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Are Ashokans Ready To Mobilise?: Protest Culture on Campus

Kiana Manian, Undergraduate Class of 2021

17th September was a historic night for Ashoka, as students and a couple of professors gathered in Takshila to discuss their outrage against arbitrarily implemented policies on campus that change the very fabric of Ashokan student life. The absence of the administration members did little to absolve them of blame as the students rightly identified the Office of Student Life as the root of the havoc caused. Ashokans have been known for their apathetic behaviour towards issues and events on campus, and thus far, there have been few instances of students mobilisation for any sort of cause. The last significant act of protest was in the spring of 2017 when the entire admin block was filled with students, in the middle of finals week, protesting the actions of the CADI committee at the time, and the manner in which they adjudicated and proceeded with cases that they filed themselves.

Students had gathered on the first floor of the admin block in protest, bringing their assignments with them, and disrupting the flow of work from admins end to ask questions are demand results. The protest was viewed as fairly successful as the CADI committee was restructured and demands were met by the admin. From the word of ASP students who were there, the admin’s actions then; which involved starting a dialogue at conveniently inconvenient times for students (a tactic that continues to this day), stopped no one from speaking up and making a show. Maybe it had to do with the sense of community that a small university brings, knowing everyone affected, even if it isn’t you- something Ashoka has since lost, as our numbers have increased.

Credits: Varsha Nitish, Class of 2020

Since then, however, its been relatively quiet, and not due to a lack of issues to be angry about, but rather, a lack of collective drive to fight the grievances that everyone would grumble about in their rooms. At any given moment, there were only a handful of passionate people, each speaking about their individual grievance. This was all until this summer of 2019 when people suddenly raised their heads and noticed that when they looked around, the very essence of Ashoka that they had come to know was eroding.

The idea of “Ashokan Apathy” is not unfamiliar to any member of the community. Ashokans are known for forgoing many campus events, political, cultural and social, in favour of simply not going. Some blame it on “party culture” and others on the lack of unifying Ashokan tradition, a difficult feat for such a new university. But regardless of the cause, it is true that the turnout of most events on campus is reduced to a small handful, if not a lone person. There are few issues that Ashokans will come together to fight, the only ones we’ve seen recently to have sparked any major outrage have been the issues of curfew and cross-access. But unless those headliners are being discussed, there’s rarely any noise. That is until one after the other, like dominoes, the administration began bulldozing seemingly every facet of student life. From cross access to mess fees, concerns over housing and lack of transparency in policymaking, everyone had a stake.

This quick succession of events was what really turned heads and was the reason for the massive turnout at the town hall, with every member of the student body having some stake in the myriad issues at Ashoka. With no one feeling as though they weren’t affected as a result of these policies, there was unprecedented anger that actually mobilised the otherwise apathetic Ashokan community to take some preliminary action.

Since the town hall, there has been a sustained movement by the student body including a sit-in at Takshila, with students occupying it well beyond the 11 PM curfew as an act of civil disobedience. Students sat, studied and did not leave until early hours of the morning, leaving the room cleaned and ready for the next day. All through the last two weeks there have been posters, boards and information circulated around campus in the form of emails and flyers about the admins narrative and vague answers to question surrounding SH5, Trans friendly housing, mentions of caste, the mess, workers welfare etc. To ensure that at no point do students to forget and fall back to routine- or get used to the new state of things. The catchphrases which have be turned into hashtags: #NotMyAshoka and #Adhoka have become the soundbites that permeate every discussion, post and conversation that occurs about the conflict with the admin, as students try and remind each other that this is not what we signed up for upon entering this institution.

Varsha Nitish, Class of 2020

But what does this mean for protest culture at Ashoka itself? And can it be sustained? There are sceptics, who have expressed concerns that there are always individuals who try and take matters into their own hands and disrupt campus in counterproductive ways such as harassing members of the residence life team and effectively pushing back the narrative that the Student Government and other students have tried desperately to get control of. The Student Government is trying to build a front that presents the students as adults who deserve a seat at the table in making decisions about their own life. The hope is that the student body will begin to behave as just that- a body, a single mind. And this issue of lack of unity in disobedience will always hold us back if there is no recognition of the need for civil disobedience as a unified-body that understands our rights as students and the correct way to demand dialogue and results, without acting out in anger. The counter-narrative to this, as voiced by some at the Townhall, is that the only way forward is active disobedience, to recognise the admin as adversaries to our welfare as students if we want to be able to see results. But what everyone seems to agree upon is that this disobedience must be organised from within and must be sustained beyond a single town hall.

In the weeks following the town hall, there has been disappointment at the neutral stance that had been taken by the Student Government, no mass cross-access protest has been announced, and there has been active discouragement by the Student Government of such an act. Many were against the Takshila occupation too, as it didn’t send a strong enough message to the admin, and with midterms and the break approaching, our momentum will have been lost.

As it stands right now, Ashokan’s are all standing at a crossroads, and unless we all move in the same direction, we will never legitimise our position as equals to the admin, in terms of making decisions concerning our well-being, or stakeholders at this university. As the weeks proceed, and smaller demonstrations and town halls take place, as open meetings are announced and forums are opened up- it is our duty to attend, participate, discuss, and show the admin that we are aware of the issues on this campus and we are willing to stand up and fight for ourselves and for each other. Ashoka is at a very crucial stage in its determination; it is decisive moments like these where the student body stands up in reaction to outrageous administrative changes that define what “Ashokan Ethos” will come to mean.

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