| University students at an anti-reservation protest. File picture
New Delhi, Aug. 5: Anirban Ghosh’s right arm carries an inch-long scar and he still remembers that night three years ago. He was returning to his Delhi University hostel when he was stopped. Then the punches and kicks started.
“The attackers were from a particular student union, some of them were from my own college,” he recalls.
Anirban, now a postgraduate student at DU, was scared to go to police. Even now, he prefers not to name the union involved. “I was so surprised, I couldn’t even react when they attacked,” he says.
It was later, he says, that he realised he was beaten up by the union members on behalf of others — belonging to a powerful caste lobby among students — who Anirban had frequently got into arguments with.
“The union wanted the support of these students, and what better way than to physically show your strength,” says Rajib, Anirban’s friend since their days at St James, Calcutta.
That was August, less than a month before the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) elections, and Anirban was almost immediately sought out by a rival union to campaign for it.
“To both, those who attacked me and those who claimed to support me, I was merely a tool,” he says.
And that is why, say students, DU, Jamia Milia Islamia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University have seen violence in the past few days, a time when campaigning for upcoming elections has started in each.
Shonkhomala Ray, one of the many at Jadavpur University who were at the receiving end of police lathis recently, was solicited by student unions to campaign for them.
“I had joined the protests as an individual. Many of us were asked by various unions to campaign against the government for them,” she says.
Anirban, Shonkhomala and many like them, while supporting the need for student unions, believe the violence in the country’s universities often has as much to do with elections as administrative apathy.
But Apurbo Chatterjee, the Bengal secretary of the Students’ Federation of India, says it would not be correct to link campus violence with student body elections. “Student unions do not like violence either,” he says.
Former DUSU member Ravi Pant, however, sees a link between the two. “There is a reason why violence picks up in election season,” he says. “All the student bodies assert themselves that much more. So confrontations are inevitable.”