Osmania stirred

By Nikhila Henry

Osmania University (OU) has worn many tags during its nine decade-long existence. From being the first university in the country to have Urdu as the medium of instruction to being the university with the highest number of affiliated colleges and three lakh students, OU has come a long way from the time of its establishment in 1918.

But what has become the identity of the university in modern times is not its 52 departments or its historic campus that still carries the stamp of the architecture of the Nizam’s time, but the stone-pelting, tear gas fighting students, who are integral to the Telangana agitation.

While OU had been a part of several agitations in the past, including the 1946-48 armed struggle and the violent struggle for Telangana statehood in 1969, the current phase of the ‘T’ agitation on campus is a different ball game altogether. From leadership to participation and even its agenda, the ‘T’ struggle on OU campus has had a complete makeover when compared to its earlier version of a left-backed political agitation.

Superficially, what has changed in Osmania University is its role in the higher education scenario in the state. From being a cosmopolitan campus, which churned out the who’s who of Hyderabad, ranging from bureaucrats to politicians to the current phase where the academic year is derailed during every outburst of the Telangana agitation. But what has actually transformed is the composition of the university’s student population. From the time of its inception till about 1980s, OU was the ultimate destination for youth from affluent and upwardly mobile middle class families of the region. But now, the university has become the hub of rural aspirations of the Telangana region and this paradigm shift has redefined the nature of the ‘T’ agitation here.

According to social scientists, the university which once catered to the rich of the region has become an educational training ground where the once marginalised sections of Telangana have found a niche of their own. Supporting this claim is the present composition of the university, where about 90 per cent of the students are from Dalit, tribal, OBC and Muslim communities. From being an elite ideological battlefield, the university’s Telangana politics has become a movement of the masses where rural, backward students from the districts of Telangana are calling the shots. And what has kept the ‘T’ agitation alive on this campus are the aspirations of these students, that range from jobs in government sector firms to better living conditions back home in their districts.

Historians who have both seen and studied the agitation of the past say that this change has in fact democratised the campus version of the Telangana agitation. “Even in 1940s and later on in late 1960s, the university was a vibrant political space but almost all student agitations on campus were led by those from certain communities. Reddy and Velama communities spearheaded the leftist agenda on campus and were supported by the affluent among the Muslim population. This elite politics for Telangana has in fact transformed into a more democratic movement now where the real needs of lower sections of the society, that constitutes a majority of the Telangana region, are being raised,” said Javed Alam, historian and former student of OU.

While there were just about three student parties on Osmania University campus earlier with majority of the students enrolled in the extreme left Progressive Democratic Students Union (PDSU), now there are about 35 student outfits in OU, a majority of which cater to different caste groups. As against earlier times when a Reddy-Velama single-point agenda used to define the politics on campus, now Osmania University’s student leadership is from SC and OBC communities.

The focal point of Telangana agitation in Osmania University has in fact shifted in the 2009 phase of the agitation, observers say. “The politics on campus used to be associated with land struggles which was a communist agenda of the time and students participated in this. Now the focus has shifted to government employment which is integral to the rural student population. They are snubbed in private sector firms in Hyderabad and their focus is on government jobs,’ said G Venkata Rajan, the senior most professor of OU. A majority of the students of Osmania University are state service aspirants who appear for AP Public Service Commission’s Group I and Group II examinations.

This shift in Telangana politics on campus which has come close to the rural reality has a history of its own. It has much to do with the changed education system in the state itself. “Hyderabad is not like other metros including Delhi where social sciences and humanities are flourishing in Delhi University. The educational reforms in the city favoured only the niche professional courses including engineering and medicine. While we have the highest number of engineering colleges (743) in the country, courses in Arts college of OU were ignored by the state. The state even cut down funds to state universities including OU,” said P L Visweswara Rao, former Arts College principal and an alumnus of OU. The university, which was known for its courses including economics, journalism, sociology and history, now remains on the fringes of the higher education system in the state.

In fact, this negligence by the state government has influenced the agenda of the ‘T’ agitation also. Starting from the privatization phase of the 90’s, students of affluent classes migrated to greener pastures of job-oriented courses in private institutions. They are no more the face of the Telangana agitation. The varsity which witnessed the social change remained politically active, observers said. “Once the affluent classes moved out of OU, the state government ignored development in the university completely. The current phase of the Telangana agitation that is still burning in Osmania University campus is a direct result of this neglect of the state that promoted only private sector education. The rural students, who were not equipped enough to compete with the newfound rules of private job market, remained disgruntled in Osmania University and are now steering this mass movement for Telangana,” said Prof G Haragopal, social scientist and faculty, University of Hyderabad. According to many, OU’s politics has in fact overlapped the politics of various districts of Telangana. “The raging Telangana movement in districts is the result of the neglect of the region and the boys and girls who come from these districts to OU are now echoing the same angst,” said observers.

Analysts say that Osmania University, is now tracing the trajectory of most political movements in the state. “Most movements have to become plebian at one point of time or the other. OU is now in the common man mode of the agitation and this is a welcome change. This shift cannot be dismissed by tagging it as counter-productive, in fact it has to be encouraged for a better social order,” said Javed Alam. [Times of India]

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