Standing up against state violence on students, propaganda and greed

Rajeev T. K. October 13, 2011

Image Credits:bk1bennett

The live images on TV were chilling to say the least. One could be forgiven for mistaking them for scenes from Cairo or Tripoli. In riot gear, lathi in hand, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Kozhikode is seen stomping down the street. Reaching for his revolver from the holster, he aims squarely at retreating protesters and empties round after round of live ammunition. With their commander aiming to kill, the cops on duty got the message loud and clear. Their brutality and aggression was supported by the right type of weapons, funded by police force modernization initiatives. After all, what value is a modern police force to rulers, if they cant ruthlessly discipline protesters, and do so with total impunity and disregard for civil rights. Lobbing grenades that pack enough punch to disembowel and decapitate. Swinging canes engineered with composite materials designed to rip through skin and skull. Not wasting blows on limbs, they encircled the students and literally aimed high, to crack open skulls. This was a level up even for Kerala Police, notorious for brutal repression and human rights abuses in the past.

The facts behind this particular incident in Kozhikode paint a sordid, surreal picture. The students were protesting for several months against efforts to illegally admit a student, Nirmal Madhav, to Govt Engineering College Kozhikode by means of a special executive order. Madhav was being transferred from a "management seat" in a private institution to a "merit seat" in a government run institution, flouting all regulations. Worst of all, he was directly promoted from 3rd to 5th semester by an executive order! Madhav's well connected to the highest echelons of the Congress party - his father is reportedly a close aide of Ramesh Chennithala, the regional satrap of the Congress party. Clearly, that's all that takes to set ball rolling in Oomen Chandy's government. Pick a college of your choice. Issue an special government order. Skip ahead a couple of semesters. Foist false police cases on protesters. Transfer officials and teachers who refuse to fall in line. Except that Madhav and his backers forgot to take into account for how strong and resilient a students movement armed with facts and conviction can be.

In the days after the gruesome incidents in Kozhikode, sections of the corporate media and right-wing bloggers have embarked on a propaganda exercise. It has all the usual ingredients - accusations that Nirmal was a victim of ragging , claims that he had been driven to the taking his own life and even a claim that an unnamed SFI leader had taken a bribe to arrange the transfer. Of course, unlike the facts of the case such as illegal transfer, promotion and police firing which have been independently ascertained and indeed streamed live on TV, all of these counter-accusations are pure speculation and based on statements released to the press by Nirmal Madhav's backers. Their underlying calculation is to overwhelm and confuse the readers and viewers with a barrage of claims, just long enough to tide over the ever shortening news cycle and attention span. In a few days, hopefully the public will forget the specifics and it will be education business as usual. Or won't they?

In reality, Nirmal Madhav is just the tip of the iceberg of rampant commercialization, corruption and cronyism in higher education. Week after week, protests have been going on all over Kerala. They seldom draw any news media coverage, until and unless there is an outbreak of violence. Student protests have been met with unprecedented and asymmetric state violence. On the heels of assuming office, the UDF government began to systematically sabotage the education sector. At first, the education dept delayed publishing the merit list of students seeking seats in private-run professional colleges. This delay, an act of commission, gave an excuse for private managements to refuse to admit students from the merit list. The level of collusion between private profiteers, government officials and UDF ministry, was clear from day one. The education minister, Adoor Prakash's daughter was one of the beneficiaries, only after a public uproar was she forced to give up her seat. This is not just limited to professional and higher education sector. The government has already announced that they will be issuing No Objection Certificates to private-run elementary and secondary schools. All of this is part and parcel of the carefully scripted attempt to commoditize education and dismantle a highly regarded public education system to allow for rampant profiteering and greed.

The neo-liberal assault on education as a fundamental right is well catalogued. On the streets of Santiago, Chile and New York City, USA - countries with the most heavily privatized educational systems - students burdened with debt and deprived of access to quality education are saying enough's enough. India's own expenditure on education pales in comparison to these countries who are seen as neo-liberal case studies and laboratories. The Kerala protests have to be viewed against this backdrop and as an essential step in asserting the fundamental right to education, protecting the valuable progress that has been made in the past years, and defeating the rampant cronyism and corruption in public sphere.

Nothing short of an unconditional apology from the government and a strict action against the guilty cops and officials would be a step towards restoring normalcy. However, the UDF government is moving in the exact opposite direction, exacerbating the situation with a lethal cocktail of state violence, repression and propaganda. The need of the hour is for a broad solidarity with the students who are standing up against cronyism, corruption and greed. To forget or forgive, is not an option.

education, Kerala Police, Nirmal Madhav, politics, Politics, SFI, Kerala, Neo-liberalism, Note, Commons Share this Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported


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Even if I agree to your

Even if I agree to your points, what do you have to say about the public property destruction (on a high level really) which happened in the protest the very next day? Or may be thats also "media creation"?

Isnt it obvious its another trick?

It is an interesting to see true lovers of "public property" suddenly peeping out whenever some of form of protests turn reactive, as opposed to being on the receiving end. An engineering seat in Calicut Engg college is also a public property, which is misused. The entire machinery(ranging from petrol used in police vans to the perks given to policemen for extra duty) wasted there to unleash violence to citizens is also at the expense of public money. Now, forget about this incident. Just watch around and see in what all ways public properties are destroyed and malhandled in every sphere of day-to-day life. Nobody has no worries. But when a protest turns violent in reaction to how its suppressed in a cold-blooded manner, suddenly there are all concerns for "public propery"! So isnt it obvious for a level-headed person to identify that it is just another trick used by the ruling people to divert attention?

From a different angle(because you mentioned like high level reality), let me ask another question - Just think about how much "public properties" have been destroyed for the past 5 years in our country, and how has it affected our life? Has it affected our life as how it has affected us when we had to pay 20Rs more for every litre of petrol? Just thinking on this line for a while itself, I am sure, would make us realize how ridiculous is this myth of "concern for public property"!

@Anoop Yes, there was


Yes, there was violence on the streets. And yes, public property has been destroyed. However, this is the counter-violence of a people defending their rights. This is the type of counter-violence that will stop the likes of state terrorists like Asst Commissioner Pillai from walking into a public place (a hotel, bus stand, your home??) and opening fire on you and your loved ones in the future, because he or his political bosses didn't agree with you. State terrorism has to end. Cronyism, profiteering and greed cannot continue unchallenged.

Yes I agree that state

Yes I agree that state terrorism has to end.

Couldn't stop writing

Couldn't stop writing this....

I just loved Anoop's response at the end. After a barrage of reactionary (or is that revolutionary) 'terrorism', he just succumbs..

But that aside, the immediate issue of a person with connections managing to tweak the system is pertinent and needs to be fought.

However, the larger underlying unaddressed question, and I think this is just a manifestation of the issue, is the status of higher education sector. - Who should fund them? - Public / private / co-operative / Aided - How are the various colleges performing?

These are some thoughts.

What is the Left's considered opinion on these? How much was achieved during the five years in power.

And what is essentially the fight now?

Cheers, Naga.

@Naga: The answer to "Who

@Naga: The answer to "Who should fund education?" has been consistent - it should be publicly funded and universally available to those who seek it. Public funding is the first step towards any meaningful educational reform/improvement. Education is an inalienable right, it is a tool for human liberation and self-fulfillment. The state cannot wash its hands and say there's no money to educate the people. India has one of the lowest public investments in education - measured as per capita expenditure, % of GDP, etc. This cannot come to pass. Cronyism and corruption of the form seen in Nirmal Madhav's case is only a symptom of the larger systemic disease that commoditizes education. All aided and worsened by the neo-liberal policies (vouchers, private for-profit universities, etc.)

How are the public colleges functioning? From Govt Engineering Colleges in the state to the national institutes, public funded institutions outperform private ones. We are talking about orders of magnitude difference. The UDF govt is hell bent on undoing all the achievements of the prev LDF govt in this sector. This fight is not to victimize a particular individual or the present govt for any petty gains - this is a fight against cronyism of the worst kind and a continuation of the struggle for education as a right.

Let us not brush

Let us not brush contributions of the private sector under the carpet by broadly brushing all private and aided initiatives using one common brush. That's not fair. Just like there are varying gradations of performance of state run institutes. I think there are layers of grey, here. The 'devil' (for want of a better word) is in the detail. (Amidst all this, it is for sure that in fighting state oppression, there aren't any shades; it is black and white).

Kerala is amongst the few states that has whole-heartedly encouraged the role of non-state actors in education sphere. If the various Hindu/Christian/Muslim service organisations weren't allowed a formal space through the 'aided' route in 1957-58, I feel that the state wouldn't have been in the fore-front of primary/secondary grades education.

These institutions have contributed tremendously - one might debate whether these very mgmts should've the right to appoint teachers who are to be paid by the state; that's a finer aspect but the larger question of whether 'private' spheres have contributed or not is beyond doubt.

Coming to higher education, I think till the wave of privatisation was fast-tracked during the previous UDF regime, the aided colleges in arts/science/professional fields were doing fairly well. And I'm sure they are continuing to do so.

During the ensuing troublesome phase, I thought the whole CAPE experiment was a bold one.

But are we learning lessons from them? Are the people getting to know about it?

I, for one, do not know.


Let me remind you that my

Let me remind you that my response was to your specifc questions "Who should fund them? - Public / private / co-operative / Aided" and how public institutions have done so far compared to pvt ones. I did not and will not try to assess the contributions pvt colleges have made so far. That's a different matter - and not to be confused with the qn of who funds education and how public vs pvt provisioning performs (i find that term loaded in the context of public policy debates, but I digress..)

That said, I am not sure I'd say that the decision to aid pvt managements by paying the wage bill and subsidizing other expenses is a finer point. It's pretty fundamental to public funding mechanisms and state support..There is no reason why state funding has to be channeled through pvt hands esp since the pvt and co-op managements in Kerala are notorious for corruption in teachers appointments, pushing religious agendas and other irregularities. We just saw a teacher get brutally assaulted by goons working for pvt management (none other than Balan Pillai... the pattern is pretty clear here..) As for the co-op sector, we saw how a self described socially conscious co-op mgmt in Pariyaram MC has been less than supportive of the LDF govt 's own request for merit seats. So, in this debate, all of that should be on the table - but the basic demand by left-progressive movmt has been clear and consistent - education is a right, and should be made accessible to all who seek it by means of public funding.

@ Rajeev - While talking

@ Rajeev - While talking about corruption in pvt and co-op mgmt, you are conveniently leaving out the 'rent seeking' behaviour of PSCs and the lack of transparency in the processes involving sanctioning of new schools/colleges and a whole lot more.

And of course, the notorious under-utilisation of available resources'. I remember Deepak/Biren once telling me about the proposal to enlarge capacities of Govt Engg colleges by just tweaking the schedule of classes (a la Arts College - morning, afternoon shifts, if you like). I am not sure what's the follow up on that.

Not clear about what you mean

Not clear about what you mean by rent seeking behavior of PSCs. All I know is that it's fashionable in right libertarian circles to call government regulation and state intervention as rent-seeking. Let me put it like this - even with all the inefficiencies of the PSC mechanism and govt decision making - that process is a lot better in terms of quality of hires, transparency and fairness than the typical pvt/co-op sector hiring practices. Somehow it is has become perfectly acceptable to pay bribes to management to gain employment as a teacher in these places. All in the name of education!

As for under-utilization of resources.. I feel it is a matter of misplaced priorities. Instead of increasing spending in the aggregate to fix the shortfall, we are trying to squeeze in 2x/3x capacity into the existing public infrastructure. You mention the Govt Arts College model of morn and afternoon shifts. My question is: since when did it become acceptable to have different standards for public and pvt institutions? Why is it that students going to a pvt institution require more hours of tutoring, labs and extra-curricular activities at a time and place of their convenience, than those going to a govt college? Because they somehow earned the right to educate themselves by paying higher fees? Its important to continue to ask these hard questions and not accept quick fix remedies that ignore the fundamental issue(s).

I don't think we differ on

I don't think we differ on what the objective should be. (education is a right, and should be made accessible to all who seek it by means of public funding)

But in order to reach there, (classic mgmt lingo, ain't it), we need to take several steps.

I would be keen to understand what are the steps being proposed. What have been the efforts at trying to implement some of them, in the 5 years when a govt upholding left-progressive ideals was in power. What were the difficulties

Of course, hard questions need to be asked? But should we stop short there. Or go ahead and suggest, discuss, debate the steps that need to be taken. That then truly becomes a constructive engagement.


Hi Naga, I didn't see any

Hi Naga,

I didn't see any barrage of terrorism or anything in my response. I was just asking Rajiv about his opinion on the public property destruction which happened during SFI protests. His reply was balanced and hence I had to agree with him. I wasn't fighting or arguing with him at all.

I am not sure you meant this, but please don't think that whoever criticise you are "rightist bourgeoisie". I am a communist at heart but unlike many others (in my experience) I criticise CPM/SFI or any other communist parties in India. And I welcome criticisms from others as well.

Thanks, Anoop