Kerala High Court bans all forms of agitations in schools and colleges.
At a time when the country is witnessing a rising movement led by students in university spaces against the divisive legislation of CAA and for affordable education, often throttled by the muscle power of the supporters of the ruling regime and the deafening silence of the police, the Kerala High Court’s order curbing student-led protests in educational spaces come as a blow.
The High Court passed an order on Wednesday in a suit filed by two schools in the state ruling that no activities that affect classes and hinder a student’s right to study should be carried out in educational institutions. The order implies that rallies, gheraoes, strikes that would disrupt classes would not be allowed in the campuses hereafter.
It is important to note that the order comes in the wake of student protests at different parts of the country including the iconic struggle for affordable education at Jawahar Lal Nehru University in Delhi, protest against CAA in Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi, various universities of the Northeast such as Cotton University, Gauhati University, Dibrugarh University, Tezpur University, Assam Women’s University, Assam Agricultural University of Assam, North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) of Meghalaya, Nagaland University, Rajiv Gandhi University in Arunachal Pradesh, among others. The student movements rippled in other central universities and premier national institutes. Perhaps the order falls flat on moral grounds when students protest for securing the entry of students from marginalized sections and the court stands by those who do not care about the right of accessing educational spaces of the marginalized.
Secondly, the order seems to be another bizarre judgment from the court siding with the private managements that run the educational institutions often compromising on the quality of education and charging high fees to make sure that students, who belong to marginalized class and caste conglomeration would not be able to afford education. About 60% of the higher secondary schools in the state are either privately owned or unaided schools with no government funds.
The private managements enjoy clout in the socio-political terrain of the state often harking back to the legacy of the state is comparatively high literacy rate among other Indian states. The court that curbed students’ right to express dissent should also see the terrible situation of employees who had to bribe hefty amount to the management to secure a job.
The order is anti-democratic and should be seen as a continuum of attack against the principles of social justice that the ruling regime in the Centre is aiming to destroy. Most of the protests on the campuses erupt organically questioning the authorities of their apathy towards improving the level of quality education. For instance, the protests at JNU were against the hike in hostel fees that made education an economic asset not accessible to students from marginalized communities.
Similarly, the protest against the revocation of scholarships for hostel and mess fees at various campuses of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences was about securing access to higher education spaces. Any move to discredit those movements to make education accessible for all would only mean gatekeeping the arena of public-higher education for the powerful, privileged sections of the society. The fall of students from SC/ST communities in TISS after the cancellation of scholarship for hostel and mess fee speaks volumes about the effect a bureaucratic decision on students and their families.
Kerala has witnessed many struggles for protecting public education and one of it opened the lid of ire against the first government in the form of ‘Liberation Struggle’ that led to the fall of the first government of ‘Aikya Keralam’ led by EMS Namboodiripad. Students under the banner of Kerala Students Union launched ‘Orana Samaram’ in 1957 protesting the fee fixed by the state for boat transport of students to be soon supported by the opposition and triggered the struggle to pull down the first-ever Communist government in the country.
The student struggle in the state to protect public education perhaps had no parallels in the country when students protested in biting cold and scorching heat to protect ‘uneconomic’ schools from the brim of lockdown by the state. It was the protest led by the activists of the Students Federation of India, later took over by CPI-M that saved the schools in Malaparambu and Mangattumuri from closure. It is the student organizations that keep a check on the education department from not delaying the disbursal of free uniforms and textbooks at government schools to the scholarship funds for students.
The honorable judges of the court should spare some time in reading the history of the student struggles in the state to conclude whether the order is fit to be implemented. The Kerala state government led by CPI-M; headed by Pinarayi Vijayan, an early Students Federation leader, should pass a law to override this order and help bloom democracy on our campuses without any delay.