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To protest or not to protest - Panjab University debates

Wednesday May 04, 2011 04:06:29 PM, Alkesh Sharma, IANS

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Chandigarh: A move to ban protests in front of the Panjab University (PU) vice-chancellor's office has evoked strong opposition from both students and teachers who see it as an infringement of basic human rights.

PU, one of the oldest varsities in the country, is the alma mater of many senior bureaucrats and senior politicians, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Marred by frequent protests and sit-in (dharna) demonstrations near the office of Vice Chancellor R.C. Sobti, PU authorities recently mooted a proposal to enforce Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code in front of the office and the administration block.

The law prohibits assembly of five or more people, taking out of processions and holding of public meetings and protests. After facing sharp criticism from various quarters, university authorities softened their stand and appointed a special committee to look into the matter.

"The need to implement Section 144 was communicated to us by the chief security officer of the university. In fact I am also not in favour of imposing it on the campus. An academic institution is a platform for free exchange of ideas," Sobti told IANS.

He added: "We are not authorised to take a decision in this regard on our own. But before forwarding the security officer's request to the Chandigarh administration, we would like to discuss the issue at our own level.

A special committee has been constituted to look into this matter.

Sunny Mehta, vice-president of the National Students Union of India (NSUI) here, said: "How can they even think of killing our basic fundamental right to express ourselves? Peaceful protest and dharnas are our rights. We are even ready to go to jail to prevent the imposition of Section 144."

Mehta said there was no need for any committee "to discuss this undemocratic proposal".

There have been many instances when activists of various students' organisations erected tents and held hunger strikes and sit-in protests outside the high-security office of the vice-chancellor. On many occasions they even tried to block Sobti's official car.

The ban proposal has not found much support.

"Imposition of Section 144 inside an educational institute and, that too, without any valid reason is totally unacceptable. The vice-chancellor cannot dictate things as per his own convenience and he has to take everyone along," a senior faculty member told IANS.

But there are students who are in favour of imposing Section 144.

"These protests are mainly politically motivated and do not relate to students' welfare. We come here to study and not to protest. We want Section 144 to be implemented so that this university can be free of unnecessary protests and dharnas," Nishita Aggarwal, a student of law, told IANS.

"A university is not a politics battle-ground and we have to maintain its sanctity," endorses Baldev Sharma, whose two children are studying at PU.

PU authorities are contemplating earmarking a dedicated place for both students and other associations to stage their protests. Talks are on to earmark the parade ground in Sector 17, the commercial hub of Chandigarh, for protests. It is over 2.5 km from the varsity.

This has also invited mixed reactions.

"Allocating a special place for protests is again illogical. Any protesting organisation wants to make its voice heard. Protesting kilometres away from the decision makers does not make any sense and we strongly oppose it," Kanwaljit Singh Sidhu, another student leader and a research scholar, told IANS.

Sobti said: "If it is only a question of distance, then I assure you that not just the parade ground but even the gates of the vice chancellor's office are too far when it comes to solutions. It is through dialogue that problems are sorted out, not through dharnas."

Manmohan Singh did his graduation and post-graduation in economics from PU in the 1950s. Later he joined the university as a lecturer and went on to become a professor at 32.

Nearly 11,000 students, including over 70 percent women, study in around 70 research and teaching departments of PU. The university is spread over 550 acres covering Sectors 14 and 25.

(Alkesh Sharma can be contacted at






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