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Monday, January 17, 2011

Delhi University Students' Union (DUSU): Students' Unions can not be banned

IIPM BBA MBA Institute: Student Notice Board

If a move to bar students from college-level politics succeeds, Indian democracy will be much the poorer in the long run

Student politics has for decades been the breeding ground of future leaders. And not just in India. Historically, students and youth brigades, just as much as workers and intellectuals, have fuelled revolutions and popular movements all over the world. From Sorbonne to Soweto to Tiananmen Square, the story has been much the same. But if some bureaucrats and university administrators have their way, 'democracy' in Indian colleges could soon be a thing of the past.

It all began in 2006, when, under the aegis of the Supreme Court of India, a committee was constituted under the chairmanship of the then Chief Election Commissioner JM Lyngdoh to recommend ways to improve the functioning of students' unions and their elections.

After much dilly-dallying, Delhi University Students' Union (DUSU) office-bearers were granted ten minutes to present their case to the Lyngdoh Committee. Mr Lyngdoh asked them point-blank: 'Why not ban students' unions?' In response, the then DUSU president Jaivir Singh Rana narrated the story of a student of a private engineering college in Delhi who had committed suicide.

The student killed himself for his future had been ruined by administrative negligence. Instead of helping him, the whole system stood by the college administration. A clerical error showed that he was absent in a subject test. The student kept insisting that he had appeared for all his exams, but the college administration paid no heed. The student failed.

He was from a poor family and had taken an education loan to study engineering. Rana pointed out, 'In his suicide note, the student mentioned not only his helplessness, but also wrote that if his college had a students' union, he would not have taken the extreme step. He suggested that a students' union should be mandatory in every college.'

Having heard the story, Mr Lyngdoh and his committee held a detailed discussion with DUSU on how to improve students' unions and make them more effective. It is a common notion that students' unions are today criminalised, having been overrun by hoodlums and antisocial elements. Mr Lyngdoh was also probably under the same impression.

Today the Lyngdoh committee's recommendations are being implemented across the country. Some of the recommendations seem impractical and have resulted in weakening of the student movements. The reality is that despite their obvious drawbacks, students' unions not only work to safeguard the interests of the students, they also from time to time serve as a pressure group by actively intervening in local, regional and national matters.

Given the way private universities and educational institutions are mushrooming in the country, student unions are an essential part of campus life. Former student leader Srikant Sharma says, 'A student union protects students from the whims of the college administration.' It is a fact that some unions have seen an infiltration by undesirable elements. They need cleansing, not banning. A students' union is a platform that raises its voice against arbitrary governance of colleges and universities and highlights their wrongdoings. That is why teachers and university bureaucrats do not want to promote student politics on the campus.

Two examples would be enough to demonstrate the power of students' unions. In 1999, Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) went on strike for 21 days. This strike affected the students in a big way as it cost them precious study hours. DUSU president Jaivir Singh Rana ran a movement demanding at least 180 days of study time and forced the university administration to complete all syllabi before the examinations. For the first time in the history of Delhi University, classes were held on Saturdays and Sundays.

The second event also created history in Delhi University. Rana says, 'In Delhi University, 75 per cent attendance is mandatory for students. But this rule does not apply to teachers. We did a survey and found 71 teachers who were not regular in taking classes in colleges. We complained to the VC. When no action was taken against the errant teachers, we displayed their names on a hoarding at Kranti Chowk. The teachers resumed taking classes from the very next day.'

Students' unions are not just a means for solving problems that students face. They are the first step in the nation's democratic process, through which students not only learn the intricacies of politics but also take active part in elections. When Emergency was clamped in India, the first sparks of protest emanated from university campuses. Young BJP leader Kuljit Singh Chahal, who joined active politics after a stint in a students' union, says, 'Student politics helps in understanding the pulse of the country's youth. How can one talk about banning students' unions in a country where two-thirds of the population is made up of youth? There are uneducated and criminal leaders in today's politics. If you want to eliminate such leaders, student politics should be encouraged. The nation will get educated and young leaders will be groomed on university campuses.'

Jayaprakash Narain's student movement is testimony to this. Many leaders from that agitation are playing an active role in the Parliament today. Who can forget the late Chandra Shekhar, former Prime Minister and a Young Turk who emerged from the hurly-burly of student politics. Arun Jaitley, Ajay Maken, Sitaram Yechury, Prakash Karat and Lalu Prasad Yadav, among many others of their ilk, did likewise, leaving a mark on national politics. In order to understand the importance and strength of students in a democracy, we must mention former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. As a student leader, he led an agitation against infiltration by foreigners.

Mahanta's party, Asom Gana Parishad, ran its electoral campaign from hostel rooms and the university campus. From a ramshackle university hostel room to the citadel of power, in Assam the transition for student leader Mahanta was phenomenal. National president of Socialist Students' Meet, Dr Sanjay Latharar, raises a legitimate question, 'When our university can produce doctors, engineers. scientists and bureaucrats, why not political leaders? Today, the nation needs good leaders. So instead of banning students' unions, teachers and universities should encourage students to go into politics.'

A sharp dichotomy is inherent in our general attitude towards politics. While most parents would wish to see a drastic improvement in the quality of political discourse in the country, they are usually highly reluctant to let their sons and daughters enter politics. Political activists on college campuses believe that the growing societal bias against students' unions stems from this anomaly.

A student leader at Hyderabad's Jawaharlal Nehru Technical University, T Mohan Chari, says, 'Student politics not only creates awareness, but also helps in understanding different issues of the world. It helps develop leadership qualities.'

Says student activist Madukeshwar Desai, president of the Young Leaders Collective, 'In the best colleges and institutes of India, students play an active role. On these campuses, everything from the disciplinary committee to the mentorship programmes is run by students. Bodies are elected and, with the guidance of the management, are run efficiently. The merits of allowing students to help build an institution lie in front of us. If autonomous colleges and deemed universities want to reach the highest standards, they have to accept that student empowerment is the only way forward.'

In the past two decades, students' unions have seen a definite decline all over the country and there is a need to reverse the trend. Yet, the relevance of the participation of students in college-level political activity cannot be denied. But now the university administration and bureaucrats are conspiring to end students unions. The Lyngdoh Committee recommendations are largely to blame.

Youth Congress national general secretary Nadeem Javed says, 'The Supreme Court constituted the Lyngdoh Committee to improve students' union elections. This committee gave extremely impractical recommendations regarding election expenses, methods of selecting candidates and publicity. University and college administrations, under the guise of these recommendations, are working to eliminate student politics. Jawaharlal Nehru University and Allahabad University have had no students' union elections in the past two years.' Coming to think of it, JNU and Allahabad University were once centres of active student movements that had a nationwide impact.

Lathara gos to the extent of suggesting that 'colleges should necessarily run a course on the subject of democracy so that students can understand the nation's political system'. He adds: 'This will help us in creating better leaders for the future.' Unfortunately, that does not seem to be in sync with the view held by those who have the power to decide.


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Anonymous said...

Delhi University VC Dinesh Singh and his team faced a tough time on Monday as students grilled them on several issues, including absent teachers, strikes, security, outdated syllabus and inadequate infrastructure. Interacting with Singh at the multipurpose hall of the University Sports Complex, students claimed the newly-appointed dean of colleges was shirking his duties.

Manoj said...

The VC said colleges will launch innovative courses that will allow multi-disciplinary studies. The university will soon get a Facebook profile and DU officials hoped that through the networking site, they will be able connect better with students. The university has also earmarked around Rs 2cr for special students.

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