BHU students face a long battle ahead for their union

Published on Oct 03, 2019 05:32 PM IST
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VARANASI: Vishwanath, Akansha, Shashikant, Ashutosh, Ranjan Chandel and many other students at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) want restoration of the students’ union in BHU, but it seems they face a long-drawn struggle to achieve their aim.

To press for their demand, the five students (named above) observed an eight-day hunger strike from September 24 to October 1, but called it off after BHU vice chancellor prof Rakesh Bhatnagar assured them that he would look into the matter.

However, the students’ struggle is far from over because the BHU administration is in favour of a students’ council and has referred to the referendum in which over 90 per cent of BHU students supported formation of students’ council.

The referendum seeking opinion of students on students’ union or students’ council was held between August 2014 and November 2014. Then prof Rajeev Sangal was acting vice-chancellor of the BHU, Asia largest residential university.

Prof Bhatnagar said, “In the referendum over 90 per cent students wanted a students’ council, not the students’ union.”

He further said that in keeping with the opinion of the majority of the students, the BHU administration had decided to hold the students’ council election in 2014. The election, however, couldn’t take place due to certain reasons (clashes between the two groups of students).

On whether the BHU administration has any plan to restore the students’ union in the near future, Bhatnagar said, “A committee has already been constituted to look into the matter.”

He, however, did not disclose the timeframe in which the committee has to submit its report.

The students, however, says they want restoration of the students’ union and will struggle for it.

“We want a students’ union so that the voice of the students is heard and their issues are addressed on priority basis,” Vishwanath says. Akansha, Abhishek and many other students echoed similar sentiments.

Akansha said the students’ union was in a suspended state since 1997.

“The students’ union becomes the voice of students and shapes future leaders. The union leaders learn to raise issues in a democratic manner to get solutions. They also get to know many things about electoral politics. But it’s an irony that the students’ union is suspended in the BHU for over two decades,” she said.

The students also reject the apprehension that restoration of the union may lead to recurrence of violent incidents on the campus like those before 1997, the year students union was suspended.

“Have there not been any incident of violence post-1997,” asked Ranjan who added that there have been over a dozen incidents, four major, in last four years. “So blaming students’ union is just a lame excuse to keep it suspended,” he said.

Three years before the referendum, the BHU replaced students union with students’ council in 2011. The council election was held and Vikas Singh was elected its first general secretary.

According to a senior BHU official, who did not want to be named, in August 2013, BHU framed rules for students’ council and decided to hold election of the council in November 2014.

No sooner did the election take place, a group of students started an indefinite hunger strike in October 2014 demanding restoration of students union. The then acting vice chancellor Prof Rajeev Sangal spoke to the students and assured them of constituting a committee to look into their demands. He, however, clarified it to the students that the committee would be constituted only after students’ council elections.

During his brief tenure, a referendum to choose between students’ union and students’ council was held and 90 per cent students supported the students’ council.

On November 20, 2014, students who were interested in contesting the election, filed their nominations. The council election process was scheduled to be completed by November 30. However, the varsity had to cancel the election due to violence. Since then the students’ council election are suspended.

ALUMNI SUPPORT

Many BHU alumni, who worked closely with the students’ union, support the demand for a union.

Anil Srivastava, who was elected in BHU students union in 1984, says, “There had been an unfortunate incident of large-scale violence in the varsity 1997 due to clashes between two groups of students during campaigning for the students’ union election. Subsequently, the varsity administration banned the students union. That was not a good decision. But it happened.”

Srivastava says, “Students’ union is the nursery of democracy and politics. BHU must restore the students’ union because it acts as a platform of learning a, b, c, d of politics while working for welfare of students.”

The BHU students union produced many prominent politicians who played active role in national politics. Suspension of the union has halted the process of nurturing mature leaders, he observed.

Socialist Vijay Narayan Singh also wants restoration of students’ union in the BHU because he feels that banning it is not a solution to any problem.

“Students’ movement in universities and colleges used to be the base of students’ unions. Stalwart socialist Raj Narain was a student of BHU. He used to lead students’ movement in and around Varanasi in 1942. He motivated many students to join Quit India movement,” said Singh

Soon after Independence, Singh recalls, students’ union election were held in BHU in 1948. Anandeshwar Prasad Singh, a socialist, was elected the first president.

Everything went well till 1958, the year, varsity saw a massive strike by students over some issue. Students’ union led the strike. BHU authorities took a tough stand against the strike and banned the union. The students, however, continued to demand restoration of the union. As a result, the BHU administration restored the union in 1966 and union election was held in 1967, Singh said.

Devbrat Majumdar, a diehard socialist, was later elected BHU students’ union president.

A champion of ‘Angreji Hatao’ movement, with slogan: Angreji me kaam na hoga, fir se desh gulam na hoga. Majumdar drove his campaign across the nation. He was a very effective and influential speaker, said Singh.

Singh recalls that in 1974, Mohan Prakash was elected president and Anjana Prakash vice president of the union. Both are socialists. Prakash is senior Congress leader. By the early eighties, socialists lost their hold in the union and the right wing strengthened its hold.

In 1982, Manoj Sinha became the union president. Before that Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey emerged victorious for the post of general secretary. Bharat Singh, who represented Ballia parliamentary seats between 2014 and 2019, also started his political career as BHU student union leader and was also its president.

Former public relations officer Dr Vishwanath Pandey says, “Students’ union strayed from its objective and became the cause of violent incidents and chaos in the varsity. Instead of raising issues of students, the union office bearers started interrupting official and administrative work of the varsity. Their dharnas and demonstrations over trivial issues had vitiated the academic environment and had negative effect on studies of studious students. That is why the varsity banned the students’ union.”

He, however, feels the union should be there in order that students could have an idea about parliamentary proceedings.

He said that till 1958, BHU used to have students parliament. It had sessions on the lines of parliament. A teacher used to be the speaker and held its proceedings.

He accepts that the BHU has produced several national leaders like Manoj Sinha, Dr Mahendra Pandey, Devbrat Majumdar, Mohan Prakash and the BHU students union shaped these leaders, who are now contributing to national politics.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Sudhir Kumar is Varanasi based senior staff correspondent.He covers all developments, politics, education--primary, secondary and higher -- crime, offbeat, tribes and human angle stories

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