A history of student unrest over social, language issues

Campus unrest is not new to Tamil Nadu. In the absence of a meaningful civil society , students have often played a pivotal role in the state by expressing their dissent through protests and agitations that have yielded positive results.
Though students in Madras Presidency did not respond in a big way to the nationalist movement, they did agitate over language and social issues. In the 1930s, they protested against a government move to make Hindi learning compulsory . It can be said that Periyar’s break from the Congress started with a controversy over caste-based segregation at a Congress-funded school triggered by a student complaint.
In 1950, students participated in an agitation over a high court ruling quashing quotas in the state citing Constitutionally guaranteed equality of citizens. The Constitution was amended allowing quotas for socially educationally backward classes, as a consequence.
While TN students have largely stayed out of national movements in which those across India participated, such as in the JP movement, they seem to spring back to political action over social and Lankan Tamil issues. There were widespread protests in 1983 and 2013 over the killings of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The 2013 agitation led to the DMK pulling out of UPA and forced the Central government to vote against Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
History tells us that language and social justice are two contentious and sensitive issues for students of Tamil Nadu. Institutions must exercise utmost caution in approaching such issues and not handle student unrest in an ad-hoc manner.
It is interesting to note that some believe that a radical thought presented by a small group of students can influence and change the mindset of the entire student community studying in IIT-M. It is absurd to presume that the students of a premier institution with a highly intelligent group of students would easily get influenced by them. IIT-M should take a leaf out of the renowned institutions of the West in terms of providing opportunities for multiculturalism and expression of divergent opinions. This is very important to create a knowledgeable and thinking society .
(The author is vice-president, Tamil Nadu Rationalists Forum)

G Olivannan

Author: Book Club India

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