New Delhi: Students cannot attain political maturity by merely focusing on the events off campus; their training requires raising them on campus too. By debating and agitating on issues, students create an intellectual space that helps them develop skills to influence, mobilise and lead people. The case of Jawaharlal Nehru University is a perfect example. That, however, is not the case with Jamia Millia Islamia, another prominent university in Delhi.
The university was built to fulfill the need for education and nationalistic agitation.The university which boasts, and rightly so, of a rich history of student activism during the freedom movement sadly remains indifferent to political activity by students.
The students’ union elections have been banned here since March 2006 after students allegedly 'started interfering with the administrative matters of the institution'. “The students’ union was vitiating the academic and administrative atmosphere of the varsity and hence the poll process had to be suspended to ensure that there was no disruption in normal academic transactions,” an official of the university told Firstpost.
But the students are demanding to reinstate their union. They say it is ironical that a university with such a rich past, has no democracy or voice of dissent left on its campus now. Fed up with writing repeatedly to vice chancellors and the University Grants Commission, three students had challenged the varsity’s directive in the Delhi High Court in 2011 and the matter is still pending.
First banned in 1996, the elections of Jamia Students’ Union were held again in December 2005 when noted scholar Mushirul Hassan was the vice chancellor. Few months after the new union was elected, it was dissolved. Since then, the union office in the campus is closed. In July 2012, the then vice chancellor Najeeb Jung, who is now the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, ruled out any possibility of a students’ union election stating that “there have been no such elections for the last four-five years. I have not studied the background of unions here”.
The students alleged that their democratic rights were being curtailed and there was just one-way communication between them and the administration. They demanded that instead of eliminating the whole process, the varsity should at least allow political activism among students, in a manner that did not affect academic activities.
“Students’ union gives a common platform to students in colleges and universities to fight for common interests. But it has been a decade now and on the pretext that a case is pending in court, the university administration has stopped union election. Consequently, students here find themselves on weaker ground against the authorities,” Md Reyaz, a research scholar, told Firstpost.
Interestingly, Jamia has strong union of teachers and non-teaching staff.
“In the last decade, I hardly saw any real mobilisation of students for a common cause. Even when the Occupy UGC movement (launched in October last year in response to a recommendation for scrapping the non-NET fellowship) was going on, the collective participation of Jamia students was minimal,” he said, adding that the “argument that students should focus on studies and leave politics is hilarious and shows the ignorance at best and unyielding attitude of the authorities at worst”.
Universities have always been the cradle for future leaders and it is here that they sharpen their skills. From incumbent Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to former Bihar Chief Minister Laldu Prasad Yadav, they all had their training in politics in universities.
“If the current dispensation really believes that students should not indulge in politics, shouldn't they begin by suspending the students’ wing — the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP)?” he asked.
The school headmaster's approach towards running a university has apparently become sort of a norm. It helps the administration suppress views and uncomfortable opinions from students, many students feel.
Asad Ashraf, an ex-student of the university who earned masters in Peace and Conflict, said every vice chancellor of Jamia has 'killed its democratic aspiration' during his tenure. “I was myself suspended for demanding a students’ body on the campus and questioning the authoritative ways of the administration. There is no students’ body despite the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations (which was set up by the then UPA government in December 2005 in response to a directive by the Supreme Court and had stipulated that all institutions of higher education, both private and public, should conduct student union elections every year). Vice chancellors, citing administrative reasons, act at the behest of the central governments and do not want leaders to prosper among a large chunk of minority students studying here,” he alleged.
According to Meeran Haider, who is pursuing MBA in International Business, an undemocratic university is being created in a democratic country.
“The consecutive administrations of the university have always tried to please and ingratiate the respective governments for personal benefits, betraying the vision of the founding fathers. In a nut shell, you can say in democratic India, an undemocratic university is being created,” he said.
What would have happened if a JNU-kind incident had occurred in Jamia? asked Haider, who is also co-convener and spokesperson of Jamia Students’ Forum (JSF), which is fighting for restoration of campus democracy. “Perhaps , the institution would have been shut down by now and it would have turned into a war zone,” he said, concluding, “a community which has no participation in national politics and administrations ends up becoming slave and the same is happening with us.”
JSF is planning to launch a campaign on a large scale to press the government to accept their demand. Another student, on the condition of anonymity, said the problem lies among the “so-called guardians of Jamia itself”. “They see the university as a launch pad for their own political ambitions. Student politics will pave the way for an assertive Muslim intelligentsia. And that would hamper their personal ambition,” he told Firstpost.
Jamia unit of Students Islamic Organisation (SIO), the students’ wing of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, which has staged various protests demanding the reinstatement of the union, says every society and nation has meaningfully prospered when it allowed each of its members to participate democratically.
Sharing the same view, Hamraj Singh, who is pursuing MA in Media Governance, says an educational institution does not only teach us theoretical aspect of socio-political issues but also to practice them. “Jamia should restore students’ democracy. It will make the atmosphere more vibrant in and around the campus,” he said, voicing concerns over whether “the student union will be able to keep itself above minority politics."
Syed Danish, a former student of the university, asked the Jamia administration to take a lesson from JNU on how a student is made politically educated and the part the campus plays in it.
“Replaying the entire episode of what happened in Jawaharlal Nehru University in the past one month, one wonders what lies in the spirit of JNU. To be precise, how do we build a university which has a gallant history of taking a non-conformist stand in the face of the most oppressive of governments? How do we build a university which can inspire and educate its students to face existential threats from all sides and never surrender?” he added.
The university has taken note of the requests from the students but they cannot take a stand on the issue as the matter is sub-judice.
“Our Vice Chancellor Professor Talat Ahmed is personally inclined to having a students’ union in place but the matter is in High Court. Once the case is decided and final nod on conducting elections come, we will be more than happy to implement it,” said university PRO Dr Mukesh Ranjan.