State of the union

Recent incidents at campuses across the country have raised questions on the need for student politics.

Rohith Vemula’s suicide on campus at the University of Hyderabad (UoH) on Sunday evening has triggered massive protests at universities and colleges across the country, demanding for justice to be brought to those believed to be responsible for driving him to the extreme step.

However, it has also led to the rising debate about the need for student politics in college campuses across the country, especially with the rising instances of violence that have been associated with it over the past couple of years. Whether it’s Rohith’s suicide, students at the Film and Television Institute of India being assaulted by police or members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad threatening college administration with violence for screening a documentary, violence has been a recurring theme with many protests happening on campuses in India.

Author Sriram Karri, who has been vocal about his views on student politics being removed from college campuses says, “After the decline of the trade unions, student unions have become an extension of political parties. You have a body which is broadly affiliated to either the Congress, CPI/CPI (M) or the BJP, and these student unions extend the logic and agenda and fight. This opens the door for politics to enter campuses and do whatever it wants, which is very sad.”

But the need for student politics seems to be much more clearer to students themselves. The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in Hyderabad had also recently seen its share of activism on the part of its students, who have been demanding transparency and better engagement with the university’s management.

“When measures as random and illogical as the UGC’s decision to remove the stipend of all research scholars are taken, it is the basic duty and the moral responsibility of students to protest and there should be a dialogue. This dialogue is what is not happening anywhere. What we saw is (in UoH) the tragic result of that,” says a PhD scholar from EFLU who wished to remain anonymous.

M. Deepu, a former student of UoH and who is still active with the Amedkar Students Association that Rohith was a part of, adds that external political parties influencing student unions within campuses is the real problem.

“In more established unions, the problem is that as soon as an issue happens they don’t try to debate it in the campus. They try getting powers from outside to intervene. In the case of UoH, they’ve really overstepped the line. Their strengths should rely on mobilising people and getting people to agree with them,” she says.

“The whole idea of politics on campus is not just to mirror what’s going on outside. These are groups of students who come together with certain shared ideologies and fight for shared interests, which might not have anything to do with the ideologies of larger political parties,” adds the PhD scholar from EFLU.

While solutions for violence are unanimously about better dialogue between students themselves and authorities, Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor says that political parties themselves shouldn’t have such a huge say in the way student unions function: “In a democracy like ours it is difficult to keep political parties out of student unions, though my alma mater (St Stephen’s) has successfully done so — our elections were organised around personalities and programmes rather than political ideologies.

“But as a politician I accept that the existence of student unions affiliated to political parties cannot be reversed and it is best to urge the parties to be responsible in guiding their wards.”

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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