If the arrest of 31 Dalit activists from Uttar Pradesh Press Club is any indication of the Uttar Pradesh police’s arrogance, then the arrest of 14 Lucknow University students—who were arrested for allegedly stopping UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s convoy and showing him black flags—will make you understand the extent of intolerance they show towards dissenting voices. The police have charged the students with rioting, making it clear that the Adityanath government is ignorant of the culture of resistance that is prevalent in universities.
In the absence of media coverage, the students’ arrest started gaining attention after Amnesty International published an article urging people to send appeals to UP authorities with demands of withdrawing all charges filed against the LU students. At the same time, the video of the police assaulting the protesting students went viral and bringing sharp criticism from many quarters.
On June 7, around 25 students from Lucknow University, mostly activists of Samajwadi Chatra Sabha, an offshoot of Samajwadi Party, protested outside Lucknow University. Students waved black flags, shouted slogans and tried to stop the convoy of the UP CM by lying on road while the CM and governor Ram Naik were on their way to attend Hindavi Swaraj Diwas, a function held in Shivaji’s honour.
“We protested against the irregularities in the admission process and the inefficiency of varsity administration that does not release funds for genuine academic needs. Yet, went on to spend public money for organising an academically irrelevant and politically malevolent function at university,” said Puja Shukla, a student protester. “The function was not organised by students and fund allocation for such a function could be considered as a “scam”,Shukla added. She went on to say that the Hindavi Swaraj Diwas, for which Yogi was invited, was distorted and popularised as Hindu Swaraj Diwas (Hindu self-rule day).
However, the protest was seen as a “security breach” by the police which lathicharged the students, detained them and booked them under different sections. Seven police personnel were also suspended for laxity.
A first information report has been filed against 14 students from Lucknow university. Of the 14, three are charged under Indian Penal Code 151 (knowingly joining or continuing in any assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse), and 11 others are booked under various sections of the IPC including Section 147 (rioting) and 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter police servant from doing his duty) and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant).
When the students were produced in court on June 8, eleven of them were denied bail and sent in judicial custody for 14 days. Since the varsity administration was keen and quick enough to expel these 8 students, each of them had to apply bail on individual level from various local courts after furnishing bail bond of Rs 40,000 each. They were granted bail on June 26.
“Such protests against the government are common in universities but we have never seen police and administration using such a hard hand on students. Police usually detain students during protests but release them by evening. But, Yogi administration’s hard stand on students is first of its kind and remind us the Colonial India,” said Rajeev Yadav, secretary of Rihai Manch, an organisation that fights against caste and communal violence in the state.
While speaking at the function, Adityanath accused the protesting students of being swayed by naxal ideology and misusing the democratic space for anti-national activities. Responding to CM’s comment, Anil Yadav, spokesperson of Rihai Manch said, “His statements are a part of common rhetoric of branding protesters anti-national. What he does not realise is that opposing government does not mean opposing the nation.”
As the police is going ahead with the serious charges, all student organisations are contemplating a nationwide agitation on the issue. All the student leaders of UP will hold a convention at the Lucknow Press Club on July 7 where their main demand will be dropping of charges against students. “The idea behind this move is to bring students from various universities across the state on a common forum to create a pressure group for grievance redressal of the students,” said Sunil Maurya, the state secretary of All India Student Association (AISA). “We are planning a Loktantra Bachao (Save Democracy) march on July 25,” added Maurya.