We no longer stand in a position that will allow us to draw a comparison between us and any other developing South Asian nation-state to argue that we’re a notch above them because they’re slowly moving towards becoming authoritarian regimes or single-party states. In India too, nepotism, apartheid and autocracy exist. Media inclines itself in favour of the ruling party at the centre, and anyone who dissents is termed anti-national and silenced.
Public universities in India have been a place for debate and dissent, but the youth are losing out on their rights to form student unions even though the right to form a student union is included in the pro forma of any Central University. As a student of Jamia Millia Islamia, I know I am part of a history that has shaped India today. Jamia came into existence in response to the nationalist call for freedom, quickly becoming a bustling centre of political activity and shelter for students who had responded to the call for freedom. However, since 2006 the university has had its students in a chokehold, as the JMISU continues to remain banned.
I’ve engaged with the students of Jamia in several conversations where they have expressed their concerns about the kind of crowd that Jamia has been catching and how it has been getting worse over the years. A student from the history department of the university, who chose to remain anonymous, revealed to us that he suffered felt alienated initially and couldn’t talk to anybody or make friends because he didn’t find like-minded people and did not know the right places to go to, to meet the right people.
He feels that the level of the admission tests conducted in Jamia has significantly dropped over the years and holds it responsible for the space in Jamia getting crowded up by people who are not well-read.
Another student communicates to us her mixed thoughts on the diversity of the institution. She claims to have always had the privilege to revel among the intellectual elite of Jamia, and she holds that Jamia should wait it out a few years before allowing a student union until the mass becomes a little more civilised.
“I do not think the university needs a student union simply because people here are not professional enough. I don’t think that at this point, they’re ready to handle a union, they will take this personally,” she reasoned.
However, we received plenty of responses in favour of the student union. Tanya Kathuria, a graduate from Jamia Millia Islamia and currently studying in Delhi’s Indian Institute of Mass Communication, pointed out, “Over the three years, I see a big difference in the crowd. Most of the previous batches were extremely lazy and hated to be out of the box. I see more enthusiasm in the juniors now, and since I’ve worked with most of the students from different courses, I guess it’d be safe to say the crowd is better. But there should be a better admission process. Although you get a bunch of good ones, you get some who are merely wasting the seat. Jamia is infamous for such students, trust me. We need more seriousness in the examination and a more welcoming environment.”
While we understand that people come to public universities from all walks of life, a select few exhibit such explicitly unacceptable behaviour that it becomes inexcusable. The student union has always been a source of disagreement between the students, professors and the administration who cannot seem to arrive at a unanimous position over it. Most students in Jamia believe that despite the repercussions, a student union is a necessary evil that should operate within the university. Professors, on the other hand, are convinced that given the atmosphere that exists not within but around the university, it’s impossible to carry out peaceful political activities as the student union will soon come under the control of the local political parties that exist in Jamia Nagar. This will cause a diversion from the academics and disrupt the peaceful activities that are carried out within the university.
Mohammad Kafil, a member of the Dayar-I-Shauq Students’ Charter (DISSC), points out, “It’s just sad to see few people protesting in the beginning and then when all the crowd is with them, everything becomes worthless at the negotiation table. What I want to say is that at times I have seen student leaders diluting the entire students’ struggle by merging with the administration for their personal gains.”
Another student, who has been politically active formerly, tells us why he chose to distance himself from the cause demanding student union in the campus.
“A student union is an indispensable part of a central university because we need student leaders, who can act as representatives of the student fraternity and draw the administration’s attention to the troubles faced by the students, collectively. However, the present-day reality is different than what’s seen on the papers. Student leaders exploit freshers for their self-interests in the name of social work.”
Jamia, undoubtedly, has always had a very strong academic tradition, but growth comes from having space where we can agree to disagree. Before we start drawing a list of the things that are wrong with the institution we study in, I think we need to realise that a central university is a place where education is imparted to people from all socio-economic backgrounds. It is only through the exposure we receive at a university, that our minds can learn to grow.
Kasturi Ghosh, a fresher, shared, “At least a union addresses the major problems and makes sure higher authorities do something about it, student unions do have a lot of politics going on amidst them, but it never blinds them to the needs of the students. Having a student union, I believe will bring about a significant change because there’ll be less chaos and it would save us from a lot of unnecessary bickering because we can at least receive help for our problems.”
Before we crib about the kind of crowd in the university, we need to come to terms with the fact that while our university is famous for the education it imparts, it might not be igniting minds.
Faisal, a second-year student from the English department, strongly supports the demand for the student union.
“A student union can improve the crowd of Jamia. It’ll instil a sense of responsibility in the Jamians. It’ll help them to work for another’s betterment. I’ve always seen that the people in Jamia are apprehensive of coming together for the cause of a greater good, getting a union means more active participation on the students’ part, we also need checks and balances to counter the almost dictatorial administration.”
A university is supposed to be bridging the gap between people of different socio-economic backgrounds by placing everyone on the same plane, in terms of exposure. By denying the students a union, not only is the university refusing a democratic space but it is opposing the idea of exposure, growth and itself a better campus culture.