STUDENT UNIONS: FIGHTING THE POWER

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By Vanika Tayal from Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida

Introduction

A student union is a student organization in a university or college that organizes leisure activities, provides welfare services and represents political interests. Governments of student bodies or student organizations are present in many colleges, universities and high schools. The purpose, assembly and policies of the union may vary from country to country. Universally, the purpose of a student union is to give silver platter to the fellow students. Some students’ unions are run by students independently without seeking help from any educational faculty. The purpose of these unions is to display students in the institutions, as well as externally, in the light of locals and national issues. Unions are also responsible for providing services to students. Some unions are politicalized bodies who serve as a training ground for those wanting to become politicians. Unions usually have similar goals regardless of the politicization aspect, generally the goal of a union is to serve students with facilities and support them. The support and services of a union contributes to the quality of students’ learning experiences and their academic success. It helps to decrease the dropout rates in universities and increase the diversity of student experience. It means that without effective student services, students lack connection with institutions on a cultural level and are more likely to give up their studies.

The major role of a union is to prepare students for active participation in the society, along with the teachers. It contributes to increased learning opportunities and community involvement. It encourages and establishes open methods of making decisions and resolving conflicts rationally. Unions give students a series of values by way of addressing the policies, decisions and problems. Among union services, the most essential services are those that meet the academic demands, personal development and emotional needs of the students. 

While the functionality of union policies differs from one college to another, or one university to another, here are some main responsibilities of a union:

• Assisting students in transition to university life

• Helping students to explore and clarify their values

• Encouraging the development of friendship between students, and spreading a sense of belongingness to a campus

• Assisting in identifying financial aid resources for further education

• Creating opportunities to expand the cultural and aesthetic horizons of the students

• Teaching students how to solve personal and group conflicts

• Providing special programs and services for students suffering from learning disabilities

• Contributing to the understanding and appreciation of ethnic differences, racial or otherwise

• Creating opportunities for leadership development• Establishing programs that encourage a healthy lifestyle and reduce misbehavior

• Providing opportunities for recreation and leisure

• Providing counselling and career guidance, helping to clarify professional goals, exploring options for further study or employment

Above paragraphs enlighten us to the fact that the universal purpose of student union is to represent fellow students. Depending on the country, there are different methods of representation. In Australia, all universities have one or more student unions. They provide services such as running student media (campus newspapers); advocating in favor of students; supporting the social and political special interest, and sporting clubs and societies. In Indonesia, every university, college and high schools have student unions. A student union in high schools is known as “Organisasi Siswa Intra Sekolah” or “OSIS” (student organization inside school). OSIS is an official organization formed by the government. To choose the leaders, general elections are held every year. OSIS organizes the extracurricular activities like music shows, art galleries, etc. In the United States, these groups are called “The Student Government” or “Student Senate”. There, the phrase “student union” refers to a “student activity center”, a building with game-rooms, dining halls, student offices and other student activity zones. There are student governments who represent students.

INDIAN STUDENT UNIONS:

The student unions have played a major role in our independence struggle. A student union is a combination of both associational and institutional interest groups like a trade union. The story is full of incidents where student unions changed the social, economic and political framework of a country. Student power was formed during Indian national movement on the call of M. K. Gandhi, S. C. Bose and J. P. Narayan. Two movements are the landmark to symbolize the power of student unions: the J. P. Movement of 1974 and the Assam Students Movement, which have made a mark in the society. In 1848 Dadabhai Naoroji founded “The Student’s Scientific and Historical Society” as a forum for discussion. This was the beginning of student movements in India. In this period, as part of the struggle, students questioned the education system itself. There was a full commitment among students to work for the freedom of the country. The Indian independence provided a turning point to the student movements in India. After the Indian independence i.e. the post-independence era, the power of the youth increased tenfold and the students realized their power that can change the decisions which are not in their favor. This resulted in changes in student centric issues like academic freedom, admission policies and plans, welfare of the students at large, and so on. These changes gave rise to the birth of many student unions with varied political ideologies.

After independence, universities remained politically charged spaces, the phenomenon of a united cause was not existing. Earlier, student groups were united in the face of Imperialism. After 1947, students had no common goal to work together and thus started becoming remnants. Different ideologies of the groups could be seen around the 70s. Three wars (1962, 1965 and 1971) with other factors had weakened India’s economy which caused unhappiness towards the Congress government. A wave of movements against the government which included worker’s strikes and protests was led by the students known as “Bihar and Gujarat Moments”. The rise of an Anti-Congress political era was also the rise of different unions which contain totally different ideologies. In 1947, protests also had student leaders who later became powerful figures in mainstream politics like Arun Jaitley, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan. As the political scenario changed in the country in the early 2000s, Delhi University unions or right-wing groups started encouraging unions across the country, like in JNU, Jadavpur and Presidency University.

MAJOR STUDENT UNIONS:

  1. Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP):

ABVP, an All-India student organization, was founded in 1948, and today is the largest student organization in the world. With the motto of “Knowledge, Character and Unity”, ABVP draws its inspiration from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the premier Hindu nationalist organization of the country.

Objectives:

  • Formed immediately after the independence of India, the objective of ABVP was to channelize the energy of the youth towards the reconstruction of the nation.
  • Imbued with the conviction of realizing the dream of a developed nation, modern and free from all circumstantial impediments and drawbacks, ABVP, over the years conducted constructive programs and movements towards the goal of National Reconstruction.
  • ABVP worked towards bringing about awareness about the basic rights of the poor in the nation through programs of grand scales.
  • ABVP also works towards comprehensive educational reforms. With the belief that the Gen X should be aware of the rich heritage of India to propagate a feeling of brotherhood among people, ABVP advocates a syllabus which does not concentrate merely on career prospects, but also includes education about the country. They have been waging a constant struggle against the commercialization of education.
  • ABVP also strives to involve students in social and charitable causes.
  • With the principle of social equality and harmony, ABVP encourages the virtue of equal respect for all.
  1. All India Students Federation (AISF):

With the motto of “Study and Struggle”, AISF was founded on 12 August, 1936, under the guidance of Pt. Nehru. It has the honor of being the first student body to be directly involved in helping India attain independence.

Objectives:

  • During the pre-independence era, the students of AISF were involved in India’s struggle for independence. However, the students did not see their struggle for independence in isolation from the worldwide struggle against Imperialism and Colonialism. They also joined hands in the struggle against Fascism and strived towards a better life for the youth.
  • AISF believes in peace, progress and scientific socialism. It is against Capitalism. They believe that the youth of India is being victimized by the capitalistic economy.
  • AISF also has specific demands like democratization and reforms in education, democratic and political rights, jobs, better cultural, sports and other recreational facilities for the betterment of students in India.
  1. All India Democratic Students’ Organisation (AIDSO):

Founded on 28 December, 1954, AIDSO is affiliated with the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist). With the motto being “Struggle, Unity, Progress”, AIDSO fights against injustice, oppression and exploitation, and promotes social transformation.

Objectives:

  • AIDSO is against anti-education policies of the central and the state governments.
  • Establishment of a scientific, secular and democratic education system.
  • In recent years, AIDSO has started a national movement against commercialization of education, introduction of sex education at school level and the policy of Special Economic Zones.
  1. Students’ Federation of India (SFI):

SFI, an independent students’ organization, was formed in 1970. A Socialist organization, SFI’s slogan is “Independence, Democracy and Socialism!” SFI believes that education is the only means to rid India of the shackles of regressive ideas.

Objectives:

  • The SFI strives towards the establishment of a progressive, democratic and egalitarian education system which will ensure social justice and intellectual self-reliance.
  • SFI also aims at a universal and free public education system, ensuring education for all.
  • SFI stands for the advancement of India towards a socialistic pattern of society, ensuring social and economic equality and a life of dignity and prosperity to all.
  1. The Delhi University Students Union (DUSU):

The DUSU is the umbrella students’ union in the University of Delhi and includes most of the colleges, and faculties coming under the Delhi University.

Objectives:

  • To promote a democratic outlook through social, cultural and intellectual development of all the students studying in Delhi University.
  • To promote consciousness among the students about the current events so that they can contribute towards healthy students’ movements and have a sense of service towards the people and duty towards the state.

WAY FORWARD:

Above discussion clearly frames that student unions are essential parts of the universities, colleges and high schools. They are important organs of the functionality of any institution, but they should not welcome political spaces for the students. A student union should fight for those matters which affect the student community like the privatization of education, sexiest rules, eroding autonomy of institutions, ban on study circles and archaic rules of code and conduct. Giving larger political space hampers their studies. Let’s take a recent example of an incident in which student unions were majorly involved, “the Citizenship Amendment Act”. The students of various colleges across the country, like Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi university, Aligarh Muslim University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, protested against the act. After the police brutality at JMI and AMU, the protest diameter increased and more universities, which are not known for being politically active such as IITs and IIMs, also joined the protest. The movement had grown across hundreds of colleges.

“Student unions can act as a pressure group for the government”, morally this line looks impressive, but practically the students’ main agenda ‘to study’ is hampered by this. The word ‘student’ itself loses dignity when students are given freedom to enter into the political space. Students are not activists, they are the future of our country. By indulging in such activities, unions are betraying their own fellow students. 

I can conclude by saying that student unions should be an organ of every university and college, but they should work correctly, only putting spectacles on the welfare of the students rather than getting involved in political spaces. 

REFERENCES:

https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2016/09/students-union-at-jamia/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Students%27_union#:~:text=The%20purpose%20of%20the se%20organizations,variety%20of%20services%20to%20students.&text=In%20some%20c

ases%2C%20graduate%20students%20lack%20formal%20representation%20in%20stude

nt%20government.

https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2016/09/importance-of-student-politics/

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