In the age of neoliberalism and neo-fascism, Indian students are continuously made to feel powerless. Any protests against the commodification and Saffronisation of education are met with heavy political repression. Those who take the courage to come out on the streets are immediately persecuted by the government. Once you have been identified by the status quo as a “seditious” threat, your entire career gets destroyed, either through a permanent campaign of character assassination or through outright incarceration. As students come to recognize the personal costs associated with dissent, silence around issues of social significance becomes widespread. In this situation, what should the Indian student movement do?
Insofar that our rulers utilize our individual stakes in the present-day system to defeat us, it is imperative that we construct a new system. Concretely, this means that the disciplinary power exercised by the promise of a secure job would no longer function if the system in which it ensured participation would itself be replaced. Of what importance would a meritocratic career record be if it stopped serving as a route for attaining economic stability in the existing society? This dynamic is evident in the behavior of students who are forced to join India’s ceaseless tuition race. A class 12 student attending coaching classes says, “In the beginning, you complain, but then you start feeling grateful. It’s the only way you can land a seat in an IIT [Indian Institute of Technology] or a medical college”. For this student, the raison d’être for taking part in a torturous coaching regime would cease to exist if the condition of pro-rich, jobless economic growth was eliminated. What should be the orientation of the student movement with regards to this particular case?
On the one hand, it can advance a structural critique of economic hyper-competitiveness, showing how coaching centers arise in response to the issue of growing joblessness. Accordingly, it will link the critique of coaching culture with the demand for an alternative economy that ends social Darwinism and provides jobs to everyone. On the other hand, the student movement can also abstractly criticize coaching centers for their mindless practices of rote memorization, which kill the spirit of pedagogy. However, this criticism would fail to gain traction as it provides no rational explanation for why opting out of the tuition race is beneficial for the material interests of the students. It does not put forward any positive alternative to the ugly reality of exploitative coaching corporations.
From the above example, we can develop the basic coordinates for a programme of systemic change. First, the student movement has to show how the quest for individual security in a neoliberal economy is always marred by the brutalizing routines of war-like competition, in which the “success” of few is invariably based on the “failure” of many. A socialist economy would overcome this exclusionary architecture through a robust welfare state dedicated to establishing universal dignity for all. Second, the student movement has to highlight how personal stability in a capitalist society is always dependent upon the suppression of dissenting opinions. It has to demonstrate that having a “good” career in the capitalist system means compromising with one’s ethical conscience and turning a blind eye to fundamental injustices. In sum, the revolutionary articulation of an alternative society of human flourishing nullifies the threat of economic insecurity: student won’t submit to authoritarian discipline if they are confident in the belief that the socialist society which they are struggling for will guarantee them security.
In order to carry out the revolutionary overthrow of neoliberal society, the Indian student movement has to build strong interlinkages with all sections of subaltern masses. Such subaltern connections would help the student movement break its hermetical isolation and engage in a national-popular articulation of a socialist future. Right-wing groups in India are fond of labelling any instance of student resistance as “anti-national,” as destabilizing the public order of the country. This demonizing rhetoric can be countered by a truly radical narrative that shows the intimate intertwining of student issues with the issues faced by the impoverished people of India. Any workers’ strike, for example, contributes to the weakening of the neoliberal system, enabling students to strengthen their own opposition to neoliberal educational reforms. Neoliberal capitalism and neo-fascist politics have laid their body all over India. Wherever we strike it, we damage it, and we serve the revolution.
Yanis Iqbal is studying at Aligarh Muslim University. His theoretical pieces and articles on contemporary affairs have been published around the world, in countries such as the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Netherlands, France, Greece, Italy, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Vietnam, Tajikistan, China, Turkey and several countries of Latin America and Africa. He has appeared in many podcasts such as The Marxist Think Thank, The Anti Empire Project, A Correction Podcast, and Revolutionary Lumpen Radio. He is also a member of the writing staff of Midwestern Marx and has an op-ed page on Eurasia Review.
By Yanis Iqbal