Sunday, March 21, 2010

Inquilab Zindabad! For What? Do We Care!

This post, I admit is very late, it has lost what we journalists call the immediacy oit, but it has been niggling me for a couple of days now...So it needs to be exorcised.

Most Universities in the UK are going through massive funding cuts. So with the UK government deciding that the benevolence flowing from the exchequer into the coffers of Universities can be substantially reduced, the University in turn has deciding to go intelligent and cut 'lard' out of the system...So out goes courses that don't bring in the moolah, Departments are being downsized drastically and Pay Cuts and Pink Slips are in the 'Most Searched' list on University Internet.

My University - The University of Sussex seems to have a quite active Union..I remember a friendly warning as I was heading for foreign shores - to pack up my activism along with my unsuitable Indian clothes and leave it back in my cupboard in Kochi - for the Universities of Britain are the erstwhile bastions of Left activism and few wanted to see me return as a Card Carrying Member with what is now seen as a Utopian Conviction to rid the scorn off the Capitalist Bosses!!

I have taken the advice pretty literally, I have rarely joined protest marches, I just relish being a fly on the wall listening to how Socialist zeal manifests itself in the halls of a University.. So now, let me introduce the characters of this post

Prof. Michael Farthing: The Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex - portrayed more viciously than the Dark Knight

The Sussex Six: The fierce warriors fighting for the 'voiceless students and staff'

The rest of the roles - 'character artists' as we call them in India - performed by the police in riot gear, Uni security guards, as well as other staff on the University...
In a nutshell, push comes to a shove, activism goes into an overdrive, and six 'masked' intruders 'attempt to break into' the University Vice Chancellor's office, as stated by the press release that followed shortly, literally 'terrorising' the University Staff and holding the office under siege. Now the VC flexes his muscles, suspends six out of a group of about 100 who had been part of the demonstration protesting outside, but also calls in the police, who appear in riot gear and proceed to wield the stick on the students...

Interesting progression so far? The Indian junta reading this would what's new, isn't that how all demonstrations end up in India - we would have had three damaged buses, some classrooms rendered completely useless by damaged desks and benches, graffitti ruining lovely stone walls....and all in the name of righteous ire...

But in one thing, the group mentality is the same. Wonder how many actually understood the issue that they were campaigning for? Couple of girls who came to my university residence to mobilise support for the campaign, could only talk about the 'brutality' shown by the University in having their students arrested in such a 'ghastly fashion' - not caring for their futures, suspending them - the repeated phrase was 'And we say we are living in a democracy!'. That's the phrase that seemed to have stuck in everyone's mind...For anyone that I asked about the demonstration and picketing repeated the same line to me..I wondered if activism was fashionably bohemian for many or whether it was the cause that was the mobiliser...Like a couple of students told me - 'Nice to see pretty undergraduates out campaigning for support. Normally it's just the weird looking hippies who sit with banners and posters at the Library Square'

But I did sign up...I believed in the cause, I hate the thought of professors being made redundant so that young new recruits who will draw considerably less salaries can replace them, I hate the thought of a UK University downsizing their English Literature Department because the 'international cash cows' are more interested in Media Studies..

And on D-day that was last Thursday, I walked up all enthusisatic of shouting a couple of slogans, being part of a student surge to protest against 'atrocities' perpetrated by the University led by the Dark Knight- like the Suspension of Sussex Six ( which had by then been temporarily lifted and altogether revoked later)and the Cuts proposed....What I saw where about 20 people at two entrances to the University, some boards and banners and hardly any buzz in the air...There was a Facebook page seeking active participation, of the roughly 2500 people I saw on the invite list, roughly about 50 had agreed to participate, while over 1200 had promptly refused - That's at the time that I had logged on to check the Event Listing. And I remember thinking, maybe we should get some Asian imports to teach them how to assemble a buzzing picket and an active demonstration...There is more democratic permissiveness as far as individual rights go in the West, but then years of taking things for granted had atrophied the activism too...Or so I theorise..

The caveat is: I'm now thinking like an academic, looking to organise a truly effective picket/demonstration...In India, I have been on the other side, viciously spewing venom against this kind of activism, hating the disruption in the name of flimsiest reasons like 'Oh, did the Professor have to look me so hard in the eye when he was giving me my report? Maybe that's because he's a Social elite' The Banners would have read 
'Tanashahi Nahin Chalegi ( This Autocracy Won't Work', 'Professor Maafi Mange' ( Professor Apologise)  

The comparisons are perhaps muddling my head and my rational thinking...I know not which side I stand...I see reason on both sides...I don't want the porters and the other helpers to have to take a cut and departments being scrapped completely...But can't a more logical solution be drafted if the University Board went back to the drafting tables? 

But one thing is for sure 'The Inquilab Zindabad' in an Indian atmosphere is more electric than any of the Western equivalents I have seen here...Capitalistic traditions have perhaps eroded ideological zeal a bit too much in the West perhaps...

But I still think Britain could be the last bastion for red-stained University leanings in the West...After all, Communist revolutions were exported to many countries in the Third World from these hallowed halls of education about fifty years ago...

As I write this, I hear about other protests across UK Universities...Aberdeen students abandoning the Occupation of the halls they had done...Murmurs of Support for Sussex protest is being heard from Universities across UK - the Union website is filled with information about this.. Cambridge University papers full of admiration for the Sussex Six and the ire at the police brutality against the students..There's mobilisation of opinion for sure, but I wonder if in Britain, this level of participation mounts any pressure on the powers that be to consider their demands favourably...Hmmmm....

  ( Photographs taken from the Uni Paper The Badger and assorted Strike Blogs of UK Universities)


  1. My dear Deepthy,

    I love your frankness and lack of pretence, this sheer ability to put down exactly how you feel.

    But as usual, you have managed to provoke me by using the slogan, "Inquilab Zindabad!!!" Having used it, do you know its context and history? Clue: 23 March, a day in the history of that slogan, draws close.

    Peace and love,
    - Joe.

  2. Yes Joe, I have been really fond of history myself. It means Long Live Revolution literally and was famous for its use by Bhagat Singh and friends before they were hanged wasnt it? I remember a trivia quiz where the same question was asked...must say, didn't need the clue..:)