From December 2019, students from various colleges across India stood at the forefront of several protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) and the creation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. These students argued that the CAA and NRC violated constitutional principles.

Student involvement in political movements and protests is not a recent phenomenon. During the independence struggle, they took the lead in several pivotal movements against British colonial rule. In the lead up to India’s 74th Independence Day, we decided to take a look at the role of students in the Swadesh and Non-Cooperation movements.

Kolkata was one of the most important centres for student-led protests. During the partition of Bengal in 1905, students of Eden College burned an effigy of the then-Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, and pledged to boycott examinations in protest.

In 1920, students responded to Gandhi’s call for non-cooperation, which included establishing ‘national institutions’ in place of those educational institutions administered by the British Government. During the first All-India Students Conference in 1920, a resolution was passed to boycott all schools and colleges in order to force the British to accede to this demand.

Students from Bangabasi College in Calcutta walked out of their classes and boycotted their college, and their example was followed by other colleges in the city. They then led massive processions and picketed their colleges, using the slogan ‘Swaraj First and Education After’ at the behest of Mahatma Gandhi. The movements in Calcutta quickly spread to the other parts of the country.

These are only some examples of the movements in which students played a pivotal role. Students were responsible for mobilizing local participation during other movements, such as the Quit India Movement in 1942. Some of these politically-active students, like Sucheta Kriplani, went on to become members of the Constituent Assembly of India, and contributed to India’s constitution-building process.

 In the leadup to Independence Day this year, it is important that we acknowledge  the role of the student community in mobilizing support for the independence movement.

(This post was authored by Amisha Pareek, a Board Member of the National Constitution Society and a final-year student of the B.A. in Political Science course at Indraprastha College).