11 Notable Student Protests In Post Independent India

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Recent student protests against CAA and NRC gathered worldwide attention and also catapulted views about student activism and its role in the political framework of the country. The phenomena is surely not new to the nation and can be traced back to the pre-independence era . From the formation of the Academic Association in undivided Bengal’s Hindu College headed by Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, a teacher there and a reformer, whose disciples formed the Young India group of free thinkers, played a part in the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century to the first students’ strike in undivided India took place in 1920 in King Edward Medical College, Lahore, against academic discrimination between Indian and English pupils.

From students of Eden College in Calcutta (now Kolkata) burning down the then viceroy Lord Curzon’s effigy to protest the partition of Bengal in 1905 to the formation of various debating societies in educational institutions, namely the Marathi Literary Society in Bombay College and Gujarati Dramatic Group in Gujarat University. Given, are some of the many instances when students took to streets or initiated a needful discourse before independence.

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Students and their organizations were active during the freedom struggle as well. Post-independence, Many Political parties inaugurated their student wings. Several independent student groups commenced catering to the causes of the nation and also aided in the upliftment of the weaker sections of the society.

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Carved in the frame of time, India saw many student-led movements after independence as well. Some of them are listed below:-

1. Anti-Hindi Movement in Tamil Nadu, 1965

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Although Tamil Nadu had been witnessing agitation against Hindi for decades, the affairs took a turn when a large number of students took to streets to protest against the Official languages Act of 1963 which made Hindi an official language along with English. Despite the protests by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in the parliament, bill was passed. But then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru assured that English will continue to be the official language. In 1964, after Nehru’s death, the Congress government in the state introduced a three-language formula in the state assembly, which lead to the students taking to the streets. The death toll during the agitation went up to 70. The movement ended when then PM Lal Bahadur Shastri assured that Nehru’s promise would be kept. In the succeeding year, Congress was uprooted from the state paving way for DMK.

2. Nav Nirman Andolan (Reconstruction Movement), 1974

On December 20, 1973, students of an engineering college in Ahmedabad launched an agitation against a 20% fee hike in hostel food. The same sort of strike on January 3, 1974, at Gujarat University witnessed turmoil between the police and students. Protestors demanded the resignation of then Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel. A statewide strike was organized on January 25, which ended with another round of clash between the police and protesters. A curfew was imposed in 44 towns and the army was called in to restore peace in Ahmedabad. The Indira Gandhi led government at the Centre asked Patel to resign. The agitation led to the dissolution of the state government.

3. Bihar Student Movement, 1974 (also called JP movement)

The Chatra Sangarsh Samiti led by Jai Prakash Narayan exerted strain on the issues of corruption, nepotism, electoral reforms, subsidized food and education reforms. This non-violent protest commenced from Patna University and was spread to several other educational institutes in Hindi-speaking states of northern India. Nitish Kumar, now the Bihar chief minister; Lalu Prasad, a former Bihar CM; and Mulayam Singh Yadav, a former UP CM, were some of the prominent youth leaders who participated in the JP movement. The JP movement primarily promoted the idea of socialism.

4. Student movement during Emergency, 1975

Underground protests were organized in several universities and educational institutions across India by students and faculty members. Pamphlets and Leaflets were the means of dissent during the imposition of an emergency during 1975. Over 300 student union leaders, including then Delhi University Students Union president Arun Jaitley and Jai Prakash Narayan, who headed the Chatra Sangarsh Samiti, were sent to jail.

5. Assam Agitation (1979 to 1985)

All Assam Students Union launched the agitation in Assam against illegal migrants, which now can be seen leading the ongoing protests against the amended citizenship act as well. It was an agitation to protect the identity of Assamese people in the wake of an influx of people from Bangladesh following 1971’s War of Liberation. The student-led protest gathered support from the masses in Assam and it ended in 1985 with the signing of the Assam Accord. Student leader Prafulla Mahanta,  then head of the Asom Gana Parishad, became the chief minister in 1985 at an age of 35.

6. Anti-Mandal Agitation, 1990

Students from across India started a protest against the introduction of a 27% reservation in government jobs for people from the Other Backward Classes in 1990. Then VP Singh led government, implemented the Mandal Commission recommendations submitted to the government in 1980. Protests erupted at Delhi University and soon was spread to several educational institutes across the country, leading to violent protests in many parts of the country. Students in several places boycotted exams. The agitation came to an end when Singh resigned on November 7, 1990, after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support to his Janata Dal government.

7. Anti-Reservation Protests, 2006

Recorded as the second major protest held against the reservation system. The decision of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government to implement reservations for OBCs in both central and private higher education institutes led to widespread protests in educational institutes. Students and doctors belonging to upper castes called the move discriminatory. There were counter-protests in favor of the decision by OBC student groups.

8. FTII Agitation, 2015

In July 2015, the students of Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, protested against the nomination of actor Gajendra Chauhan as the chairman of the prestigious institute. The protest lasted for more than 140 days. Students boycotted classes and refused to take exams, claiming Chauhan was not eligible to head FTII. Similar protests were held in several other places in solidarity with FTII students.

9. Jadavpur University, 2014

The “hok kalorob (let there be uproar)” movement at Jadavpur University was against the alleged police attack on unarmed students. The students demanded a fair inquiry into the alleged molestation of a student inside the campus. Nearly 100 students refused to take their degrees during the convocation and effigies of the VC were burnt. Demonstrations showing solidarity with the students started across India. After four months of continued agitation, in January 2015, the VC Abhijit Chakrabarti resigned from his post. He had allegedly allowed the police to enter the campus.

10. Protest over Rohith Vemula’s Suicide, 2016

The suicide of a Dalit scholar of Hyderabad University, Rohith Vemula, triggered nationwide protests against the university administration over alleged failure to prevent his suicide. Vemula took the extreme step days after the university’s executive council expelled five Dalit students, including Vemula, from the hostel and limited their access to the campus for allegedly assaulting an ABVP student leader. Many students from different universities took part in the protest rallies. Vemula blamed the system for his death in his searing suicide not.

11. JNU Protest, 2016

On February 9, 2016, the campus of JNU was engulfed in protests over the 2013 execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri separatist convicted of conspiring in an attack on Parliament 16 years ago, which they and many other human rights groups considered flawed. The student-led demonstration witnessed clashes between different student groups. Then JNU students’ union president Kahhaiya Kumar was arrested by Delhi Police four days later and booked for sedition. Two other students, including Umar Khalid, were also arrested later. JNU authorities took action against 21 students and were slapped with fines and rustications. In response, students went on an indefinite strike. The Delhi High Court suspended the university action on the condition that students end their strike.

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Lariba Ashfaq Ahmed
Lariba, a literature student at Kamala Nehru College, is a bibliophile and an outgoing personality. She always strives to back every instance with reason but is a dreamer as well. Quite a rare combo.Her Best - friends are Coffee and Amitav Ghosh books. Dive deeper into Lariba's perspective of things. Check out her work.

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