An enduring image of student politics in Hindi films of the ’90s is of groups of men attacking each other with bicycle chains and hockey sticks.
Repeated outbreaks of violence, in fact, were the main reason student union elections were banned in Maharashtra following the passing of the Maharashtra Universities Act of 1995.
Now, elections are set to return to campuses across the state. And the news is causing excitement and concern among faculty, educationists and students.
“Every student body should be elected and must function democratically to protect students’ rights. Moreover, educated people coming into the political system will enrich it in the long run,” says Dr Mridul Nile, former director of student welfare at University of Mumbai.
The elections will help the students apply their theoretical knowledge practically, says MA Khan, registrar of University of Mumbai. “They will understand the process of election, how to contest and so on.”
IN READY MODE
Student organisations are raring to go. “I feel it’s a great move in the right direction. Elections will develop leadership among educated youth,” says Varadraj Bapat, regional secretary (Konkan and Maharashtra) of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. “It will give students courage to come forward and participate in the educational process, but yes, criminal elements and money bags will have to be kept out of the system.”
Sagar Duryodhan, state secretary (Maharashtra), All India Students Federation (AISF) hopes that direct participation will politicise the students’ community in Maharashtra in the right way.
“In the upcoming student elections, we will favour secular and rational student politics,” he says. “At the same time, we will take up the issues of fee hikes and privatisation of public education.”
Social activist Lata Pratibha Madhukar, founder of the National Centre for Bahujan Gender Studies, believes political representation is essential at the student level.
“I was in college in Nagpur during the Emergency and most of the leaders that emerged from my generation, such as Shrikant Jichkar (NSUI), Nitin Gadkari (ABVP), emerged via student politics,” she says. “Student elections strengthen people, build confidence and make young people responsible and involved. It’s not just about politics either. Student politics enhances problem-solving, organisation and people skills. There is really a chance that student elections could give us a generation of new leaders with innovative thinking and give Indian politics such much-needed fresh direction.”
TOP OF MIND
For now, the issues that concern students in Mumbai centre mainly on administration.
“My grievances with the University of Mumbai are delayed results, erratic reevaluations, unscheduled exams and lack of internet efficiency,” says Isha Kakkad, a TYBA student at Jai Hind college.
Issues like unnecessary demands for money by management, sudden changes in syllabus or exam paper pattern and infrastructure problems within an institute could be taken up by the student council, adds BUCTU president Sivabalan.
Preet Sharma, a second-year MBBS student at Topiwala college, would like the absence of research in medical teaching facilities in the city to be addressed. “Medical colleges also need to start a student exchange programme. Student councils could also help spread awareness about social causes, that of the LGBT community,” he adds.
It is, however, important to prepare well for this reintroduction of student elections, warns Abhilasha Shrivastava, state secretary of the All India Students’ Association. “Rather than having each university go its way, it would be prudent to draft a uniform constitution, rules and regulations. The students’ and teachers’ community will have to be vigilant about these norms to ensure the democratic intent, content and implementation. Otherwise it will be a football match without a goalpost,” she says.
WE LIVE IN TIMES WHEN STUDENT ACTIVISTS ARE TOO EASILY SILENCED, SAYS KAVITA KRISHNAN
When I was a student at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, there was no real politics allowed on campus and the only elections we had were for class representative.
The ‘issues’ were mostly to do with who would conduct the prom dances or edit the student magazine. Some of my friends, though, had been active in support of canteen workers who were in danger of losing their jobs because the canteen was being contractualised. These students had their parents called in.
A close friend was told in front of her father, ‘Raise issues in the right way, join the students’ union’.
She took this seriously and announced herself as a candidate for class representative and made it clear that her plank was not prom dances or the magazine but support for the workers. Usually the candidate would be ‘elected’ unopposed because there would be no competition. But this time there was an election — and she won hands down.
Students want a cause to back; the idealism of the young is a powerful force for change in our society and politics.
Common students need to recognise that politics does affect their lives as citizens. If they do not like the politics of the ruling parties and their student wings, the answer should be to choose and strengthen an alternative politics, one that highlights the issues that truly concern students and society. My years as an activist with the All India Students’ Association (AISA) and my stint as joint secretary of the JNU Students’ Union were among the most rewarding years of my life — and taught me as much as I learned in the classrooms.
We developed a sense of social commitment. We recognised that we, who are able to attend college and university, are privileged in many ways — even those of us who had had to struggle to reach these places.
We realised that we owed it to society to speak up for and struggle for wider social causes as well as for students’ own rights.
We live in times when student activists are too easily silenced; when dissent is too easily equated with disloyalty.
It is not enough, in such times, to teach our children science and commerce and the tools of career ‘success’. It’s important to teach them how to fight for our democracy; how to make the country and the world they love a better place to live in.