Kerala High Court
In the picture, Kerala High CourtWikimedia Commons

In an interim order that may effectively put an end to political activities in campus in Kerala, a division bench of the Kerala High Court on Friday, October 12, stated that the protests and hunger strikes have no place in educational institutions in the state. 

The order was given in response to a petition filed by the Principal of Ponnani MES College, seeking court's intervention in an ongoing strike called by Students Federation of India (SFI) following clashes during students' union election in the college.

The bench comprising Chief Justice Navaniti Prasad Singh and Justice Raja Vijayraghavan V, observed, "...political activities like Dharna, hunger strikes and other practices like Sathyagrah have no place in a constitutional democracy, much less in academic institutions. Anyone indulging in the said activities in an educational institution would make himself liable to be expelled and/or rusticated. Educational Institutions are meant for imparting education and not politics."

Hunger strike "coercive method"

In a scathing criticism of political parties holding dharna's and pickets, the court also observed that the political outfits "cannot hold to ransom the educational institutions or the right of the civilized students to receive education." 

Making a sweeping criticism, which could trigger a debate in the civil society, on the means of protests adopted by political parties the court also felt that dharna and hunger strikes are coercive means to achieve illegal demands. 

"The very fact that people resort to dharna/hunger strike shows that they themselves are aware that their demands are not legitimate and they use coercive methods to achieve what they could not have achieved legally,"  the judgement read. 

Principals can throw out protesters

The court empowered the principals of the colleges in the state to act tough on student protesters who disrupt the functioning of the educational institutions.

"... if any student is found to be resorting to and/or enforcing Dharna, strike or disruption of academic atmosphere of any college, the Principal or the authorities of the institution would have a right to rusticate them,for these are no means to ventilate their grievance," the order said. 

Calicut University, under which MES College is functioning, had cancelled the students' union election, after SFI and Muslim Students Federation (MSF), student wings of the CPM and the IUML respectively, clashed. 

The court clearly said that the police could intervene in such matters and the students indulging in violence should be suspended from that particular college.

 "The photographs show students erected a shed along the boundary of the college with a banner of a political party with loudspeakers," the court said referring to a photograph produced before it by the petitioner. 

The court also held the police responsible for the disturbance caused by the SFI. "Police must control law and order and cannot allow such pickets to come up on public property," said the panel of two judges.

"If we wish to maintain democracy and not merely in form, then we must hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives," said the court, quoting BR Ambedkar.