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Friday, October 4, 2013

SUCCESSFUL ‘MARCH TO DELHI’ PROGRAMME: SFI Calls for Intensification of Struggles - Ritabrata Banerjee

SUCCESSFUL ‘MARCH TO DELHI’ PROGRAMME: 
SFI Calls for Intensification of Struggles - 
Ritabrata Banerjee

THOUSANDS of student activists from different parts of the country marched to Delhi on September 10, 2013 at the call of the Students’ Federation of India. Amidst thunderous slogans the streets of the capital were flooded with SFI flags and banners in different regional languages as students voiced their demands concerning education and their rights.

The ‘March to Delhi’ programme had three central demands: “Spend 6 per cent of GDP on Education; Say No to Commercialisation and Centralisation of Education and Ensure Democratic Rights of the Students in all Campuses”. Along with these three central demands, state-specific demands were chalked out and an intensive campaign was conducted in the campuses throughout the country to make the rally successful. Representatives of 40 lakh students assembled in Delhi to voice the just demands of the student community.

Addressing the huge gathering, chief minister of Tripura and former vice president of SFI, Manik Sarkar, pointed out that the policies of the central government are responsible for the sorry state of affairs in education. He pointed out that education in India continues to be in a poor state despite the otherwise relatively high growth rates the country has achieved. He said that this is mainly because of the continuing neglect of successive central governments to provide more resources to the education sector.  He also noted that the small increase in spending during the UPA-I regime, due to pressure from the Left parties, was also far from sufficient and reached nowhere near the promised spending of 6 per cent of GDP and 10 per cent of the budget on education.

Sarkar categorically mentioned that in order to remove these bottlenecks it is necessary to increase the public spending. He said that in a situation where ‘cuts’ have become norm, it has become necessary to reassert the demand for ‘6 per cent of GDP spending on Education’. He explained about the alternative policies carried by the Left Front government in Tripura and informed the gathering that the rate of literacy is highest in the state.He emphasised the need for the country to have an alternative policy trajectory which will be committed only towards the common man.  He pointed out that the Congress and the BJP cannot provide any relief to the common man in the country as they are wedded to the neo-liberal economic policies and only concerned about the well being of the corporate sector and the big business houses.

The chief minister told the gathering that the expenditure on education is hardly 3 per cent of our GDP. Unlike the 45 to 85 per cent enrolment in higher education in advanced capitalist countries, in our country 90 out of every 100 youth in the age group of 17-23 are currently outside the gates of any college or University. Even among those students who are able to take admission in class 1, only 16.6 per cent are able to reach class 12th.  He categorically pointed out that the brunt of these faulty policies is being faced by the poor and the socio-economically deprived sections such as the females, dalits, adivasis and minorities. He noted that as a part of the clear cut neo-liberal outlook, public education is being systematically downgraded to create space for the private and foreign players. 

Sarkar mentioned that the Left Front government in Tripura, inspite of various limitations, is committed to the common man and it is this commitment that is reflected in the fact that there are no fees up to the college level in the state. The Left Front government in the state has worked hard to decrease the dropouts in schools -- from 55 per cent it has come down to 8 per cent. He also mentioned that out of every 100 youth in the age group of 17-23 years in the state, 18 are now getting a chance to go to the colleges which is far higher than our national average.  He also said that the state government in Tripura is spending 25 per cent of its annual budget on education, the highest in the country and far ahead of the national average.

Addressing the gathering SFI general secretary Ritabrata Banerjee congratulated the different state committees for the success of this ‘March to Delhi’ and also for conducting extensive campaign at the state level. He mentioned that along with this march, simultaneous rallies are also being conducted at different places throughout the country. He explained the three central demands and said the UPA-II government waged a renewed offensive in the field of education through commercialisation and centralisation. Attempts are being made not only to push for increased commercialisation and opening up of the education sector to foreign players, but also to fundamentally change the structure of education sector in the country. The thrust is to curb the democratic values in the realm of education policy and make it subservient to the whims and fancies of the market.

He mentioned that education, especially in a country like India, which is marked by large diversities, cannot be straight jacketed. It has to be participatory and democratic, where diverse sections can both relate to and benefit from attaining education. A top down approach can never address the problems prevailing in the education sector in an effective manner. He pointed out that saying ‘No to commercialisation and centralisation of education’ has become one of the central slogan of SFI’s movement at this juncture.

Congratulating the Rajasthan and the Himachal state committees of the organisation, Banerjee said in the last two decades of neo-liberal reforms, ruling classes have systematically acted to depoliticise the campuses. He mentioned that the fight for campus democracy in essence is simultaneously a struggle against the neo-liberal model of education. Referring to the martyrdom of Comrade Sudipto Gupta, he said that it has underlined the fact that the fight for the democratic rights of one section of society in essence is also the struggle for the democratic rights of all the sections of society.  He announced that the SFI will be collecting 50 lakh signatures addressed to President of India demanding a judicial probe into the custodial death of Comrade Sudipto Gupta.

Dr V Sivadasan, president of SFI, mentioned that the question of democratic rights of the students in the campuses are  facing a very serious threat with the onset of the neo-liberal era.  He said that the Birla Ambani Report (2000) and the proposed Model Act for Universities during the tenure of the BJP-led NDA government viewed students’ unions as an impediment in the path of implementing the privatisation and commercialisation agenda. In the name of preserving the academic ethos, they took a stand against elections.  He noted that due to widespread opposition, both these initiatives were eventually dropped.

Sivadasan also mentioned that the issue of student politics was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court as a result of a long drawn legal battle in the Kerala courts, where prohibition of student politics by the then UDF government was challenged.  He noted that the Lyngdoh Committee was constituted by the MHRD, as per the order issued by the Supreme Court on December 12, 2005, to streamline students’ union elections. It advised flexibility in the conduct of elections to students’ unions as per the requirements of different campuses. In fact, the Lyngdoh committee made it mandatory for all educational institutions, including private ones, to hold students’ union elections in some form or the other. However, most educational institutions in our country continue to ignore these basic recommendations of the Lyngdoh committee of holding student union elections in campuses. Ensuring the right to hold students’ union elections is essential as it becomes a site for the battle of ideas and it provides a platform for collectively addressing students concerns.  

Sivadasan said that barring a few states, student union elections are not held in most of the states. Bengal was an exception with regular elections. But ever since the Trinamool Congress formed the government, there has been an all-round attack on the democratic rights of the student community. There have been continuous attacks on the activists and sympathisers of the SFI. In the year 2012, 103 elected unions were forcibly captured and no elections were conducted in them. The ruling party has been openly helping and guarding the miscreants.

SFI vice president Abid Hussain explained about the struggles waged by the organisation in Rajasthan and also mentioned about the emphatic victories registered recently. Another vice president Madhuja Sen Roy explained the situation in Bengal and mentioned about the glorious fight put up by the student activists in the fight for  restoration of democratic rights. Central secretariat member Kapil Bhardwaj mentioned how the NSUI and ABVP have joined hands in the recently held Students Council Elections in Himachal Pradesh in order to defeat SFI.  But inspite of their efforts, SFI registered victory in the Himachal PradeshUniversity and in many colleges of the state.

CITU president A K Padmanabhan, AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah, AIAWU joint secretary Suneet Chopra and DYFI general secretary Avoy Mukherjee congratulated the gathering through  their brief speeches.

The colourful and vibrant rally started from SFI central office in Windsor Place. Activists from different states carried their flags and banners written in their regional languages. Students from Tripura and Tribal Students Union clad in their traditional wear added colour to the rally. Bengal rallyists carried photos of Martyr Comrade Sudipto Gupta demanding a judicial probe into his custodial death.

Thousands of Sudipto Guptas gathered in the capital voicing demand for justice. The vibrant gathering vowed to sharpen the fight for campus democracy along with other demands concerning education. The gathering emphatically declared that in the context of attack on democratic rights of students in the campuses Comrade Sudipto’s martyrdom has become even more relevant. He died fighting for the restoration of campus democracy in West Bengal, and the movement of SFI pledged to carry forward his legacy only through the further intensification of the struggle for democratic rights in the campuses of the entire country. The programme concluded with a vow to intensify struggles throughout the country.

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