Remembering Abhimanyu.

Martyrs always command over a contentious legacy. To some, they are heroes. To some, they are perverted criminals. To others, they are not nobodies. To form a learned opinion on all the cases is an extremely difficult thing to do.

We remember Abhimanyu today, the slain SFI leader of the Maharajas college, Ernakulam. The role of an extremist political organisation in his murder is well known now. This Islamic communalist organisation eliminated him while conducting an attack on him. It is unclear whether it was meticulously pre-planned or was it a crime of passion. Either way, there is no doubt that he was a victim of on-campus violence. That begs a question, of what made our campuses so violent?

Understanding violence on campuses is a complex undertaking. The factors are many. A volatile age group, free from social pressure and controls, inhibits our campuses. This is actually a blessing, for campuses always become hotbeds of political thought and creative social interventions. At this age, it is important that the students are supported by the larger society in their academic as well as creative pursuits. An unencumbered social life is a precondition for a productive adulthood where our students reach their full potential.

This full potential is no mere attainment of a “respectable job”. It includes a wholesome life, where the intellectual as well as other creative faculties that the student has developed is put to full use. To prime him/her for those roles, a vibrant campus is necessary. It should have freedom of expression, absolute freedom of thought and a congenial atmosphere for debates and discussions. The students must be allowed to express their concerns about the larger society. The society must have the maturity to understand that the students and their demands come from a place that the society may not grasp fully. This is because the social changes tend to get to the youth earlier than it reaches the older segments. Here, it is necessary that the older generation is ready to learn from its youth. Creative learning processes in the campuses shouldn’t be a one way process. Society should always look up to its universities to learn from it too. If not internalise those learnings, at least it should be ready to engage positively with them.

We live in a country where there is considerable angst amongst the youth. Ours is a country that looked dispassionately, when the police rampaged across some of our university campuses last year. That kind of impunity may be a stage managed process to act as a pornogrpahic stimulation to a certain constituency of the ruling government. But it kicks up a cycle of violence across the country. I mentioned this as an example here, but various factors are at work that lead to violence in universities. We envisioned universities as temples of learning and fierce intellectual engagement. But, those who want to disrupt it, especially the communal forces, find it easy to sow violence in our universities.

In Abhimanyu’s case, I learned that he was a noble soul who was well liked by his peers. He came from a humble background, with an unquenchable thirst to learn and know things. He was brought up in one of the layams (small, worker quarters) in one of the tea plantations in Vattavada. Truly from a marginalised social set up, if he could have made his way up, that would have uplifted a village, a community. Such a kid was slain in cold blood in one of our campuses. That this happened in Kerala is a scathing critique to what we have let fester amongst us.

But who is to blame?

Blame is not going to bring back all those who have been killed. But it definitely helps in avoiding future losses. That the violence is not the monopoly of any single student organisation was the message that rang loud and clear. If we look at violence as a legitimate means to accrue power, it may hit back at us in different forms is also no secret. One shouldn’t wait for a murder to happen, to feel outraged at campus violence.

It is a no brainer that Kerala’s campuses see violence on a daily basis. The problem however is that we are ready to give concessions. That a certain kind of violence is benign and normal is a fallacy held by many. To give a pass from some, and to hold others accountable will only exacerbate the situation. An understanding that the cycle of violence can never be shrunk should lead us. It can only be eliminated. It is bound to escalate as and when time and situation permits. This should be firmly entrenched in our minds.

To truly open up our campasus, to make them places where ideas can flow freely should be a befitting tribute to Abhimanyu. The campuses should organically evolve to form defences against nefarious elements in the society. To believe that we can defeat extremists through violence is a futile one. If you drive them away with sticks, they shall come back with swords and slay you. They could only be fought in an ideological domain. And in that, we all should stay together.

My politics differ from that of Abhimanyu’s. But I certainly mourn for him and the loss for his loved ones. As members of a civilised society, the responsibility falls upon us to never let things like this happen again. That shall be our pledge today. Open campuses and creative campuses should be the legacy he leaves behind. Not just him, but the scores of innocent youth we lost to political violence.

The numbers of “martyrs” being displayed as a scoreboard is one of the greatest perversions in our political culture. This should stop, and the pledge must be to eliminate political violence completely, irrespective of who conducts it. The students must be educated to not support anyone, who uses violence as a means to cement their power over our campuses. That should be a good beginning.

Written on July 2, 2021