Monday, May 22, 2006

At Ground Zero of the Quota Protests

Rediff covers the brave students who have single-handedly decided to fight the might of the Indian government. May Justice be done. May Truth win. May the Casteist vote-banker Arjun Singh be exposed for what he is: en enemy of the people of India. Satyameva Jayate.

Rediff reports:

Text and Photographs: Sheela Bhatt

Anger, energy and ideas fill the air at what can be called the Ground Zero of the anti-reservation stir -- New Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

This is where the pulse of the anti-reservation protests lies, with members of the Youth for Equality group opposing the government's quota for Other Backward Classes in higher educational institutions.

On Monday, there were 88 students on hunger strike. Over the past week, more than 45 students have collapsed.

As soon as Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh spoke of implementing the 93rd Amendment passed by Parliament last year on April 7, 2006, resident doctors and medical students met informally to discuss the issue. Slowly, the number of meetings increased, more and more colleges and students joined what was to become in days a national agitation.

The protestors' commitment remains steadfast. It also appears that, gradually, the medical students have shifted their target from Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress party.

The students vent their anger against politicians and disgust against educational policies, sometimes with imaginative slogans such as these:

Even God doesn't know what is OBC.
Reserve versus Deserve
Reservation is a disease and not cure
Don't reserve me, give me what I deserve
My hunger strike will leave you crippled!
Don't play bias and dirty politics
Is it a hand of Congress or a slap on our face?
I didn't vote last time but this time I will -- Congress you will have to pay the price.
50% reservation 100% politics
Even God doesn't know what is OBC

Close to collapse, Sachin Maggo has just broken his hunger strike after eight days.

"I went on hunger strike because I want the government to help the backward classes by starting more primary schools," he told "By imposing these quotas, the government is working in a reverse direction."

"When you sit on a strike at AIIMS you know that how important it is to protest the political demand for quotas. We are the center of gravity. We know that movement is growing from here. The message is spread from here by the media," he added.

A core committee manages the agitation.

Of the committee's eleven members, five are students while six are resident doctors at New Delhi's four medical colleges.

Vishal Sharma, Amitasha Sinha, Sasmit Sarangi, Riten, Safal, Manav, Neha and other members of the core committee meet every morning to chalk out the day's programme.

The agitators have formed nine committees -- Mass mobilization, Coordination, Finance, Legal, Lawn coordination Committee (where the fasting students sit and sleep), Media committee, Communication, Security and Events planning.

The pandal where the fasting students and other protestors are based is located inside the AIIMS premises. It has coolers and fans; some students organise bottles of mineral water for the fasting doctors. Dr Vishal Sharma, a member of the core committee, told "We are short of funds, but not short of supporters."

The students seem happy with the media coverage they are getting. Now welded into a strong structure, most of them are from economically comfortable backgrounds and seem capable to continually innovate at the protests.

By Monday afternoon, apart from slogans and illustrations like the one in the photograph, the students began a mailing campaign to the prime minister.

The result? Some intelligent, some snide, some serious and all angry messages to Dr Singh.

In just an hour, nearly 1,000 postcards were written out by students, faculty from various colleges and other supporters of the anti-quota movement.

The heady of one department at AIIMS wrote: Would you wait so long if your own children were on hunger strike?

A housewife wrote: PM, I thought you are a wise man but you are proving to be the enemy of my children.

A student wrote: Jago Mohan pyare, Jago.

A lady teacher wrote: PM, you can't strengthen the weak by weakening the country.

Many students wrote just a line: We will not vote for you, Mr Prime Minister.

One man told Dr Singh: India is not for sale.

Most postcards carried the message: First keep the OBC quota in Parliament, then turn to us.

One professor wrote: PM please connect!

A medical student said: British divided us, we fought them. Whom do we fight now?

Some postcards to Dr Singh showed extreme bias.

A lady officer in the local education department wrote: Some Indians are backward because of two things. 1) lack of primary education facilities 2) Genetic defects amongst tribal, lower classes and OBCs.

The other voice, of the pro-quota protestors, is hardly heard at AIIMS.

When a security officer was asked at the entrance, he said, "Pro-quota medical students and teachers come every afternoon. They shout slogans for an hour and then run away. Woh bichaare sharmaate hain. Log dekhne aate hain to dar ke bhag jaate hain." (The poor chaps are shy. When people come to look at them, they get scared and run).


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