Students' Right to Free Speech in and out of the educational institutes is recognized as an indispensable facet of democratic values. Unfortunately, a disturbing trend has unveiled through the recent protests against the arrest of a student of Kashmir University.
The iron hand used in KU to stifle the power of protest has unearthed an even more disturbing willingness to stifle students' right.
Seemingly it may have been made to appear that the recent unjustified use of force on unarmed protesting students was the first of its kind. However, the administrative high handedness is not new. There exists a consistent and institutionalized intolerance against student activism.
This particularly attacks an instinctive Right to Dissent. My right to dissent being the soul of my basic human rights must be protected rather than usuped. Therefore an institution which disallows me the right to dissent can in no terms claim to be the protector of it.
One cannot expect a university to be a 'dissent-free zone'. Is it supposed to be a breeding ground for ideas both conforming and conflicting? How do you expect today's students to be the torchbearers of tomorrow & social change? Social change requires that an individual must have a free and a democratic space to dissent. This space has been evidently and ruthlessly denied to the students of Kashmir University. Free speech cannot be alienated from the idea of an opinionated, protesting and justified voice. Our dissent is our education.
We cannot keep our ideologies and education merely theorised. We have to display the spirit of the knowledge that we have imbibed. However, recent events only expose this spirit being curbed brutally in Kashmir University.
Hence, there are certain uncomfortable questions that we as a society must confront. Are we going to allow the highest seat of learning become 'a stagnant zone'? Are we going to keep it aloof from intellectual evolution? It is indeed easy to talk about free speech and lofty democratic ideals at tea parties. It takes a lot of grit to attempt and assert it in at an institution which is tooth and nail opposed to it.
Student activism is often considered a blank slate. However history bears the evidence, that student movements have meaningfully altered the course of history. We must remember as Elie Wiesel has said, 'There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest'.
(Ayshia Zehgeer is from the Department Of Law, University Of Kashmir. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)