Why my University College days fill me with Dread

“You brutes will rot in hell for destroying my life. You’ll soon see your sisters too kill themselves the way I did.”

(Lines from the note left by the first-year B.Sc Chemistry student of University College, Thiruvananthapuram, who attempted suicide)

The controversy generated by the suicide attempt of a first-year female student of University College, Thiruvananthapuram, due to alleged harassment by Students Federation of India (SFI) activists refuses to die down. Surely, we need not be overtly judgemental and allow the law to take its course. However, this seems to be a good opportunity to recall some of my personal experiences of being a witness and victim of political activism in the University College many years ago.

In the alleged suicide note penned by the girl who attempted suicide, she narrates how the SFI Union leaders compelled her to attend a Secretariat march even when she was on her periods.

Nearly two decades have passed since I graduated from University College, but it is distressing to note that nothing has changed on the ground as far as campus politics is concerned.

Back in the day, the first thing we did every morning on entering college was to look out for the leader of the Marxist party in college. His sartorial style signaled how the day would turn out. We were always anxious to know if he would be in formal trousers or in a mundu (traditional dhoti). If it was the former, then it was safe to go to our classroom. If, by any chance, it was the latter, then one had to be extremely cautious that day. It indicated that the party had planned some strike (could be a violent or a peaceful one) that day.

If there was a strike planned on any given day, you were almost sure that the party activists in college would come searching for you in every classroom and would forcefully make you to participate in the strike. I still remember how I and my friends hid in the library to keep away from the party activists. But you had no choice—if they asked you to go with them, you did. If you resisted, then you were surely going to be roughed up.

On one such occasion, I failed to hide from these youth activists and was asked to follow them for a march. Soon, someone handed me a party flag to carry. Carrying a party flag meant that I was trapped; it meant following the activists till their final destination. And no one else would be ready to take it from your hands, because they knew that if they did, they too would be in my position. I remember asking others to take the flag form my hand, but none obliged. Finally, at an opportune moment, I placed the flag leaning against the wall and fled the scene. The next day, I was too frightened to go to college but my fears were unfounded, nothing happened. Nobody had seen me abandoning the flag and escaping.

On another occasion, after being forced to participate in a strike, I was fenced in on all sides by a group of committed slogan-shouting activists. I was fearfully looking for an opportunity to slip away. I managed to slide into a nearby church, at Spencer’s Junction, next to Hotel South Park, where a wedding ceremony was taking place. I, then ran out of the back gate of the church and, fled the place.

During those days, the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) had a virtual monopoly on the politics of the college. Their slogans in support of democracy and socialism sounded hollow to us as they never practised it themselves. No other party was allowed to function or have their student units in the college. During college elections, only affiliated Left parties were allowed to stand for friendly contests. Ideologically opposite parties were not allowed to participate in the election process during these sham elections. And the Leftist Teachers’ Association used to facilitate this.

I hear now that the girl who attempted suicide has gone back on her suicide note where she had named SFI student leaders and teachers affiliated to the Left for taking the drastic step. The retraction doesn’t come as any surprise to me as I can imagine precisely why she would have done it.

Three years in University College felt like three decades to me and each day was an ordeal. The Left student union was totally autocratic with nobody to rein them in. This had a profound effect on me as I became anti-Left in my political outlook precisely because of my harrowing experience in University College.

17 years have passed, but it is a shame that nothing has really changed in the campus.

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