(This is an anonymous note received from students of English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad about the ongoing protest against the closure of 24*7 reading room. The student who sent the note wants to remain anonymous as the University has been taking disciplinary actions against students even for putting up Facebook status messages against the Administration. The University also threatens to take action against the Students Union for staging protests. This shows the atmosphere of fear that prevails in the University and how freedom of expression is strangulated in this supposedly liberal space)
Editor’s Note – India is a democratic country that respects pluralism, and honors its citizens with right to Freedom of Expression. Even in worse cases, the best way to resolve critical issues in a democracy is through argumentative discussion. A university is a place to nurture leaders of tomorrow for our country by teaching democratic and human values. Therefore, it becomes highly important on part of officials & staff of a university to ensure students come out with cherish-able, guiding & lasting impressions. Dialogue is the tool of torch bearers of democracy, while suppression is the tool of dictators.
The ‘Occupy Library’ Protest in EFLU
The recent incidents in the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, show yet another move from the part of the administration to bypass democratic procedures and suppress the voice of the student community. Ever since she took charge, the current VC Sunaina Singh has managed to acquire infamy for her anti-student and totalitarian mode of governance. The most recent one was closing down the common reading room for students, which was functional 24*7.
The initial reason given was that it was under renovation. Later, notifications were put stating that the previous reading room will be attached to the library (which closes down at 8pm on weekdays and at 6pm on weekend). Separate reading rooms were allotted for male and female students in their respective hostels, each of which cannot accommodate more than 20 students at a time (the total strength of the university is 2500+). This decision, in effect, meant that boys and girls had no place to study/ work together after the stipulated working hours of the library.
The authorities even posed the question as to why it was necessary that boys and girls have to study together. Excuse my hyperbole, but probably the next step would be to prohibit the formation of mixed groups for class works, assignments and presentations.
This particular incident of closing down the common reading room has to be viewed by placing it in the context of the larger issue- the regulations imposed on the students over the past one year and attempts to curb the liberal values that EFLU has always held up. As opposed to the earlier set up which allowed mutual entry to men’s and women’s hostel, the administration issued new rules prohibiting the entry of male students into women’s hostel, with effect from August 2013.
The rules were formulated and put up during July, when a large share of the students was away for their semester-break. There were attempts to put a curfew time for girls’ hostel, but was prevented by a strong protest from the students, which included a hunger-strike. Back then, our very beloved and revered VC did not even bother to talk with the students until the hunger-strike went on to the fourth day. (She was recently awarded the Chanakya Award for best governance. Awards and titles are funny that way, aren’t they? The award for the best sports coach in India is named after someone who made sure that the Nishada boy’s thumb would never pose a threat to his pet-student. Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize by dint of having the “potential” to bring peace.) One of the strong reasons raised against the curfew time was that girls have equal rights to access the reading room at night. Now that the common reading room is gone, the curfew should not be far, I guess.
Apart from the evident attempts of moral policing involved in the issue of the reading room, this decision is fraught with many other dangers and violations. The decision was made and executed without the knowledge of the elected student’s union in power. It was autocratic from the very beginning- not acknowledging the say of the elected students’ union in an issue that affects a vast majority of the student’s community. When the union members demanded an explanation for closing down the reading room, the VC retorted that the students should talk politely to her; that they cannot demand for anything and would “have to request”. Someone has to enlighten this lady that the very idea of ‘rights’ means that it is not dependent on the goodwill/ good moods of the ones in power, but something that people are entitled to. “To request for your rights” is ridiculous, both linguistically and legally.
Foreseeing the inevitable protest from the student’s side, notifications appeared on walls of the university buildings, alongside the ones regarding the new reading-room rules, stating that the corridor between the VC’s chamber and the registrar’s office cannot be used as the venue for any protest. This is a space where students usually assemble to seek redressal for their grievances. Another notification raised the threat of disciplinary action against any move to disrupt classes. Now, join the dots to form a really scary line. The administration has made a very calculated move to prevent any sort of agitation from the students.
Despite the threats, the students proceeded with protest and decided to occupy the library on the 5th March. The plan was to assemble in the library, keep reading and not let the authorities close down the library. The students union had put up posters in the campus carrying the slogan “Leave Hostels, Occupy Library”. The VC issued yet another notice saying that the union was trying to threaten her, and that such moves will be met with disciplinary action. The authorities summoned the police into the campus (which they had been doing for the silliest of reasons), with threats of arrest. It was shameful to see the registrar and proctor coming inside the library with the threat of forceful eviction. Wrap your head around the idea that students were fighting for one of the basic facilities assured in any central university- an all-day study room!
The protesters in the library dispersed later in the night following the ACP’s assurance of negotiation between the admin and student’s union. On the 6th of March, students’ representatives’ demands were again rejected. A general body meeting of the students was called up at night to discuss the further course of action. The general body meeting expressed the strong sentiment that the students can no longer tolerate the autocratic nature of the administration and that resistance still holds meaning to the students of EFLU. The booing and hooting that the VC received at a public event at the University, where the VC couldn’t even speak a single word, show that the University community is no longer ready to accept this autocratic rule.