'Is Kerala HC aware of freedom struggle?': Court slammed for saying no to campus dharnas

While coming down heavily on campus politics, the Kerala HC also said that dharnas, hunger strike and satyagrahas have no place in democracy.
 'Is Kerala HC aware of freedom struggle?': Court slammed for saying no to campus dharnas
'Is Kerala HC aware of freedom struggle?': Court slammed for saying no to campus dharnas

Hitting out at student politics in Kerala campuses, the Kerala High Court said on Friday that politics and political activities cannot be permitted in educational institutions.

Saying that politics and studies cannot go hand in hand, the court said that college authorities are within their rights to rusticate students who resort to dharnas, strikes or any other means of disrupting the academic atmosphere of a college.

The High Court’s order came in regard to a petition filed by the MES College in Malappuram district against six SFI students who are on a hunger strike. The institute requested the court’s intervention to end the protest. The students began to protest after the student’s union election was cancelled by the institute, reported Indian Express.

Passing its interim order in the case, the court said, “Dharna, hunger strikes and other practices like Sathyagraha have no place in a constitutional democracy, much less in academic institutions.”

It warned that anyone indulging in such activities in an educational institution would make himself liable to be be expelled or rusticated.

The court also said it was the responsibility of the police to assist college authorities in maintaining a peaceful atmosphere on college campuses. “If called upon by the college authorities, the police would be under an obligation to assist the authorities in maintaining peace and quiet and orderly  conduct of academics in the college premises,” the order read. 

The court observed that if students hold legitimate demands or grievances, there are legal avenues through which they can be resolved, including students’ councils, academic councils and courts.

“The very fact that people resort to dharna/hunger strike shows that they themselves are aware that their demands are not legal or legitimate and they use these coercive methods to achieve what they could not have achieved legally,” said the court order.

The court also warned an SFI student leader who appeared before it that he could not pursue studies and politics together. We would warn the additional fourth respondent and caution him to concentrate on his studies rather than indulge in politics in the college premises if he is so inclined, or he may withdraw from the college to continue his political carrier, if he so chooses. But the two cannot go together. The choice is his,” the interim order read.

The Kerala High Court’s observations and order have been greeted with widespread dismay from political leaders within and outside the state.

Veteran Congress leader VM Sudheeran, for instance, told mediapersons, “It is inappropriate to ban campus politics based on isolated incidents of violence. The order was unfortunate. We don’t behead ourselves to get rid of headache, do we? This order is distant from reality.”

Palakkad CPI (M) MP MB Rajesh called the order immature and rather shocking.

“How can the HC ban students from practicing satyagraha? I wonder if they are aware of the Indian freedom struggle,” Rajesh told TNM.

“All the college managements must be really happy with the order, for they exploit the students. Take all private financial colleges in Kerala as examples. Students even commit suicide after being pressurised by the management for various reasons. I don’t support undesirable tendencies among the students. But it is well within their democratic rights to protest for a cause. I would call this judgment immature,” he said.

Others argued that the court had gone too far in questioning all forms of student politics, and should have only tackled the question of campus violence.

"Every student who steps in to a college campus, completing 18 years of age, has all constitutional rights. SFI's violent politics has forced court to take such a decision. But such violent politics has to be banned, not all campus politics. Students have their rights. This order will only increase the gang violence in the campus," said AM Rohith, former state Vice President of the Congress-affiliated Kerala Students Union.

This is not the first time that the Kerala High Court has sought to put a check on campus politics in the state. In 2003, the HC had given private college managements the authority to ban political activities within the campus, and had asked the state government to formulate similar rules in government colleges. In 2014, the Kerala government had told the court that campus politics will be banned in all state colleges.

The HC will consider the matter again on October 16, when it will seek a report from the police on how it’s orders to remove all dharna paraphernalia from the campus have been implemented.

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