The students not only defended the right to education, but they also defended the essence of democracy.
1. Why did you write this book?
The motivation to bring out this volume stems from the students’ movement, particularly from 2014 to 2019, which fought a hard battle to restate the essence and the purpose of modern education, and the need to have an active community of critical intellectuals who would not remain quiet against oppression and injustice.
The students not only defended the right to education, but they also defended the essence of democracy – which is the presence of critical and dissenting voices.
The other important aspect is that when a key pillar of democracy, i.e., the media, fails to perform its duty and becomes an arm to spread disinformation and falsehood, the students become the reporters of their time. This document preserves the crucial history of our time and records the memories of pain, struggles and unity.
2. How does it help to guide the students to participate in the movement?
This book could be considered a handbook for student activists who are keen to understand the processes of building movements in two contexts:
(a) at a place which bears a history of an active and organised student movement, and
(b) at a place where the so-called apolitical discourse has dominated the consciousness for a very long time.
The campuses covered in this volume present a combination of both these scenarios. We, therefore, tried to offer answers to questions, such as: ‘How does a campus with a history of organised students’ movement respond to crisis?’, ‘How do they mobilise students and organise protests?’, ‘What does it mean for a student movement to have a structure?’, ‘How do issues evolve in a less-politically charged campus?’ ‘How does spontaneous movement get built?’, ‘What are the benefits of some of the tested methods of protest?’, ‘Where does the question of stagnation of struggles lie?’, ‘At a time of massive state assaults, how does students’ movement survive?’ ‘How to build democratic movements by uniting ideologically opposed forces?’, and so on. . .
3. How was the process of making this book?
The making of this book has been both interesting and challenging.
Interesting because this volume emerged from a concept note that identified specific themes and questions around students’ struggles and challenges to higher education. With great momentum, as the contributions came in, that concept note grew into this book.
It was challenging because shaping a book that focuses on movements and requires those who’ve led these movements to write or speak about them can be tricky on two accounts: first, determining the scope of inclusion is complicated as many factors and layers come together to make each movement possible, and second, ensuring a certain level of academic engagement without losing the articulation and spirit of diverse sections of the people who have advanced these movements is exacting.
Editing this volume set us on a steep learning curve. We tried to acquire editing skills where, on the one hand, we attempted to grasp the broader picture to construct stories with their commonalities and differences. On the other, we learnt to look at our text as a distant audience, only partially familiar with the contexts and issues discussed. This was very demanding but exciting.
4. How contemporary is the book?
This book majorly documents some important student movements between 2014 and 2019, the period of the first Modi-led BJP government.
However, students’ protests in Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, and the undivided Andhra Pradesh covered here stem from a long history of organisation and struggle. They are included to highlight the role of non-BJP right-wing governments in pursuing neoliberal policies in higher education, and the challenges and resistance arising thereof.
This book was at the editing stage when new student protests emerged against the discriminatory NRC-CAA and the undemocratic abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir. The introduction includes two testimonies which shed some light upon the nature and scale of state assaults during this phase.
Thus, this book may be considered a handbook of contemporary student movements that recorded direct experiences of struggles, the major issues, the processes of building movements, the solidarities and political-ideological alliances, the challenges, the hope, and the future.
5. Why is the book organised into four sections?
It is essential to state that most of the struggles this book covers take place as responses to the government’s negative agenda. However, the students’ movement furthers the struggles by raising positive demands and fighting for institution building.
This volume also uses different narrative techniques. For instance, while most texts are contributions from young research scholars and activists who played a key role in leading those struggles, others are interviews with activists, especially those who’ve been under pressure of leading continuous protests.
The book is organised into four sections to offer the reader ease in identifying the key themes and forming deeper connections and interconnections between them.
In the first section, we raised issues of caste and gender with a perspective on how students are addressing deep-rooted structural problems of society and trying to offer solutions to them.
The second section aims to uncover the problems of authoritarianism and the democratic struggles building up to resist that.
The third section focuses on some of the basic needs of students, such as hostels and fellowships. What happens when those needs are violated? And how students persisted in securing those rights to ensure education for all?
The fourth section presents the effects of neoliberal policies that are changing the character of higher education and HEIs, alongside the fight by the students against the education policy. It is also worth noting that some of the most compelling struggles against neoliberal policies have come from the combined and organised movements of students and teachers.
We also have a special section in this volume that records, primarily untold, unknown, and even suppressed, accounts of two mothers – Radhika Vemula and Fatima Nafees.