (Sampoorna Kranti), where the agitators not only held protests, but were also part of the solution.

    Protests at the Bihar Legislative Assembly, continued closure of schools and colleges, hunger strikes and sloganeering; every method of peaceful dissent was employed. Jayprakash also gathered support from and unified opposition parties, who were, until that time extremely weak.

    By 1975, JP had successfully campaigned for and forced a re-election, in which the Congress government lost, although Indira Gandhi was allowed to remain the Prime Minister in name.

    Nine months later, she declared internal emergency across the country, and jailed most of the opposition leaders and dissenters.

    Expand
  6. 6. Legacy of the JP Movement

    The JP Movement was the first and the largest movement to recognise the power and will of the students in mobilising themselves to fight for a common cause. It was also the first movement that eliminated the need to meet violence with violence. And because of this, it had inspired every section of the society to become a part of the agitation.

    But where it succeeded in its aim of uprooting the government, it failed in thinking it through.

    In the absence of a clear diktat beyond the anti-congress stance, the juggernaut of the movement had fizzled out. And by the time the Emergency was lifted, the Bihar Movement had become part of Indian Political history.

    Expand

That 70s Campus

When I say 70s, you think; bell bottoms, disco, sideburns, garish bollywood costumes, Nirma and Liril ads, shirts with flowers in them and R D Burman. But contrary to popular belief, the cool cats on campus in the 70s weren't driving plymouth cars with the roof down, or adjusting the 'Saadhana' bangs. They were out on the streets, protesting.

But this was not to say they were no fun. You could see Bob Marley on the walls of the DU canteen. Students ambling about the campus in Osmania University would have Beatles-styled haircuts. And there was a thriving psychedelic garage scene in Madras (Chennai), one of the first cities to allow rock music to flourish. The problems that plagued the students though, persisted.

“We are tending to not look at problems as they arise, but let them grow till they reach a serious proportion. Also, we have a large number of staff (teachers) who preach but do not practice.”
Professor Chari, from the documentary ‘Crisis on the Campus’

The first generation of children in independent India were the college students of the 70s. They were educated, erudite and curious on one hand. On the other, they were faced with rampant, systemic corruption, large scale unemployment, and an economy in which even essential goods (like wheat), were either hard to get, or un-affordable.

Strikes in college campuses across the country were common, on the rise, and were dealt with through more and more violent means.

Hyderabad: Jeena Hai to Marna Seekho

“We have raised our voice in protest. Our voice has remained unheard. We have marched in procession. Our procession has been broken up by the police. We have erupted in violence. Our violence has been met with greater violence. Today, what option do we have left, but to organise ourselves and meet violence with violence?”
George Reddy, in an interview in the documentary ‘Crisis on the Campus’

In 1967, twenty-year-old George Reddy joined Osmania University in Hyderabad, as a research student in Physics. He was a gold medalist and practised his own version of martial arts - part Kalaripayattu and part kick boxing, and led one of the biggest student revolutions to date. It began with discrimination in the hostel canteen, corruption in the management, squatters inside the campus, and an attempt to break ABVP’s monopoly.

His death brought about the formation of the Progressive Democratic Students Union (PDSU), and he is credited with the slogan that one still hears among student protests and communist gatherings till date:

‘Jeena Hai to Marna Seekho, Kadam Kadam Par Ladna Seekho (If you want to live, you should be prepared to die and fight at every step).’

George Reddy was found brutally murdered in one of the hostels, with multiple stab wounds on 14 April, 1972. This was the second murder attempt on his life. His legacy was the PDSU, and a political bent to protests.

And of course, a Tollywood biopic, with song and dance.

Gujarat: Navnirman Andolan

We’re now in 1973. Bobby had hit the screens and the name of the film was printed on T-shirts while Dimple Kapadia’s two-piece swimsuit photo was pasted across dorm walls. Project Tiger was launched to save the remaining 1,827 tigers in India.

That's about the end of good news for that year.

The Hyderabad student rebellion was confined to the Osmania University. But it shook up and woke students across the country, to the potential of organised protests. But in Gujarat, the issues went far beyond campus walls. It went right up to the Chief Minister's chair.

Phase 1

20 August 1973, L D College of Engineering in Hyderabad hiked hostel food fees by 20%.

And so the students went on strike. On 3 January 1974, the students of Gujarat University went on a similar strike. They wanted a reduction in educational fees, quality food, elimination of black marketeers and more campus facilities. Almost the same issues George Reddy had protested for. In order to curb the student unrest, police resorted to brutal force, injuring a number of students.

Phase 2

But instead of dying down, the protests grew. Factory workers, middle class family men and other youngsters joined the protests. It spread to other colleges and out on to the streets. It grew so large so fast, that by 7 January, just four days later, a total Bandh was declared across Gujarat.

Why did commonfolk choose to join a students’ protest? And that too in such large numbers?

The year 1973, by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s own admission, was ‘a very difficult year’. Crop failure, serious fall in food production, inflation at 16.79% (it is around 4.6% this year), and loans from Japan, Canada, Britain and the World Bank, and a slowdown of industrial growth. In a nutshell, everything was costly, nothing was working and nothing was available. And to top it all, there were incessant charges of corruption against the sitting Chief Minister.

Phase 3

The protests turned to two days of rioting. By 9 January, the Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel was forced to resign. The protests spread into rural Gujarat. The students, who had by now organised themselves into the Nav Nirman Yuvak Samiti wanted the entire assembly dissolved, and fresh elections to be held. By March, the students had forced 95 of the 167 MLAs to resign, and the assembly was dissolved.

The Navnirman movement was the first, and so far, the only movement that ousted an elected government.

Over 100 people had died, over 1,000 people were injured, and more than 9,000 were jailed by the the end of this movement. The army had been called in, by the time the agitations came to an end on 16 March.

Jayprakash Narayan used this movement as the blueprint, for the much larger Bihar Movement.

JP Movement: Student Protest And Satyagraha

By the time students in Gujarat had managed to take down Chimanbhai Patel from his Chief Ministerial high chair, students in Bihar had already started a movement along similar lines. The difference here though, was that it was political from the beginning. Student wings of the Jana Sangh (ABVP), Samajwadi Party (SYS), Lok Dal and the CPI (AISF) were involved.

Two days after Independence day in 1973, three students were shot down for having taken part in the protests. Police brutality continued to be a clear and present danger. While agitations continued in a staccato fashion, there was need for a more cohesive approach.

The students of Patna University invited student leaders across the state, to come together, on 18 February, 1974. The Bihar Chaatra Sangharsh Samiti was formed. The BCSS then invited Jayprakash Narayan, a freedom fighter, staunch Gandhian and socialist to lead the protests. Despite the fact that he was 70-years-old, and had retired from politics more than a decade earlier, he agreed.

From a student movement that could escalate into riots posing risk of life and limb to the protesters, JP turned the Bihar Agitation into a Satyagraha. No more arson. No more damage to public property. A peaceful protest, with every demographic participating in an imposing majority.

On 8 April, a silent student protest was held in Patna. Over 10,000 people took part in it.

He also came up with something that seems to be in vogue till date; the Break Year aka a sabbatical year;

"Give me one year, to build a new country."

The Sabbatical and the (Almost) Victory

In addition to agitating against the oppression of the government, JP urged youngsters to take a year off from college, and involve themselves in field work. It was this aspect of the protest that earned it the name of Total Revolution (Sampoorna Kranti), where the agitators not only held protests, but were also part of the solution.

Protests at the Bihar Legislative Assembly, continued closure of schools and colleges, hunger strikes and sloganeering; every method of peaceful dissent was employed. Jayprakash also gathered support from and unified opposition parties, who were, until that time extremely weak.

By 1975, JP had successfully campaigned for and forced a re-election, in which the Congress government lost, although Indira Gandhi was allowed to remain the Prime Minister in name.

Nine months later, she declared internal emergency across the country, and jailed most of the opposition leaders and dissenters.

Legacy of the JP Movement

The JP Movement was the first and the largest movement to recognise the power and will of the students in mobilising themselves to fight for a common cause. It was also the first movement that eliminated the need to meet violence with violence. And because of this, it had inspired every section of the society to become a part of the agitation.

But where it succeeded in its aim of uprooting the government, it failed in thinking it through.

In the absence of a clear diktat beyond the anti-congress stance, the juggernaut of the movement had fizzled out. And by the time the Emergency was lifted, the Bihar Movement had become part of Indian Political history.

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