If you compare living under a fascist government which has used all its might to curb dissent, protests amidst a pandemic might seem like a cakewalk. The pandemic has hit everyone differently, and this means an even foremost need to come together and resist. All the campuses have been shut, and classes no longer remind us of classrooms. However, protests are consistent. There were several Campus Movements that happened in 2020 which were as seminal as the ones that happened earlier. Faiz’s words, “Laazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge, Hum Dekhenge” cannot be separated from an individual who exercise their right to dissent and asks for the long forgotten justice, come what may.
Here, I have thrown light on a few of these Campus Movements that ornamented our country in 2020.
1. Anti-CAA NRC Protests
Until the first phase of lockdown was declared, students of Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University et cetera were rallying on the streets against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 hoping that their slogans might undeafen the ears of all those who still did (do) not see a problem with CAA. The unfortunate attack on the students of JNU on January 5, 2020 marked the dire beginning of this year and literally worked as a warning for the disasters that were yet to befall.
More agitations occurred when this entire year was ‘utilised’ to hunt down student activists and put them behind bars. It has gone past right or wrong. Anything/anyone that a certain group of people do not see fit as a ‘nationalist’ is seen as a culprit. Not protesting during a pandemic did not really seem like an option when a right as basic as a right to dissent was not given importance and was curbed beyond limits.
2. Protests Against the Institutional Murder of Aishwarya Reddy
#justiceforAishwaryaReddy flooded all the social media platforms when a student of Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Aishwarya Reddy, died by suicide because of financial issues which became an even major obstacle for her during online classes. The education system in our country only cares about the privileged, and inclusivity has no space in it. It did not even seem like a surprise when the college authorities took no accountability here and rather started engaging in a pathetic blame game. Online classes do not care about the intersectional nature of the society we live in.
What about the students who cannot afford to pay for the internet? What about the students whose families are abusive or the environment is not appropriate at their houses?
What about the students who live in Kashmir?
What about the students suffering from mental health issues? What about the students who belong to the Persons with disabilities category?
What about so many other Aishwarya Reddys?
There are many questions that continue to remain unanswered. Education is a privilege. #justiceforAishwaryaReddy is one of the few movements that will persist until justice is served.
There was also a demand for the release of scholarships by the students of LSR, especially the INSPIRE Scholarship, which was the one for which Aishwarya was selected. The demand still stand, and there is no answer. LSR is just one college out of the many colleges in Delhi University and other universities where inclusivity and accessibility are terms limited to textbooks.
3. Protests Against Online Exams
When the entire country was still getting used to the pandemic, students were being asked to fill exam forms, prepare for their exams (exams that are literally going to become the deciding factor for their master’s degree), have quality internet connections to sit for these exams, and be mentally available. Even floods in Bihar, Assam or Amphan could not stop these exams. #ScarpOBE, #DUagainstOnlineExams et cetera were the hashtags that were seen everywhere for a very long time. Of course, it did not matter to the concerned authorities. Notices regarding exams were being sent out each day, and there was no one listening to the students. The questions of accessibility and inclusivity still surround all the unanswered pleas of the students.
To soften the blow, a mock test paper was released to ‘familiarise’ students with the online examinations. For some it was a blank page, some could not access it at all, some could not read and understand what was written while some who did not own a computer or laptop were asked to go back home by various cyber cafes because of the fear of coronavirus, and the issues faced by the students in Kashmir were nowhere considered for these examinations meant for students with privilege. Personally, I can vouch for the inevitable server issues that occur each time we visit the university website. Even results were announced late which prevented various students from applying to other universities for their master’s degree.
Protests against exams were obviously not limited to Delhi University, just like the issue was (is) not limited to DU.
4. Protests against online classes and fee payment
I am tired of writing about the exclusive nature of education in our country. You must be tired of reading about it. Alas! Concerned authorities are not. They have still blinded themselves to these issues and continue to think that mere google-meet links are enough to access these online classes. Students of all the colleges have been resisting against payment of college fees. Sheer hypocrisy is displayed when these universities are asking for fees from the students and are not paying the staff on time. The sole reason behind the Delhi University Teacher’s Association (DUTA) strike that happened a few months back was to demand the salaries of various teachers who were not being paid.
5. Love Azad: A Campaign Against the Lies of “Love Jihad”
The All India Students Association (AISA) very recently launched a campaign called Love Azad against “Love Jihad”. This was done to “assert women’s right to be in love and to choose her partner freely”. Through this campaign, students bring forth the problems in the communalised idea of love that is being perpetuated and endorsed by many. Things as basic as women’s autonomy, love without boundaries, and a no to discrimination based on religion form their chief concerns.
They try to debunk the fallacies in the claims of people who believe in “Love Jihad” by providing alternate ways to look at things and rather highlighting the importance of choice that is being snatched away from women who are already struggling to exercise their right to choose anything and everything.
This is not an exhaustive list of Campus Movements that happened this year. There were so many universities and colleges whose students helped everyone by bringing these pivotal issues to light and stood against exclusivity and non intersectionality.
When it comes to a denial of basic things, sitting quietly is a choice only the privileged can choose to make. A pandemic does not mean that one’s rights are suddenly intact or all demands are being met. It rather means a prior need to reach out to those who might not be ‘enjoying’ their time at homes and have been terribly hit by this pandemic. There are various intersections that need to be scrutinised and looked at. Of course, merely looking and analysing is not enough. Hence, the protests even during a pandemic and especially during a pandemic.
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section.