“The government is with the corporates, but at the same time, it tries to appease the oppressed class. Hence, to win over dissenters, they demand that the constitution should be rewritten and to do away with reservation,” says Sreerag Poickadan, the newly elected President of the University of Hyderabad Student Union.
Hailing from Angamaly, Ernakulam, the 27-year-old was elected on September 22. A part of the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA), Sreeraj is only the third Dalit to be elected to the post. The PhD student actively participated in the agitations that sought justice for Rohit Vemula and believes that at a time when right-wing ideals are being politically propagated, the best way to counter them is through politics.
Speaking to TNM, he says that the format of the right-wing narrative has changed. “They are now selling it through policies like demonetisation, which directly affects the people. It’s a complex mix of Brahminism and capitalist thoughts” he says.
Talking about the idea of politics being about welfare and development, Poickadan says that it can’t be said that everyone who voted for the BJP can’t be called a Modi supporter or a BJP supporter. “They do it for development politics. That is how the BJP and the RSS has set the notion carefully,” he says.
Political correctness is often crucial, and Poickadan takes this into consideration when he says that everyone can’t be expected to be politically inclined. “We have been formed like that. Our system is like that. At home, our parents would say that politics is bad and our teachers would echo it. The system constantly teaches us that being neutral is the best,” he says.
This year, the ASA had contested the election as part of the Alliance for Social Justice, which included many other student organisations. The alliance, Poickadan says, was a welcome move to resist politics that divide in the name of region, caste and language, which is practised by the ABVP on campuses. Last year, the alliance didn't work out and the ASA contested on its own.
“Such unity among the student organisations, especially at a time when right-wing ideals have been gaining momentum across the globe is a welcome move. The student’s organizations in the alliance and the students who support it showed political maturity. The election results of JNU, Delhi University and UoH are all a testimony of that,” he says.
“Recently, the English and Foreign Languages University shut their exam centres in Kerala and Bengal because of the fear that it is the students from Bengal and Kerala who organise protests. Such elimination of students is there on campuses, but it not very visible,” he says.
He is aware that given the current situation in the country, being a Dalit, the task entrusted to him is big.
“My attempt will be to spread our ideas in a larger political context, in order to popularize our view. Next, is the fight for Rohith Act - the one for the justice of all students on all campuses. Ensuring basic amenities is also my responsibility. Being students of a Central University, people here have the right to get better amenities,” he says.
Poickadan admits the question of whether or not Rohith got justice still exists, but also knows that the desired impact will not be seen in the near future and will take time.
(Sreerag with Rohith Vemula)
He further adds that there is space for dissent at the university even now. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t have got admitted for my PhD. I was taking part in the protests while I was doing my M.Phil here,” he says.
Emphasising the importance of communitarian support, he says, “I belong to the Paraya community. It was tough even for me though I had a support system. I did my PG in 2013. Still, it took time for me to get through the admission process of a Central University. Without a cultural capital, it is not easy,” he adds.