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STUDENT ACTIVISM: DECODING THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

"There is no social-change fairy. There is only change made by the hands of individuals." These words of Winona LaDuke are absolutely true.The credit for the evolution of Indian society belongs to the social revolutionaries who fought for it and put in their true efforts to bring about changes for good causes. Down the ages, Student activism has always acted as a catalyst to bring about changes in the society but what exactly has been the role of student activism in the evolution of our society, and what shape is it taking today? History tells us that when well-known Chinese scholars like I-Qing and Xuan Zang visited Nalanda in the 7th century CE, they gave vivid accounts of Nalanda. They had noted that as many as one hundred discourses happened on a daily basis, in a variety of disciplines through the methods of debate and discussions.

Students had the full right to express themselves.This shows that our culture has always empowered the students to not only express themselves but also the responsibility to go against and demand answers for the wrongdoings in the society. The origins of student activism in India can be traced back to 1905 when students at Eden College in Calcutta burned the effigy of Viceroy Lord Curzon protesting against the Partition of Bengal. Revolutionary activities for 6 years and non-cooperation by students was one of the reason that Bengal was reunited.

During the non-cooperation movement in 1920, Bhagat Singh and many students decided to shun British schools and colleges and joined the National College founded by Lala Lajpat Rai. Student activism served as a flag bearer of the anti-imperialist independence struggle during the Quit India Movement in 1942 when colonial authorities used oppressive techniques to imprison the nation's political class. It is reported that the entire Indian hemisphere was paralysed for 24 days. Students from dozens of Indian universities planned the entire movement. To see universities only as places of examination centres and bookish learning is myopic.

History of the world including India shows that most leaders who eventually became distinguished in public life have been the contribution of student activism on campuses. In the landmark 1975 student movement during Emergency, over 300 student union leaders, including Delhi University Students Union president late Arun Jaitley, who headed the Union Cabinet in the Narendra Modi-led government during 2014-2019, and Jai Prakash Narayan among other prominent leaders, were sent to jail. In India, It is said that the best approach to predict the future of Indian politics and the next generation of politicians is to look at student politics.

In the capital lies Delhi University which is the epicentre of student politics in India. DU is known for its political activism that spills over from national policies to international affairs. The Delhi University Students Union polls, which are considered the most glamorous and important student elections in the country, have helped launch the careers of some of the country's top politicians, including Arun Jaitley, Ajay Maken, and Alka Lamba. But what goes behind this massive election? What are the costs, be it monetary, environmental, or human? And is political activism on campus actually worth it The DUSU elections are governed by the rules set by a commission led by former chief election commissioner JM Lyngdoh, which established some guidelines to restrict massive overspending in elections as well as prohibited the use of printed posters and pamphlets on and around campus during elections; also only handwritten posters, in limited quantities, should be utilised. But A report by TOI says that in one of the years “NSUI's entire poll budget was said to be Rs 1.5 crore, while ABVP spent close to Rs 1 crore.

In fact, student groups like the Indian National Students Organisation (INSO) who have not won any of the central panel posts in DUSU so far ended up spending close to Rs 40 lakh to Rs 50 lakh in these polls.” So where does all the money go? “Nearly two crore copies of canvassing materials such as posters and pamphlets are printed during the elections, accounting for a significant portion of the budget. One poster costs Rs 5, with an additional Rs 2 for pasting. "For an organisation like NSUI or ABVP, that comes to roughly Rs 20 lakh," said the owner of a private printing press to TOI. Also, hoardings put up all around the university area by most parties cost at least ₹ 10,000 each. Another cost is transport cost, the students participating in elections have to campaign across 77 colleges and various departments.

To reach out to all students within seven days, that too during college hours, cars are hired. Cavalcades comprising more than 25 cars can be seen canvassing on Delhi University Campus Roads. There are various other costs including the cost to lure or woo students for votes by distributing expensive freebies, free movie tickets, chocolates and others. A study by NDTV says that students reported that “Most hostellers were distributed alcohol and chocolates every year for votes.” Not only is there a monetary cost in these elections but also some environmental costs. Countless pamphlets are distributed on the campus despite the National Green Tribunal's order in July to stop paper usage during DUSU elections. Still, The DUSU election campaigns have seen massive paper wastage during the campaigning process. There is also a human cost, almost every year during the elections, student bodies accuse each other of organising attacks. Be it the north campus, south campus, or campuses of outer colleges, separate incidents of violence have come to light during the elections.

If so many rules of the Lyngdoh committee are violated and student elections are including violence and bribes, then a question that should be raised is that “ Is student involvement in politics doing any good to the society? The answer is YES. Inspired by the student revolutionaries, the students of the modern times have played an instrumental role to fight against corruption under Anna Hazare, be it protesting against the Nirbhaya rape case, or In favor of or against CAA.

Many even supported the recent farmers' protest against the 3 farm laws. They have voiced their opinions confidently and truthfully to bring about changes. Student unity has always set examples that have led to instrumental changes in the system. Those who say that student activism disturbs tranquillity in universities should understand that students in higher education are voters in elections and constitutionally reckoned as political stakeholders who can exercise their freedom of speech and expression. Research by Harvard University says “One ought to remember that participation in student politics is not only about enacting university citizenship, but also about cultivating habits of engaged citizenship in democratic societies.” Therefore those who have an inclination towards political activism post-campus life develop a sense of social responsibility.

Student activism should be viewed as a component of student’s learning rather than just campus unrest. “Politics educate the youth to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively and live humanly “ At the same time as students who want to work for the betterment of the society as well as our nation, we must understand and remember that on the varsity grounds, inflammatory statements, anti-national chants, and insults directed at symbols of our country's honour and integrity, such as the national flag and national anthem, are terrible. The sacredness of universities must not be sullied or degraded for whatever causes. Universities should not be used as a breeding ground for anti-national activity. Even after all the positives and negatives, One thing that remains constant is that student participation in politics is necessary for the evolution of the society. Surendranath Banerjee, one of the first student leaders and a great political activist during the freedom movement said that “Students must, on the one hand, be stirred out of their indifference to politics and on the other, protected against extreme fanatical views.”

Om Marwaha
Undergraduate Student at SRCC

Refrences

TOI Money, muscle to mark DUSU power struggle | Delhi News - Times of India (indiatimes.com)
HT Violence hits campus on eve of DUSU polls - Hindustan Times
NDTV Green Tribunal Sends Notice to Centre Over Wastage of Paper in DUSU Polls (ndtv.com)
In Delhi University Elections, Expensive Freebies Given For Votes (ndtv.com)
YKA ‘Student Movements Are Necessary For A Country’s Evolution’ | Youth Ki Awaaz
NCERT HISTORY BOOK CLASS 11

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