A section of students from Nar Bahadur Bhandari Government College (NBBGC) had converged at a local hotel in Gangtok with the intention to hold an event marking the 8th anniversary of the infamous Student Movement of 2014. But even before the event could begin, another section of students from the college clashed with the organizing students, on grounds of the event being ‘politicalized’.
The ensuing clash among students, ‘verbally’, ended up in tearing down of the event poster and the event not taking place. The invited guests at the event, which one section of students claimed to be ‘student protesters from 2014’, while the opposing group termed them as members of Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum (SPYF), a socio-political outfit from Sikkim.
Undoubtedly, as seen by the media at the event, many a member from SPYF were in attendance. While it was equally hard to differentiate who these former students from 2014 were in attendance at the event. Eventually, the guests had to leave and so did the members of SPYF as the argument between two sets of students got heated.
According to the students organizing the event, they claimed, “We had assembled with the intent of celebrating the 9th year of a historic (student) movement which happened in 2014. The students were then lathi-charged, they were hit, the movement had happened to counter the fee hike. The struggle of the students to counter had resulted in the fees being lowered, and subsequently the academic fee was made free. To this day, students are availing free education. Hence, we had assembled with intention of celebrating the day, giving those former students respect, we had invited them”.
The students further informed among the 4000 plus college going students, they were not able to reach out to everyone personally. “Those we were able to reach, we had messaged them. But some of the students countered to us that the event should have taken place either in the college, they doubted our intention. They tore down the banner for the event, which we condemn. We are not affiliated to any party. We are not politically sound. But due to certain section of students, we are compelled to call off the event. It is saddening that we are neither associated with any political party, but as general students we wanted to do the event”.
The opposing students had questioned the organizing students as to where did they get funds to organize the event, to which the students justified, “From among those former students some have become lawyers and teachers, we had collected from them. As students, it is very tough for us to generate funds. It was minimal contribution with no amenities that we could provide at the event. But only with the intent of organizing and observing the anniversary event. The intention was to give them respect and to carry the same process for future generations. That was our only motive”.
The students further justified that to hold the event was not a crime. “We feel that observing the event would not hamper the reputation of the College or affect the head of the institution. It was merely to commemorate the movement, but not a new movement on its own. It was not a protest rally, we were not defaming the college. We had invited all colleges, some came in regular attires and not the college uniform. This is being celebrated in Namchi College, Geyzing College, hence we wrote All government college. Hence, the banners were similar in different colleges. We also felt it was not necessary to inform the head of the institutions, hence this event was happening at a commercial place. If it were movement, we may have seeded permission, but since it was not, we didn’t”.
On East Mojo questioning the students as to why the members of SPYF were involved, they justified, “The members that you saw today, they were actively participating in the college movement back in 2014. It was only then we had invited not everybody. We had invited lawyers and teachers too, and they were with us. But once the students saw members of SPYF, they ended up politicalizing the event. We welcomed them as students part of 2014 struggle and not members of SPYF. It was supposed to be apolitical”.
On only students from NBBGC joining the event at Gangtok, the students claimed, “We had invited students from Law College in Gangtok but they had other events happening today and tomorrow, they couldn’t join us.
The opposing students while speaking with the media claimed that they had no knowledge about the background of the event. They stated, “We were invited with the intent of respecting our former students. But once we reached the event, we came to know how our friends from college were misleading us. They were trying to fire a gun from our shoulders. They were hearing with the intent of talking politics. There was no talk about tribute to former students. They claimed students from all government colleges, but even among the organizers there were only two students. We suggested them that this event should happen in college auditorium instead of a hotel. If it was a concern of funding we could have managed, but after coming here we learned that the event was being funded by SPYF. “.
The opposing students also claimed that the Students Representative Council (SRC) of the College, but even the SRC were not involved in the organizing. They claimed that the event was the product of two students only. “Before the event, the students among us were talking about the event and that is when we learned that the event had the presence of SPYF members. The banner speaks of tribute to former students, but we question that those worthy of tribute are they only members of SPYF? Hence, we feel that the event is 100 percent organized by SPYF. We are not against SPYF, but we feel a tribute to former students must involve only students and no one else must be involved”.
The opposing students also claimed that they had no intention of organizing a tribute event on the day. “We had a plan to organize in College auditorium but due to the event coinciding with examinations, the College administration didn’t give us the permission. We could have organized the event any other day as well, if not today. This event is not taking place in any of the colleges, be it in Burtuk or in Namchi. Even most in NBBGC were unaware about the event. It’s a perspective of 4000 plus students, not something that should have been organized between three students. They are here justifying that the event is not organized by the college, but those invited are the students from Tadong Government College. When the students are here in College uniform, then it is wrong”.
In the past, the day was also observed as Student Rights Day by the ruling Sikkim Krantikari Morcha’s student wing which however didn’t happen this year, after observation for two years. The opposing students claimed, “We are not involved in that event. We have never tried to politicalize the event of the day. We are here to fight for student rights as students”.
On the allegation that a section of students tore down the banner, the students denied that they tore the banner. However, they claimed, “Perhaps the banner was torn by those students who felt misled and out of anger they may have torn down the banner. We here hear to support, but we have felt misled here today”.