University Community for Democracy (UCD)
The following is a rejoinder drafted by University Community for Democracy to the pamphlet circulated by Krantikari Yuva Sangathan titled “What is Ailing University Democrats”. We will first present what we see as certain basic misconceptions and flawed assumptions at work in way KYS has understood UCD, and then proceed to factually refute a number of statements made in their pamphlet.
UCD is a platform primarily consisting of students and some teachers of Delhi University. It was formed when many of us who were deeply offended by the way the University authorities had decided to evict students from their legitimate right to hostel accommodation decided to come together and protest against this eviction. In the course of our discussions, we concluded that the callous behaviour of the University administration in this instance had to be linked to a larger pattern of increasingly irresponsible and authoritarian governance in Delhi University. Hence, we decided to call ourselves University Community for Democracy. For us, democracy is a mode of governance and organisation which is transparent, open and inclusive. At the same time, while each organisation and individual harbours its own ideological worldview, the fact of coming together on this platform has not been to absolve those differences but to come together with a basic common understanding of the problem at hand. It is, therefore, a coming together of those from the Left and not elsewhere. While demanding our democratic space from University authorities we have also tried to realise what democracy can be for us in our own workings as a platform. All our meetings are held in the open (most of them have been held in the lawns of Delhi School of Economics), all decisions are taken in these open meetings, which are duly recorded in minutes put up on freely accessible internet forums. We do not claim to be saviour of anyone in the University, the downtrodden, the working classes or the poor. We have no claim to be any revolution’s vanguard, or harbingers of a future ideal society. However, each of us is actively engaging with how we want to visualise an ideal society. Ideologically some of us are committed Marxists, some are liberals, while most of us are still exploring our paths in the world of ideas and commitments. Some of us are members of other organisations. All we demand is that these not be reactionary, communal, sexist or casteist.
The KYS pamphlet demonstrates their failure to understand this basic character of the UCD. The central paradox in their formulation is that they see the UCD as an organisation. It isn’t. UCD was always conceived as a network of those who shared a basic understanding of a common problem afflicting both the University in particular and in the city in general. So when the weaknesses of UCD are pointed out, it seem to assume that UCD is an organisation with a defined manifesto in rivalry with (and thereby judged retrograde in comparison to) another organisation like KYS, whereas UCD was loosely assembled as a forum precisely for individuals and organisations like KYS and NSI to ally their valuable experience with mobilisation and work together. The very fact that KYS has criticised UCD for its politics vis-à-vis KYS demonstrates that they saw themselves separate from it, and thereby missed the spirit behind which the network was formed. Indeed, one could go on to argue that the very distinction drawn between UCD and KYS as distinct organisations confirms the strange sense of competitiveness one sensed throughout from KYS members when they consistently spoke (and Sujit reinforces this sense in his reply to Bala) of some issues, such as rent regulation, as rightfully their forte, given that they raised it months before UCD was born. The fact is that UCD was never in competition in KYS, for the efforts of KYS members was considered part of what UCD was meant to be. That is why one was rather bewildered when one found KYS drafting pamphlets on concerns that overlapped with those of the UCD without once informing or involving fellow members in the UCD. Indeed, upon being confronted on this issue, KYS members spoke of their struggle as a “separate” one that needed no prior permission from the UCD. This position seemed to miss the point entirely (no one was demanding that KYS ask for ‘permission’ anyway), for it assumed that the two groups were rivals competing for the same political claims rather than colleagues fighting in the same battle. This attitude, destructive to cooperative participation and petty, to say the least, also finds its way into Sujit’s so-called ‘critique’.
It is also for this reason that one wonders at the naïveté of those who claim that attacking the behaviour of KYS members is a ‘personal attack’, as if the ‘personal’ is somehow a pristine space cleansed of politics and ideology. Indeed, the questions being raised about KYS members’ personal maturity is an intensely political question, especially given that (and this will be understood by those who regularly attended the meetings and did the work) the same KYS members rarely leant themselves to the actual labour of UCD activity (drafting and printing posters and pamphlets, campaigning in colleges, etc). Surely one’s own physical contribution is as much a measure of one’s politics as ideological contestations about the working class. In that sense, it is not simply “fashionable activism” to ask the question of who did what, for some have consistently worked harder than others to make the UCD campaign successful, and those ‘some’ have a right to be ‘resentful’ when others who never fully contributed to that process later claim that the process was undemocratic and politically flawed. The question needs to be asked: as UCD members, what did the KYS members do to improve the process? Having had all the problems they had, at what point did they make the space their own to do something about it? Merely making suggestions at meetings for others to implement is not enough.
Speaking of making suggestions, the KYS pamphlet claims that the valuable ones made by KYS members were “swept under the carpet as mere issues of modus operandi or as divisive tactics”. Besides being factually untrue, as the minutes of the meetings show, it is rather reductive to claim that an imperative to focus on a meeting’s agenda is tantamount to undemocratic repression of criticism. Any member of any organisation knows that meetings have to be conducted with a certain discipline, and cannot simply become occasions for everyone to mouth their opinions on any matter generally concerning the organisation (we hope KYS meetings function with this discipline as well). Those larger questions are of course very important, and it was even felt that a separate meeting should be called specifically in order to discuss the ideological differences that had been raised in previous meetings. Alok, a KYS representative and member of the UCD, was categorically asked to take the initiative to decide a time for the meeting. But taking initiative is precisely what KYS members haven’t been doing in the UCD campaign, so it isn’t surprising that such a meeting was never held.
The KYS pamphlet confirms our argument when it states that “in the very beginning in UCD meetings there have been activists and organisations that have questioned the constituting logic of the forum” (emphasis added). So basically the KYS saw itself as an advisory committee whose only role would be to teach us how to conduct ourselves, to point out faults in our “constituting logic” before it had even been built! This brings us back to our earlier point: UCD wasn’t allowed to grow because KYS seemed determined to see themselves as critical outsiders rather than as participative insiders. They were quick to criticise at every step of the way, without contributing offering concrete suggestions or constructive proposals on what alternative to follow. Many members found this behaviour by KYS members disruptive, and their objections have been noted in the minutes of more than one meeting. In this regard, refer to the minutes of the following meeting:
Minutes of UCD meeting on 22nd July 2010 – pertaining to an incident on 21st July
“The meeting today began with a discussion on the issue of an incident at Hans Raj College where the KYS and CSW (who are members of the UCD) were distributing their organisational parchas and running a parallel campaign on similar issue at a time when they had committed to UCD work – they were to be at Daulat Ram college as part of the UCD college campaign. The discussion was hoping to arrive at a sense of how we will work together as a collective and proceed with our campaign in a democratic manner, without fragmenting into competing campaigns, since most people felt that the UCD is a collective for moving ahead with the issues offset by the Commonwealth Games in the city, and now, the more specific issue of hostel evictions in the university”.
“Also, while everybody agreed that there was absolutely no issue with the fact of individuals and groups will be part of separate agendas and campaigns, we did think it necessary that we must not allow this to become disruptive to our campaign’s efforts. That was raised in the context of how the KYS and CSW apart from absenting from the slotted work at the slotted time for UCD activities were conducting their own campaign on rent regulation (an issue that had come up in the previous meeting to be brought out in the next UCD parcha) and demand for more hostels, and even while they distributed their pamphlets they did not distribute the UCD pamphlets. Some members of the UCD who went to Hanraj yesterday when they came to know about it, brought up the incident in the meeting as an issue of honesty and trust of the collective which consists of individuals, groups as well as organisations. KYS did apologise for the comments by a member of their team. The latter was quoted saying that their campaign and pamphlet were better than that of UCD”.
“While members of the KYS and CSW said that their being at Hans Raj was a result of confusion, there was disagreement about this since it was seen as a breach of trust, going against the spirit of this campaign and collective. While some members assumed KYS and CSW had stepped out of the campaign already, KYS and CSW denied such a claim”.
“Finally, to end the matter a resolution was passed in the house stating that there was a case of misconduct by KYS and CSW relating to the incidents of the previous day. (Out of 24 people, 14 voted in favour of the resolution, 4 voted against, 6 abstained from voting)”.
In this regard, one could even call the KYS duplicitous, because they wore down the UCD at a time when, unlike KYS, it was still a very new campaign at an early stage of its formation. Thus, while their 5,297 words of vitriolic diatribe might sound radical to those dissociated with the workings of the campaign, we maintain that to decry a process one never contributed to help or improve is possibly the most flawed form of politics. When theory cannot give direction to praxis it is rendered meaningless.
And now we have this long litany of accusations against us, trying to prove how we are not an organisation that can lead students of oppressed classes for a joint struggle with the working class to destroy class and emancipate the world. Both the KYS pamphlet and Sujit’s reply to Bala is littered with rather self-conscious references to “petty-Bourgeois” backgrounds as somehow endangering one’s commitment to politics. Perhaps KYS has to ask itself whether experiential politics can be stretched to such an idealtypical situation that anyone who is not dalit/poor/muslim/woman/gay/tribal cannot speak, as if access to capital necessarily yields a flawed political subjectivity. Of course it is important to remember one’s class position, but there is also something to be said for those still trying to become politicised despite their privileged subject positions. Mocking these attempts the way the KYS pamphlet does is precisely what discourages fellow “petty-Bourgeois” folk from making even that small effort, and makes politics into a club rather than a movement. That is the brand of politics KYS espouses, and it is not one we endorse. Thus, when KYS accuses us of not being this or that, the irony of the matter is that we have never claimed to be what KYS accuses us of not being! Unlike the KYS, we do not use Left rhetoric merely as a means to vilify, nor are we impressed by KYS’ attempts to claim the moral high-ground by claiming to work for the oppressed and exploited of this country (itself a suspect claim). For most of us in the UCD, our work has been a discovery of the politics of democracy and protest. We are not here to wear medals for being the most radical. If we were, then KYS has already declared itself the winner, and we happily concede them the title.
The following section consists of a point-wise rejoinder to the slanderous allegations the KYS has levelled against the UCD. Sections of the KYS pamphlet have been reproduced in bold and our responses follow in standard lettering. We have not commented on all the factual inaccuracies, for there are far too many and unlike KYS, we have work to do for our campaign. What we have highlighted are only the sections that disturb us the most. We have also consciously chosen not to respond to the large passages in the KYS pamphlet that pontificate about the nature of the working class. There are countless critiques and counter-critiques of their position within Marxist theory, and doing so here will digress from our major points of contention. Nevertheless we thank them for their effort to educate all of us.
1. Regarding teachers and internal assessment
These teachers, acting as pied-pipers and humming the threatening tune of internal assessment, drew their hapless students to the venue by taking their classes there. Students (the majority of whom were oblivious to the issues raised), were obviously not taken into confidence when they were made to come to the “hunger strike” site.
This is a straight lie. No students were ever threatened with internal assessment. Moreover, we are offended by the cavalier recklessness with which KYS questions the credibility of teachers who have been crucial for stimulating progressive debate in the University for decades, and who have stood by the student community in countless cases of injustice against students.
2. Regarding rent regulation
Let us take the example of rent regulation raised during the “hunger strike”. Firstly, UCD began its campaign with absolutely no concrete demand of rent regulation. The forum was forced to pick up the issue of rent regulation in addition to the issue of hostel eviction because it was constantly accosted by the majority of students who had never even lived in college hostels, and had for a long time been faced with the problem of escalating rents. There was also urgency in making rent regulation an active demand of the UCD campaign because some other organisations had already launched a full-fledged campaign on rent regulation in the city. Hence, it was more in a competitive spirit than with any serious commitment and understanding on the issue that rent regulation became part of UCD’s charter of demands.
Please check our very first parcha, released on . It reads: “It (University) has thus become an accomplice in the larger processes of reckless corporatisation that the whole city is undergoing in the bid of become a ‘global city’. This has left students at the mercy of private accommodation, with its unregulated rents and precarious guarantees. Rents are rising in anticipation of the increased demand for PGs and flats, forcing many existing residents to move out and making accommodation unaffordable for incoming residents as well. The University had made no attempt to devise a mechanism to control or subsidise rents”.
Please also refer to the minutes of the following meetings:
Minutes of UCD meeting on 3rd July 2010
“There were concerns shared about whether we would like to gradually broaden this to wider struggles in the city. It was accepted that we would be broadening our ideas gradually and linking it to wider struggles. This is why we have tried to form a larger forum and this is a campaign within it at the moment” (the ‘this’ we are talking about is the campaign concerning hostel evictions).
Minutes of UCD meeting on 20th July 2010
“There was a brief discussion about what our approach should be gradually, if we should focus on hostel evictions or also give more prominence to the issue of unregulated rents and problems in the neighbourhood since many students live in private accommodation”.
The very fact that KYS makes this claim despite all this history is itself evidence of the competitiveness prevalent behind the KYS’ anxiety to declare their campaign on rent regulation as the only legitimate one, and to declare all others as motivated “more in a competitive spirit than with any serious commitment”.
3. Regarding the decision to approach University authorities
This is precisely why UCD’s “hunger strike” targeted the audience in Arts Faculty (a transit point for the student/ teaching community), and not any tangible authority (which in this case should really have been the Government of Delhi). And this is why the best that UCD can do on the issue of rent is to demand rent regulation from the Dean of Colleges! Quite rightly, their delegation was informed by the Dean of her incapability to regulate rents since this was way beyond the University authorities’ jurisdiction and responsibility. We return to the fundamental question: why does the University remain the centre of UCD’s resistance when authorities beyond the Vice Chancellor are to blame, and when there are many people apart from students/teachers who are adversely affected by unregulated rents?
We approached the University authorities – the Vice Chancellor – because he is responsible for ensuring a safe, affordable accommodation for the students of Delhi University. In the past (2006) there have been attempts to enlist all those PGs and private accommodation places with the University in order to centrally keep a check on rents. Similarly, on the issue of workers, being the principal employer the University is again directly responsible for seeing to it that workers are paid minimum wages and have proper housing and access to basic facilities.
4. Regarding visit to Bhalaswa
UCD now seeks to locate the working class and its struggle in a far off resettlement colony called Bhalaswa. Unfortunately, judging by recent email correspondences between UCD and students of the Women’s Development Cell (WDC) in Miranda House, the trips to Bhalaswa are being envisaged by the students more as extra-curricular activities. This indicates that UCD’s form of politics is really incapable of building a long-standing and formidable unity between the student community and working class.
It was decided in the very beginning of the campaign that UCD would establish connections with others in the city affected by the Games. It was felt that since students were not the only ones held hostage by the Games, it was necessary to forge ties of solidarity with other organisations working on overlapping concerns, while recognising that our constituency remained the University. In the case of Bhalaswa, we were extended an invitation by people working with Bhalaswa Lok Shakti Manch to come and visit their resettlement colony. The trip was not an official UCD objective, and the students who went did so in the capacity of individuals wishing to extend their support to the Bhalaswa movement.
Please refer to the minutes of the following meeting:
Minutes of UCD meeting on 5th August 2010
“Kaveri forwarded a message which came from the group from Bhulaswa who came for the protest meeting saying that people interested in visiting the Bhulaswa resettlement site could do so on Tuesday. Please leave your number so that this can be arranged”.
In any case, even if the trip had been an official UCD activity, it would still not justify the KYS’ mocking epithet “extra-curricular”. Most of us may never know what it is like to be a construction worker or a displaced adivasi, but visiting places like Bhalaswa is valuable in and of itself as the smallest of attempts to understand the plight of others, even if it can’t bring about the revolution of the working class that KYS is obviously so successful in doing.
5. Regarding workers’ protest
The same day that UCD began its “relay hunger strike”, workers down the road were protesting against their severe exploitation under various CWG construction projects. UCD failed to respond and join the struggle. The message, therefore, sent out was clear enough—we will participate only when we are in charge and not workers, and we will raise workers’ issues only as an addition to our never-ending list of “democratic” demands. Considering this, are not the issues of workers’ rights being raised in tokenism, i.e. only when it suits them?
Do not brush aside the practical aspects of the campaign. We are not a trade union. We are too small a force to claim to organise workers at the construction sites all over the University. If we were 250 people, we might have been able to attempt to organise workers, but when those actually willing to labour for the campaign number 20 or less at any given time, we cannot (it would have helped if KYS had added to our numbers of working campaigners). But as a university community we have stood against construction work in the University that violates legally sanctioned labour standards, and have integrated it into our demands. Also, the decision to sit on a relay hunger strike was taken well over a week before it began and posters had been put up. Meanwhile, the KYS/CSW workers protest was decided and its posters put up a day before. And then too, in at least three different venues we found that KYS/CSW had pasted their posters corner to corner over UCD ones. If this is not malicious what is?).
6. Regarding Gandhi Ashram
The first pamphlet printed by the UCD spoke of the need to build communes in places off campus. In fact, a team met with the management of a Gandhian trust (funded by Ministry of Social Justice) which ran a hostel near Kingsway Camp, called Gandhi Ashram. The place soon began to be promoted via e-mails etc. almost like any other private accommodation; the purpose being to provide a space for those still desperately looking for affordable accommodations and also to provide a space for regrouping when things got rough during the campaign. Ironically, the Gandhi Ashram hostel is meant for poor Dalit school students who were obviously going to be displaced if college students moved into the dormitories. No one seemed to reckon with this inevitability while the plan was still being hatched.
What we also found disturbing about the Gandhi Ashram plan was the desire of creating an isolated “democratic” space. The message being sent out was nothing but we can create our own isolated commune-like space in this big bad world. This approach stems from the sectarian University-centric politics of the UCD highlighted above, and also from a non-revolutionary conceptualisation of commune life. For many participants in UCD, the commune with its base in Gandhi Ashram was an apparent ‘pre-figuration’ of a new society, whereas it was far from that. Commune was being envisaged as a centre of ‘counter-culture’—an oasis in capitalist wilderness. Interestingly, this is a very familiar trope—it is based, both at once, on a vision of a transformed society without real hope for a process of transformation. This is because it is based on the vision that the lives of a minority can magically change without transforming the whole. This is, after all, how (phantom) revolution itself, is envisaged according to the pipe-dreams (joint-dreams?) of petty bourgeois students/intellectuals who enjoy the comforts/security of generous remittances from home—‘let us, at least, as a small privileged community enjoy revolution making’.
Of course, as pointed out by us in the meetings, it was nothing but ridiculous that UCD spoke of building a commune in a place which was actually going to be charging the students Rs. 1500 per bed and where 6 to 8 women students would have to live per room. How can a commune work within a market structure, and how can a place which gives you no control on the rules and regulations to be implemented, become a progressive, commune-like accommodation?! Despite these criticisms, UCD went ahead and would have signed a MoU with the Gandhi Ashram management, if it wasn’t for the sheer lack of students interested in the place. In fact, just so as to get students to join the bandwagon, emails were sent out exaggerating the facilities available at Gandhi Ashram. In the interest of pulling a crowd, the green lawns of the Ashram were highlighted. Meanwhile, it was downplayed that no fooding would be available at the place and that this was going to be a
The lies continue. Firstly, Gandhi Ashram was visualised as a means to tackle the practical problem of students who couldn’t find safe and affordable accommodation (particularly girls, who also face the problem of safety). We never claimed it to be an isolated island of counter-culture, but yes, a space where those resorting to that accommodation could critically engage with the problem at hand, and therefore with ideas like a community kitchen. No Dalit students were going to be displaced, because the rooms being given to us were at that time unused. A member of KYS was even present as part of the team that went to Gandhi Ashram to figure out the modalities of making this arrangement. No facilities were ever “advertised”, and all that was publicly declared was the availability of Gandhi Ashram as an option (though of course, if KYS sees any form of publicisation, whether press releases to the media or circulation through emails, as part of a larger Bourgeois capitalist conspiracy, we advise them to kindly sharpen their political understanding; sophomoric regurgitations of Das Kapital isn’t going to cut it). Not once was it thought of as a final solution, but only as a temporary arrangement for students who had not found or could not afford accommodation elsewhere.. Regarding food arrangements, we were in discussion with the Ashram authorities about the possibility of expanding kitchen facilities. And as for the charge of Rs.1500 per month, that price is about one-fourth the cost of accommodation in the outlying regions of North Campus. At any rate, not once did KYS members suggest an alternative to Gandhi Ashram as a possible venue to rehabilitate students who could not afford anything else, which is ironic given their constant chest-thumping about being champions of the poor. Instead of appreciating the attempt made to lend some respite to students while carrying on the work of politicisation through the campaign, all the KYS members seem capable of doing is ill-intentioned criticism and hysterical slander.
We hope this rejoinder will put to rest the false allegations made by KYS against UCD. We do not have any faith in KYS’ capacity to introspect about the falsity of their claims. We only hope that the wider audience privy to this debate will learn to take KYS statements with a pinch of salt. Our experience with the KYS has been one big negative lesson, and we are glad that our work now proceeds far more productively and democratically. Anybody wishing to know more about the UCD, to really see how it functions for themselves, is always welcome to visit us on our face-book page, to join our googlegroups mailing list, or to attend our meetings. We are always open.