Think of a students’ organisation in India and the first thing that comes to mind is aspiring ­politicians in kurtas, ­shouting slogans. But there is much more to it. Besides focusing on ­everyday issues like women’s safety, right to hostel accommodation, racial discrimination and good academic infrastructure, students’ unions work hard to campaign for national issues, too.
Saket Bahuguna, Delhi state secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), which swept the Delhi University Students Union (DUSU) recently, says “We work on issues that directly affect the student community. For instance, for the last one-and-a-half years, we had been campaigning against the four year undergraduate programme, which was undemocratically and forcefully implemented in Delhi University. It was not in the interests of the student community and the education system of the country at large. We campaigned against it through numerous protests, marches and were successful in getting it rolled back when the new government came to power at the Centre. Just last week, after a series of protests by the ABVP, a right-wing all-India student organisation working in the field of education and the newly elected DUSU, the Delhi University administration was forced to reintroduce the provision of ‘re-evaluation’ of answer sheets, which was stopped three years ago.”
According to Sucheta De, national president of the All India Students’ Association (AISA), a radical left students’ organisation, when politics decides your future, decide what your politics should be. “Student welfare is intrinsically related to democratic space available for the students to develop their critical faculty and practice their constitutionally mandated right to express and associate,” she says.
Talking about AISA’s agenda, De says, “AISA has started its campaign of ‘Love Azaad’ against the ‘Lie of Love Jihad’ and organised conventions in different campuses across the country to assert every citizen’s right to love and choose partners, irrespective of caste and religious background. We are also running a campaign against attempts of saffronisation of education. The manner in which Dina Nath Batra’s book (alleged to have inaccuracies and communal bias) has been recommended in the reading list of Gujarat’s school syllabus and the appointment of the new chairperson of the Indian Council of Historical Research who legitimises ancient India’s caste system are some of the examples of saffronisation by the present government.”
According to Roji M John, national president, National Students’ Union of India (NSUI), India’s education system focuses on degrees instead of developing a student’s personality to his/her full potential. “The current assessment mechanism destroys students’ creativity and depends only on rote learning. The current module of education delivery is very infrastructure-intensive. We need to bring education out of the boundaries of classrooms. Physical classrooms should be supplemented by virtual. We need to develop IT for education using internet and mobile technology at scale such as Massive Open Online Courses,” he says.
Being a student leader is no child’s play. “My day consists of long meetings and never-ending phone calls. As the president of a national organisation, travelling becomes a part of life. Today I am in one city with no idea where I would be tomorrow,” says John.
Without daily interactive leadership, very little gets accomplished. “I make sure I visit at least one college every day, address classes and meet as many students as possible to know their opinion and tell them about our future strategy,”says Bahuguna.