UAW 2865 Stands in Solidarity with Students Across India, Demands an End to Stifling of Dissent
We are a union representing over 14,000 student workers in the University of California system and we stand in joint-struggle with students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and students across India fighting for a just society. Students at JNU have faced violent attacks at the hands of Delhi police and right-wing thugs simply because they have chosen to speak their minds and raise awareness about the injustices facing India’s most marginalized communities. The February 12 arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, President of the JNU Students’ Union, on frivolous charges under the colonial-era sedition law is an act of repression serving the interests of the anti-democratic right. The entry of police that day onto university grounds in response to a peaceful gathering and the subsequent arrests and search operation in which police harassed students and entered their quarters without warrants demands condemnation by all justice-seeking people. We demand the dropping of charges against Kumar and other students and an end to the violence, harassment, and intimidation of all students at JNU. We demand an end to all police action on the JNU campus immediately.
These students are part of a growing movement in India that has demanded, among other issues, respect and dignity for many communities including Dalits who face caste-based discrimination, marginalized ethnic groups, and Kashmiri self-determination. Indeed, the recent crackdown has diverted attention away from the struggle of Dalit students in India against caste-based discrimination. While privileged students are encouraged to attribute their academic successes to self-aggrandizing notions of “merit,” Dalits and other marginalized students suffer from harassment so severe that it has led to multiple suicides. The tragic death of Rohith Vemula is just one recent example of this phenomenon. Many Dalit students have been hounded to their deaths simply for the crime of being Dalits on college campuses. Vemula, in addition to being a Dalit scholar and PhD candidate, was targeted for his activism. His suicide has been rightly called an “institutional murder.”
For Kanhaiya Kumar, police stood by and watched as members of the Hindu nationalist ruling party BJP beat him and other bystanders and journalists standing outside of his court hearing. Through these violent acts, police and lawmakers enacting vigilante violence reveal that they are on the same side, protecting the status quo under the current government and stifling voices of dissent. In their struggles for change, students have been demonized as “anti-Indian,” traitors to the nation. As student organizers in the U.S. fighting the reproduction of institutional racism and economic inequity in our education system as well as our university’s investment in military occupations and imperial aggressions abroad, we know all too well that charges of anti-patriotism are tools to distract from our message about the persistence of deep-rooted oppressions globally. We thus write to express our solidarity with Indian student activists, even as we acknowledge our own positionality within a neoliberal world order overdetermined by U.S. policies and priorities and stand against any line of thinking by U.S. state or society that takes the moral high ground vis-a-vis events in India.
India’s current government has also expanded policies of privatization and enriched capitalist elites at the expense of a vast majority of the population, precipitating the displacement of hundreds of thousands of farmers, fishermen, and agricultural workers. It is no accident that the colonial-era sedition law used to charge Kumar was a law imposed on Indian society by the British in order to weaken efforts at freedom and the overthrow of the colonial order. Our comrades at the University of Chicago offer this stark description of the status quo: “The criminalization of dissent in this case reveals how India’s current political leadership has been unable to respect diversity and guarantee the full legal rights of its people. Its political program imagines the citizen as upper caste, heterosexual, male Hindu: its economic program necessitates a blind faith in neoliberalism; and its social program continually imagines an enemy—the Muslim, the Dalit, the Left.” JNU students are not alone in their struggles. Currently, thousands of students across India have staged demonstrations while JNU students have gone on strike in protests of the arrests of their friends. UAW 2865 stands in unequivocal solidarity with this resistance.
The UAW Local 2865 Joint Council