11 Dec Campus Politics – My Experience
I finished Class X in 1992, from Christ Nagar School with 87% marks. The next option was to do a two-year Pre-Degree in College (equivalent to Plus 2 now in school itself). It was a big transition from school to college and hence selecting the college was a major decision. I wanted to take Science, but then many well-wishers advised me to take Maths additional, and I complied with it, which I finally realized was a very wrong decision. I scored 98% in Math in Class X, whereas in the second year Pre-Degree, I managed to just about clear my Math paper and ended my relationship with Mathematics forever.
When it came to selecting a college for admission I had two options – The Government Arts College and Mar Ivanios College. Mar Ivanios College was a very prestigious private college at that time run by Catholic Fathers, whereas the Government Arts College was under the Education Department of the State Government and was well known for left front politics, particularly Students Federation of India (SFI). But the major advantage in Govt. Arts College was that, Pre-Degree was in two shifts – first year in the afternoon with classes from 1.15 to 5.15pm and second year in the forenoon from 9.15am to 1.15pm. So people advised that, studying in the Government College would be better to prepare for Engineering & Medical entrance exams at the end of the second year because there is more time to manage personal studies, tuitions, entrance coaching etc. So I decided to join the Government Arts College, which was a major turning point in life – the start of two dark years of my life.
On the first day of college only did I really understand that the college was a bastion of SFI in Thiruvananthapuram with the arch rivals ABVP holding reign over MG College. But then I was not so bothered about it. We were a big group of students from Pettah, who had joined the college and I was enjoying the experience of travelling with them in Public transport (till now my travels were all by School bus that picked us up right at home and dropped us off inside the school). When classes started, I understood that many students from Christ Nagar had also chosen my college considering the same advantages that prompted me too.
After about a month from the start of classes the Union Election happened. To our greatest surprise, there was no election in our college, as the decision was unanimous for SFI, or rather made unanimous for SFI. Any student who dared to put up their nomination, independent or in the name of any other party, would be summoned by the SFI cadres to the Union Room, and would most probably be carried out after receiving “proper treatment” from the Union leaders. A few days later it was declared that, the College Union (or rather the SFI Union) would be announced in the afternoon during a function in the College auditorium. The announcement came through the microphone that classes were being suspended for the day and we were happy. But then we saw SFI cadres moving in and taking positions at all exits and we slowly realized that all of us were being coerced to attend the function in the auditorium against our will. Since all of us were there together, we were fine. We were all packed into the auditorium with a few benches. Most of the people were standing between and around the benches. Finally the function started and what happened after was the biggest surprise of my life. The names of the Union Members were being announced and when the First Year Student Representative was announced, my name was read out. I was like wonder struck on how this happened. SFI cadres started shouting out slogans “Renjan Mathew Ki Jay, Renjan Mathew Zindabad”. Maybe any other student would have been happy to receive that position, but I was about to pass out. After the function, when we came out of the auditorium, friends from Pettah started saying about the bitter consequences of taking up such positions – I would now be called up for all party programmes, I would have to take an active role in enrolling other students as party members, and more horrifying, I would now be on the watch list of arch rivals ABVP, who were renowned for physical atrocities.
I reached home in the evening and I was in tears. I live with my Mother and two elder sisters. We sat together and talked about this for hours, but without any clue on how to take this forward. I did not go to the college for the next few days as I was so afraid. Then finally my Mother decided to come to the college and talk to the Union Office Bearers. The next day afternoon, she accompanied me to the college and met with the Union Chairman. She explained that she was a single parent and that I was brought up without a father, as he passed away when I was just six months old. She told how there was so much expectation from me in the family and also that I had my schooling in Christ Nagar where there were no politics at all and also that our family had no political connections.
The interaction went on for almost an hour. The Union Chairman who was a rather well-mannered person, finally told my Mother that, since the College Union has already been declared, they will not be in a position to change my name without any other proper reason as it will reflect badly on the party. However, he assured my mother that since he is going to lead the Union for the next two years, he will ensure that I will not be involved in any political activities in the College. My name will remain in the College Union list of officer bearers just as a formality. Since there was no further scope of negotiation, the meeting ended and we returned home. I was not relieved with this decision and I did not go to college for a few more days. But then without any other solution in sight, I slowly started going to college and things went ahead smoothly.
In the following days, the experiences were mixed. The campus dominated by SFI gave a free hand to the comrades and they used to forcefully take money and vehicles from the students. Whenever there was a protest or a march to the Secretariat, we would all be forcibly made to join the protest not knowing whether we would be at the receiving end of the Police cane. But for me, being chosen as the First Year Representative and then the assurance given by the Union Chairman to my mother came in as a blessing in disguise – when all my other classmates used to be forcibly taken for marches and protests, the Union Chairman exempted me from all those activities. This was a great relief for me for that one whole year. So whenever the political flag was up in the campus for some reason or the other, I would quickly and comfortably make my way home.
But what was expected to be two years of freedom, studies and preparation for entrance exams ultimately turned out to be two dark years of my life.
Some of the lessons I learned from this experience are (1) Nothing happens in the life of a believer without God allowing it (2) Sometimes God allows things against our desires to teach us – taking us through different experiences to get a new perspective of life, to think differently and to respond to unexpected situations (3) Sometimes blessings come in disguises (4) Your best friends can be in your family – so always take the freedom to share things within the family and take their advice (5) God sometimes gives you unfavorable situations so that you can stand strong through those tough times and be a witness to others around – not through words, but through actions in your own life.
Politics in campus is good if it is balanced. It should genuinely stand to address students’ rights and issues. Students should not give into mainline political parties to be used for their vested interests. Students should be given freedom in the campuses and should have the right and space for expressing themselves. Campus should act as a platform where a students will be able to understand their self – identify their positives and building on them and identifying their negatives and working on them. It should ultimately help to find one’s place in the society and to build the right career and choose the right profession. Life is not a chance so do not let your decisions be guided by chance. You should be directed in life by your own choices and you should take ownership of your choices and make the best out of them for the benefit of your family and the society.
Renjan Mathew Varghese, working with WWF-India as the State Director for Kerala based in Thiruvananthapuram and lives with his wife Neelu, daughters Reeba and Ruth