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Debate: Are Indian Colleges Plagued by Student Protests?

Debate | Are Colleges Becoming More About Protests And Less About Studies? | Mumbai LitFest

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Video Producer: Naman Shah

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

Students across the world have led powerful movements with their strong voices. India, too, has a long history of student protests, dating as far back as the movement to gain Independence for the country. Since then, student protests have featured strongly in the country's social and political fabric.

As the Constitution of India guarantees the right to protest peacefully, students are legally allowed to be a part of agitations. But should they?

The 12th edition of Tata Literature Live! – a literature festival in Mumbai – organised a debate on the motion 'College Students Should Not Participate in Political Protests,' on 18 November. The debate was moderated by The Quint's Editor-in-Chief Raghav Bahl.

Author and journalist Hindol Sengupta, as well as noted columnist and founder of media website Churn, Shubhrastha, appeared for the motion in the debate, arguing against the student protests.

Meanwhile, Bombay High Court advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, as well as activist and author Gurmehar Kaur, argued against the motion.

'In the 1970s, Student Politics, Student Activism, and Studies Were One Organic Whole': Raghav Bahl

"When I saw the subject, I was transported to my student days. I wonder if this subject would've been debatable in the 70s. Because in the 1970s, student politics and student activism and studies were one organic whole," said Raghav Bahl, opening the debate session.

"At that time, we saw some of the biggest students' movements. In our own country, we had the whole Naxal movement; we had the Navnirman movement. Within the Emergency as well, we had very active student reactions. Across the globe, we had the Vietnam protest, the Tiananmen Square protest in China. Then, it was very difficult to say that students should not, or could not, or would not be a part of political protests. But 40 years out, some evolution seems to have happened such that the issue is now debatable."
Raghav Bahl
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'Can We Afford an Education Structure That Does Not Have a Single College in World's Top-100?': Hindol Sengupta for the Motion

Should educational institutions be used for 'political' protests that tend to become violent? Kerala High Court ruled that colleges and universities deserve the right to stop such activities. We are not talking about black flags being raised or poems being written, we are talking about political protests that plague most of our universities.

Only three-four Indian universities rank among the world's top-200. Can we afford an education structure where not even a single Indian university pops up in the top-100 list of the world? The Indian institutes that are ranked in the top-200 list are technical universities, which are largely free from the plague of political protests.

'Crackdowns on Students Made It Risky for Them To Question Political Actions': Gurmehar Kaur Against the Motion

Part of the reason why people oppose student participation in public dissent is out of concern for students' safety. But why does the fear of arrest or charges arise in the first place?

Non-violent protests are perfectly constitutional. It is important that students ensure that the protests are non-violent in all circumstances. But it is even more important for the state to be non-violent as well. Students should be able to oppose state action that cross this line in any form.

In India, the frequency and list of reasons for slamming student activists has grown alarmingly under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime. It is the State that taints student protests as subversion and cracks down on the so-called anti-national participants, making it increasingly risky to publicly question and denounce the political wills and actions.

'There Is a Distinction Between Activism and Protest': Shubhrastha for the Motion

In order for students to understand nationalism, beyond the classroom lectures, they should hit the ground in villages and understand the folk songs of different regions before making up their mind about nationalism.

It is important to understand the distinction between activism and protest. Not only this government, previous regimes too didn't have a good track record in the minds of the intellectuals when it came to student protests. We all know what happened during the emergency.
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'Law Can Never Stop Students From Protesting': Abhinav Chandrachud Against the Motion

My law college, Government Law College in Mumbai, was set up in the 1850s during the colonial period and its motto was 'Let Nothing Evil Enter'. By 'nothing evil', the college administration were worried about political protests. They didn't want law students and lawyers protesting because they knew how dangerous that could be for the existence of the British regime in India.

The administration is always worried about the students who protest. The student movements of the 1970s were cited as a cause for the imposition of emergency.

If there was a law enacted by the Parliament that banned college students from participating in political protests, it would be struck down overwhelmingly for being unconstitutional.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Student Protest 

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