Tata Institutes Social Sciences Students’ Union in Mumbai released a statement on 3rd March endorsed by 5 out of 7 union members calling off the strike in all the struggling campuses (Guwahati, Tuljapur, Hyderabad) which began on 21st February. However, the strike in campuses continues even after that. My views here might lack the subjectivity of a TISS student, and I am not one. However, certain observations as a student, closely observing the movement over the time, need to be stated. I find that it is always better to speak one’s mind. In the statement, the union has issues with the method of the struggle and the standpoint from which the movement should take place. The alternative form of struggle they purpose is taking it out of the campus. On these three points, I attempt to examine the statement.
The Method of Struggle
We have seen some occupy movements in student politics. We know the occupation of sites, particular places of strategic importance, as a form of struggle in recent student movements, “we won’t move till you give us something favourable and concrete” tactic. The struggle at TISS gate took the nature of an occupy struggle. Occupy struggle can last long. Occupy UGC went on for some three months. What is wrong in adopting this method? Marx writes at the beginning of the first chapter of Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 “the capitalist can live longer without the worker than can the worker without the capitalist.”(1) It is commonsensical that what we struggle against is always stronger than us. Otherwise, our act does not qualify as a struggle. There is more to lose for the students than the administration. It is the nature of all struggles against oppression. Struggle demands hard work. The union’s statement writes “a large part of the general body have been constantly working towards making sure that the momentum of the struggle continues in the same form.” What is wrong in working to build the momentum of the struggle in the same form? When one form fails, we should adopt another form. It fails when students no longer feel the need to continue the form. But the statement itself says that “a large part of the general body” do not feel that they are manoeuvred out from this form of struggle. It is the minority of the struggling students who are saying that this form of struggle has failed to give any result. The majority in the movement is continuing to struggle. The administration admits only a “partial modification” in their notification after the strike broke out. How much favourable is this partial modification for those affected? The union has nothing to say about it. The administration stands by its 23rd Feb notification till now. The same notification in different words was presented as a plan of action by the TISS administration on 26th Feb and on another plan of action dated 2nd March. Union seems to imply that they are happy with the “partial modification” in their statement and those who are continuing the struggle should give up because the larger student body is not in a mood to fight, this is the logic of the union. I agree that broader student community in places of higher education are casteist. It should not deter us to fight injustice. In the same way, when we see wrong, we should challenge, especially when a majority of General Body which is large in number is willing to continue the fight.
The Standpoint Issue
The statement, further, writes: “We also feel that the struggle is being used by certain groups to find political leverage and that their constant insistence on keeping the protest going in this form is as such so as to gain some mileage with the student community. This threatens to dilute the objectives of the movement, taking the control of the movement away from those who are most affected by it and those who should be deciding its terms.”
We should all ask the union that what is the exact political leverage they are trying to get by calling off the struggle? We will be clear after that what political leverage those who wanted to continue the strike are getting. The union in its statement argues that the majority of the General Body is occupied by political groups who are trying to take mileage out of the struggle. What does mileage mean? Maybe, mileage to not submit assignments and reports. The union also needs to clarify why the continuation of the form of the present struggle “threatens to dilute the objectives.” 5 out of 7 members of the Union cites their experience as their reason to call off the strike. Who are these two members whose experience are not considered essential? They did not consult Jackson Lotha, a student from the northeast in the Union before writing a mail to the administration calling the strike off. He found out much later that such a mail has been sent. Their statement writes that some political groups had taken “the movement away from those who are most affected by it” after their act of not telling Lotha before they sent the mail. The matter is not limited to Jackson Lotha. Have they gone so much ahead of common sense that they started believing that the children of the toiling masses, which the union calls “most affected by the injustice” do not want an immediate solution to this crisis in their lives? Who are the most affected? The student who cried saying that it would be economically excruciating from now on for her in TISS. Is the union going to provide data on who are happy or unhappy about this decision? Are those students from the northeast at the protest site do not look like the most affected? Shouldn’t the union have taken a bold stand to give confidence to these students who are the most affected?
The union’s alternative solution is to ensure that “the struggle goes beyond the gates of TISS, where a larger, structural fight awaits.” What does the union exactly want to do remains unclear? Many students organisations in Mumbai have extended their support to TISS movement and are willing to come to TISS. At such a juncture, TISS union wants to go out when organisations and individuals from other institutes are willing to come to TISS. The struggle has been going on for many days, and the union has nothing concrete to offer to the larger student body or the General Body who are struggling for themselves and much more putting in line their academic career. Their statement further writes, “struggle needs to not negotiate but definitely positively work with the administration in a lot of ways.” Negotiation is a part of the struggle, most of the time. Negotiation fails when the favourable result does not come out. It is surprising that the Union is saying that the struggle needs not to negotiate. However, it should work positively. What is this positive work? Are they implying that the struggle students are negative? Who tells us to be positive these days about the political environment? The Union seems to try to instil this sentiment that the struggling students are knocking at the wrong door. TISS administration rejects any responsibility and blames the ministry. The matter is unclear because students who went to meet the union minister to submit a memorandum after Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association’s protest in Delhi report that “it seemed that Union Minister Gehlot did not know much about the TISS issue…”(2) Furthermore, by reiterating the language of the administration in the document provided by administration titled as Claims and Facts in the TISS website, the Union in its statement contradicts their assigned responsibility as an elected body to represent the larger students body. (3) The struggle needs to understand that the administration is making attempts to divide the movement by dividing the students into various groups (the distinction that the administration is maintaining between SC-ST and OBC students and between different batches) and offering different token measures to different groups.
My concern here is institutional Ambedkarite forces in the context of the TISS movement. These forces understand the undeniable fact that the existing institutions are Brahmanical. This knowledge should immediately place them in contradiction with their attempt to institutionalise themselves. However, the task is to contest spaces in the institutions, mainly academic institutions as students with the aim to change the character of the institutions from brahminical to democratic. And all these can be done peacefully according to them. These attempts, I support. It opens up spaces for progressive politics. However, it is not just these Ambedkarite forces who are fighting to change the institutions. Its direct antithesis, the Brahmanical forces who are out and out neoliberal are also struggling to capture the institutions. With Hindutva right-wing forces coming to power, institutional spaces are being with extreme aggression denied to the oppressed masses through institutional measures, the withdrawal of Government of India- Post Matric Scholarship in TISS is one of them. The failure to see this is to forget the caste-class war waged against SC, ST and OBC students. Hence, the strategy of capturing the institutional spaces needs intensification because the usual seems not to work. The situation in TISS demands radical measures because there is no tomorrow for the oppressed in TISS if the movement fails. It is a bare reality, and we cannot negate it. However, radicality does not mean madness. It is sharpening of the contradiction between the opposing forces with thought out measures keeping in mind the balance of forces. Here, radicality means continuing the strike and maintaining the struggle in TISS Mumbai which has become the site of the struggle. It is the majority voice in the General Body. Many progressive and Ambedkarite student organisations and individuals in Mumbai are willing to come to TISS Mumbai in solidarity to protest in front of TISS gate understanding this fact. It will provide them with an opportunity to show real solidarity. Before concluding, I want to mention the union’s political bankruptcy. The union of a social science institute does not need to say they are in “no way saying that the struggle was ever apolitical or that we wish to make it as such…” It does not need to clarify that they are not calling the movement “apolitical.” Students are political beings; it is a fact. Hence, all students movements are political movements.