`Independence, Democracy, Socialism’ are the three words on the flag of Students Federation of India, the student wing of the CPM. But that has nothing to do with the activities the organisation engages in as it is mere anarchy let loose like in the stabbing of a student by an SFI mob on the University College campus in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday.
Realising the gravity of the situation and the public displeasure, the SFI leadership was forced to disband its unit in the college.
Educational campuses in Kerala have often been centres spawning political violence, and ones for leaders to graduate to the political arena. Violence and politicking with the patronisation of political parties have seen campuses turn out to be centres for violence like in University College, or Maharaja’s College in Ernakulam or Sree Kerala Varma College in Thrissur, to name a few.
Friday’s unprecedented violence in University College was one that mirrored the might of SFI that has been in full control of the institution. It was a petty issue of a student sitting under a tree and humming a song quite loudly being stabbed by set of SFI activists. Unprecedented it was for also students, including girls, who were present on the campus responded immediately and raised slogans against SFI and ransacked the college union office under SFI control. They even took out a march on the streets condemning the fascist ways of the organisation. Incidentally, most of the protestors were supporters of SFI ideals like socialism and democracy but could not stand the deviation of the party from its goals.
They admit that an atmosphere of fear pervades on the campus as was highlighted by a girl student who tried to commit suicide some months back as she found it difficult to counter the violent threats of SFI leaders. She had even left a note saying that it was impossible for her to continue her studies because of the political unrest and violence in the college, all because of SFI. She finally left the college to get a transfer to another but retraced her statement out of sheer fear.
It was very recently that a victim of political violence, Simon Britto, died after being on a wheel chair for years together. An SFI activist, he was stabbed on the college campus in 1983 as a retaliation to violence and remained paralysed till his end last December.
An SFI activist and student of Maharaja’s College was stabbed to death outside the college last year, generating a fresh debate on growing campus violence in the State. Not to end there and keep the incident fresh, SFI activists recently unveiled a statue of the slain student on the campus. This led to concern among other student organisations making even Kerala High Court comment on the matter.
The court had to direct the city police to ensure that there was no violence in the college during the unveiling of the statue. This was on a petition by a couple of students that no structures or statues of leaders should be installed on the campus.
The court made a noteworthy observation that it was concerned about violence on the campus and suo moto impleaded the district police chief as an additional respondent in the case.
Colleges where the SFI has dominance has also seen unusual protests and violence. The simmering issue of Sabarimala after the Supreme Court on September 28, 2018, ruled that women in the mensturating age can worship at the hill shrine found resonance on the college campus recently.
SFI, as part of welcoming freshers, had put up a poster last week of Lord Ayyappa positioned upside down between the legs of a menstruating woman. This kicked up a big row in the State and finally the Principal, who found it difficult to continue in office, offered his resignation. The SFI had turned against him. But finally after the intervention of different groups and authorities of the Cochin Devaswom Board which runs the college, he agreed to withdraw his resignation. But these are indications to what power such student organisations wield.
Graduating from the SFI, these activists have a `post-graduation’ course in the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the youth arm of the CPM. The memory of the 1994 Koothuparamba police firing in 1994 where five DYFI activists were `sacrificed’ to become martyrs during the protest against the then Minister MV Raghavan who had deserted the CPM, still remains fresh as a blemish on the State’s political canvas.
The number of DYFI activists involved in political murder cases is an indication of how youth are `taught’ to perpetuate violence. An MLA, who was till recently leading the DYFI in the State, is set to be quizzed for the attack on COT Naseer, a CPM rebel who contested as an Independent during the recent Lok Sabha election.
While it is argued that students can be politically active as the voting age in the country is 18, there is fear that political parties foment violence using them. During the Lok Sabha election, protest against growing political violence and murders, especially in the northern parts of Kerala, was a major plank for campaign.
Way back in 2017, Kerala High Court raised questions about politics on college campuses which it felt went against the basic tenet that students join colleges to study. This had led to unending heated debates with political parties opposing any move to ban politics on campuses. The debate rages, so does violence. The student and youth organisations cannot but mirror their parent bodies which tread the path of anarchy but camouflage it with the rhetoric of lofty ideals and principles.