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University of Allahabad agitation: Damage done to students’ lives here will reverberate across India

India’s Universities are erupting with anger. After Hyderabad Central University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, the latter unnecessarily publicised in recent times, it is the erstwhile ‘Oxford of the East’, where real action seems to be unfolding. The University of Allahabad has been witnessing large scale student protests since last month — the Allahabad High Court and administration have demanded a ‘wash-out’ of the students (complete vacating of hostels).

Violence erupted around the main university campus on the 28 April, when the police lathi-charged protesting students — who had gathered to 'gherao' a meeting between the executive council and requested to meet the vice-chancellor, RL Hangloo. However, the vice chancellor refused to meet the students. When the students continued their protest, they were were faced with violence from the police. Students then broke up into several groups and vandalised various parts of the University, buildings and other vehicles. The scuffle lasted nearly five hours, various student union leaders were detained and are still in jail. Numerous students, both male and female, along with a few policemen were injured in this scuffle. Students also alleged that the police, along with PAC and the RAF, entered their hostels and damaged their belongings. The MHRD, ironically, constituted a committee to look into the aspect of violence, rather than scrutinising the brutal imposition of the hostel ‘wash-out’.

Last month, the high court, in response to a writ petition, instructed that the hostels be washed-out and repaired, and then allotted to the students in the next session. The university administration, along with the city administration, gave students a deadline to leave their rooms by 18 May, 2017 and asserted that they would throw students out with the help of police and other security forces, if the instructions were not followed. The students, on the other hand, alleged that their side of the story was not represented in the court and that the University has been trying to force them out of their hostels under the veil of court orders.

File image of Allahabad University. Youtube

File image of Allahabad University. Youtube

The students have their own set of problems. They are arguing that various civil services and other competitive exams are in May and June and if they are to be forced out of their rooms, it will affect their preparations. Even otherwise, it seems a personal and logistical nightmare for thousands of college students to find alternate accommodations on such short notice. The students also maintain that the renovation of the hostels can be done by shifting students into different blocks gradually. However, the students are also in the favor of ousting 'illegal' students — who lie at the core of the problem. The students maintain that this can be done by listing the legal and illegal students and removing them instead of completely vacating the hostels. The administration is unwilling to understand these approaches.

A similar incident took place four years ago, in 2013, when the then vice-chancellor, AK Singh, tried to wash-out the hostels. Violence erupted in a similar fashion and the then MHRD minister constituted a two-person committee under SK Thorat. The committee, instead of arbitrary wash-outs, recommended better management of the hostels and the construction of new hostels. However, the present situation suggests that no action was taken on those recommendations.

The university currently has around 15 men's and women's hostels and can accommodate only around four thousand students. However, the total student strength of the University is more than fifteen thousand, and, thus, is able to accommodate less than one third of its students in hostels. Most of its students are forced to stay in rented rooms in various quarters of the city. The hostels are in poor condition as most of them are devoid of a regular mess facility. Most of the wardens and superintendents of these hostels do not stay in the residences attached to these hostels, resulting in neglect. There are massive problems due to the possession of rooms by ex-students and outsiders and every year the university takes the help of city administration and police in identifying and combating illegal possession of rooms. The vice-chancellor of the university does not meet student delegations, resulting in a communication gap. Favoritism runs high in allotment of hostel rooms, carried out by the faculty and staff of the university.

The 130-year-old university started declining in the mid 1980s and has progressively crumbled over the last twenty years. Once considered a factory for the mass production of civil servants, writers, scientists and other scholars, it finds itself as less than a shadow of its glorious past. In the recent NIRF rankings of the MHRD, the university was unable to secure a position in the top 50 educational institutes in India. The University of Allahabad began its decline during Congress rule, as Indira Gandhi turned her party into an apparatus of nepotism and corruption. The decline picked up during the regimes of the BSP and the SP, the former indifferent to student life, and the latter actively engaged in criminal activity. After decades of neglect, many students turned their hopes towards the Modi Government and made him the vehicle of their hopes and aspirations. As the aspirations of the students turn rapidly to dust, it is crucial to remember that the university of Allahabad is not JNU. Both bigger and actually significant in regional politics, damage done to students’ lives here will have reverberations elsewhere.

Pankaj Singh graduated from the University from Allahabad. He is currently at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Satyaki Roy is a Researcher at the latter

Updated Date: May 07, 2017 11:45 AM

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