Campus Politics and students’ challenge

Student activism has impacted nations on every continent. Movements spearheaded by students have influenced the Political, Social, Economic and Environmental canvas of many countries from (South) Africa to Australia, Chile to China, India to Indonesia, Malaysia to Mexico and United States to Ukraine.

Some of the notable activism by students across the globe in the previous century include the University revolution during 1918 in Argentina; The May Fourth Movement in 1919, and The Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 for Democracy in China; The French uprising in 1968; Mexican Protests also in 1968, The Movement in 1924 for identity in the United States; Protests against the Vietnam war in 1965 in Britain, Movement against apartheid in South Africa, and the Freedom Movement in India.The emergence of students and youth as a political class is especially significant in newly formed independent nations including ours. Organized student movements played a major role in our independence struggle. Students’ organizations emerged with objective of mobilizing and integrating the youth with national awakening against foreign rule. Post independence, during 1960s and the ‘70s, idealism prevailed in campus politics. In 1974, students protested against corruption and nexus of politics with vested interests in Social & Economic issues. It was a major and widespread movement.

However, since 1977 onwards, the quality of student politics began to decline. Post independence, the genesis of numerous student bodies with varied ideologies and affiliations played a major role not only in national policy but also in drawing the attention of the authorities towards specific student issues such as admission policies, tuition, academic freedom and student welfare at large. Sometimes, campus politics turned into an extension of party politics. Though many endeavoured to separate from active politics, it succumbed to outside pressures and interference. Even now, many campuses of universities and colleges including reputed ones witness protests on national and international issues unrelated to academics and students welfare. Elections to student bodies are hardly free from intervention of outsiders and therefore, from conflict and violence.

As a result, student unions did not metamorphose from an entity playing an active role in national politics to purely students’ bodies that primarily and restrictively focus on the general interests of students. It is difficult for them to remain apolitical as they claim to be. Student caste politics, divisiveness and commercialization of education gained the ground. Beset with violence, intimidation and corruption, frequent student union clashes, boycott of classes, strikes, roadblocks, manipulation of voters in students’ elections, display of muscle power and disruption of academics, campus politics has become increasingly alarming.

A wave of creativity sweeps young minds in the campus of academic institution. It is a place to think, innovate, experiment and exchange new ideas. Student life is also a journey to discover and flow with the mosaic expressions of cultural, economic, social and political ideologies. Because of intense influence, peer pressure and the power enjoyed by student bodies, some students in the campus start to follow a specific ideology. Another dimension of the ideologies is rooted in regionalism and community. When they become part of a student body, they become straight-jacketed and forced to an identity which they may not be comfortable with sometimes. Most students may like to remain neutral but they find it difficult to do so and as such they are carried away by the politically motivated minorities. Reducing voting age to 18 years has added further fuel to politics in the campus. While student politics per se is not undesirable, politicizing of student unions has resulted in many undesirable consequences. As a result, students pay heavy price for the identity politics as they and their institutions are used as pawns by the outside forces according to their convenience as witnessed in the numerous student clashes in the recent past.

Is campus politics legally permissible? Can students form unions in educational institutions? Do they have a right to stage demonstration? Many of us become vocal about our rights as students in the campus and ready to resort to any form of protests indefinitely to prove our point against the authorities on any issue – be it academics or welfare, without realizing its impact on studies and career. In a Court judgement related to students’ protest in a college campus, it was ruled that political activities like ‘dharnas’, strikes and ‘satyagrahas’ had no place in a constitutional democracy, much less in academic institutions. Educational institutions are meant for imparting education. The Court ordered that if any student was found resorting to and staging a ‘dharna’ or a strike or is disrupting academic atmosphere of any college, the institution can rusticate him, for these are no means to ventilate grievances. Right of the educational institutes in maintaining law and order and discipline includes the right to ban any political activism in the campus and such prohibition does not violate rights guaranteed under the constitution. The legal position is that the right to participate in student union activities is a statutory right and is subject to the rules of the concerned university. Some premier institutions in the country have banned politicizing of student unions. A few states have completely proscribed student union elections.

College campuses bestow wonderful opportunities to prove leadership during a student’s life. Student politics have shaped eminent political leaders. Emulating their examples, some have burnt fingers in student politics and spoiled their academic as well as future political prospects. It is imperative to discover our vocation during our student years and allow God to fulfil His plan and purpose in our lives. Many of us are averse to the idea of being a student leader and an exemplary witness to serve in students’ body in the campuses. Many believing and committed students are required to take the lead in students’ council in the colleges and universities and, of course, to lead the students’ community as servant leaders with all honesty and integrity. It is time for us to rise up, involve and shine for the Master rather than criticizing campus politics as non-participant observers. Campus may be our right place to bloom as leaders for the present and the future. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We only can play the role of peace makers in students’ world. As a young man, Joseph accepted the challenge of leading Egypt as prime minister to be a blessing to many nations including Israel. Daniel became a leader of prominence in Babylon without defiling himself and compromising his faith.

Walking worthy as students not only means to succeed in studies and career but also to influence others and make a difference in the campus for the kingdom of God. The challenge for students now is to rise in every campus to lead the fellow students with commitment and righteousness and without compromise irrespective of ideological differences. While it is good to be submissive to the authorities, it is important to be ready for every good work (Titus 3:1).” Let your light so shine before man, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
(Ref: 1. Target study: Role of politics in colleges, 2. The Hindu dated october 13, 2017, Kochi Edition, 3. Wikipedia 4. The companion (as on 14-04-2018): Campus politics in India 5. Matt. 5:9, 13-14 6. Eph. 4:1).

Dr. Nanda Dulal, The author works and lives in Bangalore.

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