Indeed, it was relentless protests by student bodies in 2017 that forced the Kerala government to announce a probe into the suicide of a student allegedly tortured by college authorities in a private engineering college in the state.
In banning forced disruption of classes through on-campus agitations, the Kerala High Court has batted for students’ right to study. Coming down heavily on disruption of normal academic functioning as a tool for campus politics, the High Court said that campuses “should not become venues of protests”. There were 10,205 student agitations in 2016, the last year for which such data is publicly available from the home ministry. Given the sharp spike in politicisation of campuses, and polarisation on many issues between then and now, student agitations would have likely risen steeply since—more so, with the protests in solidarity with JNU and Jamia, against the attack on students, having spread across higher education institutes. The loss of academic days from such protests exacts a great cost from not just the government/institute-management but also from students who want to complete their academic programme in time.
To be sure, student politics is important, and demonstrations are a part of this, too. Indeed, it was relentless protests by student bodies in 2017 that forced the Kerala government to announce a probe into the suicide of a student allegedly tortured by college authorities in a private engineering college in the state.
Historically, student agitations, apart from foregrounding immediate concerns of students (Jadavpur University’s Hok Kolorob agitation, the Occupy UGC protests,etc), have also engaged with larger political issues, and have inspired other sections of the population to act—for instance, Hong Kong’s Umbrella Protests of 2011, Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia that overthrew the counrtry’s communist regime, and the 1989 protest catalysed by a group of students mourning the passing of a liberal reformer within the Communist Party of China that resulted in the Tiananmen Square incident. However, the right of the student to study with classes running as usual is unassailable, and student politics with even the loftiest goals can’t be allowed to block this. Students can’t be forced to boycott classes—some of India’s most prestigious public universities, such as Allahabad University and Lucknow University, were ruined by students asserting their right to dissent in an absolutist manner.
The need for vibrant campus politics needs to be balanced with the primary purpose of a student—receiving formal education. The Kerala High Court had banned, through an interim order in 2017, politics and protests on campus. The state government recently brought a law to allow political activity on campus by student outfits, claiming that the law was mindful of the judicial opinion on campus politics. An analysis of home ministry data shows that the more literate states had higher number of student agitations, indicating perhaps greater political awareness, than those with low levels of literacy. All pillars of government need to keep in mind that this is something to be celebrated, but not at the cost of students being forced out of classrooms.