The past couple of years have seen a turbulent rise in issues concerning universities around the nation. However, there has been no authoritative study of the common grounds that all these significant college movements share. If anyone decides to explore the current state of student politics on the national platform, they would be battling with the sheer dearth of ‘unbiased reporting’ and factual evidences, particularly from mainstream media.
When one looks at the current state of student politics in India, it comes out as both inspiring and bleak, depending on the perspective. On the one hand, we have the ‘Hokkolorob‘ movement from Jadavpur University and Pinjra Tod. On the other hand, we also have dogmatic student wings of prominent national political parties which sweep through consecutive elections, without adding anything substantial to the campus culture and the environment of learning.
The Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) can be a case in point. The DUSU is the prominent student leaders’ forum of elected candidates who are entrusted with the responsibility of fighting for students’ rights, and making sure that the campus remains a place of healthy engagement and development. However, one can easily notice that the picture is not so rosy as it seems.
Every election season, free movie tickets and visits to amusement parks are handed out to students (focusing primarily on first year undergrads who are yet to take sides in the mockery of democracy), and no one bats an eyelid because it is all kept hush-hush. Having studied in DU for five years, I have closely observed all its elections during this time. Every year, the campaigners would visit our hostel. The next day, students would be treated to a lavish lunch/dinner or an opportunity to go watch a movie. This wasn’t the case solely in a private girls’ hostel. This used to happen at any place where there was even a slight chance of influencing votes.
Who is doling out the funds for these activities? This is an issue that no one ever takes up, because it will open up a can of worms which might have potentially disturbing consequences. Despite being the most talked-about university in India in the recent past, elections in Delhi University are hardly investigated or explored.
Having said that, it would be a gross injustice to say that other students’ union elections around the country get in-depth coverage and attention. None of them do. So no one gets to know what kind of student leaders our next generation is picking up. What about their political leanings? What is relevant to the student community that does not find its place in the agendas of populist political parties and their student wings? Unfortunately, there is hardly any answer.
When the infamous Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) row happened in 2016, it became a ‘Left vs Right’ clash within no time at all. This was because the mainstream media painted the two sides in this manner for its own ease of narrative and interpretation. It was certainly easy to create a ‘bipolar brouhaha’, as it split popular opinion (thereby making it easier to fuel TV debates). However, it also crested a mayhem in which the ‘grounds of debate’, that was supposed to take the centre-stage, was completely lost.
The charm of a ‘Us vs Them’ portrayal lies in its easy appeal, because it deals with binaries which are distinctly identifiable. However, it also runs deeper than this facade. As we delve into the ‘popular culture’ of debates surrounding the nation, it becomes painfully obvious that nuanced and healthy discussions have gone for a toss. This may well be a matter of concern in drawing-room discussions of seasoned voters during every election season, while also attracting media coverage. However, the development of student leaders in the country is an issue that gets relegated to the sidelines in such portrayals.
This is one of the major reasons why it was so easy for the media to paint the JNU row as a ‘Left vs Right’ fight, and subsequently, as a ‘National vs Anti-National’ combat. The hooliganism, violence and fraud attributed to the popular Right-wing is not misplaced and is in fact backed by ample evidence. And this is how it works! Anything which has to do with ‘political correctness’ looks good only on paper, because varsities in India are witnessing cases of political vandalism almost everyday. One is forced to think that the Left would come up as a practical option to students who do not want to indulge in Right-wing politics. However, it is disheartening that the idealism of the Left does little to provide solutions to the rising grievances of students across the nation.
There are only a few mechanisms in place which cater to the needs of more than 70 colleges and 85 departments, and this is just talking about the Delhi University. Many colleges do not have proper hostels. The ones which do have hostels often cannot provide accommodation to all the students. This gives rise to the organised exploitation of out-station students by Paying Guest (PG) facilities and apartment owners. In private hostels, there are four, sometimes five, students crunched into a single middle-sized room. Many areas surrounding such PGs are not only exorbitantly priced, but also unsafe for female residents. ‘Off-campus’ colleges, the colleges which do not fall among the neatly organised North and South Campuses, are often overlooked and can often be found in deplorable conditions.
Such issues are almost never taken up either by the mainstream media or by political parties contesting for power. The only time universities make news these days are when events happen that can potentially polarise popular opinion and appeal to the emotions of people. The cold, hard facts of our day-to-day existence remain buried underneath.
The student movements in different universities are a proof that the future is not bleak. Voices of concern and dissent are trying to find their place. But when dissent is forcibly portrayed not as ‘dissent’ but as a ‘betrayal of mass beliefs’, it becomes hard to counter the upheaval of emotional blackmail that inevitably follows. This deepens the schism between the actual reality and what we are forcibly made to perceive.
The future of any country is not solely dependent on who wins the posts in students’ unions, or any other post of power, for that matter. It is also based on the ‘culture’ that the majority party perpetrates in circles where it has failed to gain any foothold. If one condemns the actions of hooliganism and violence, one also needs to be similarly aware of the silent mistreatment and delusions imposed upon the student fraternity in the name of stagnant ideologies. Until this gets dealt with, every year a batch of starry-eyed freshers will keep getting wasted and will become completely indifferent, just because no one listened to their demands and aspirations. This should not be so unfair, should it?