For what it’s worth, student elections at the college I studied in was frankly, unexciting. Neither did my friends nor I, have the patience to learn the names of the representatives because most of them hadn’t bothered to visit our classrooms. On the day of the results, an unknown name would be shouted excitedly through the speakers, girls would cheer and in a few seconds, people went back to doing whatever they were.
But that was one experience. Another, drastically different one was after I moved to Delhi and was taken aback by the intensity of student politics and the contrast it had with colleges from other states.
Students and student movements have always been important in the history of India, especially democratic India – protests led by students demanding a steel plant in Visakhapatnam (Vizag) in 1966 and the role of the All Assam Students Union in 1979 in the politics of the state were imperative in understanding the politics and socio-economic structures of that period, while also proving its relevance in the current state of affairs in the nation.
While most colleges in Sikkim aren’t as invested in aligning with political beliefs as institutions in North or Central India, they do channel their energy into solving immediate student problems and bridging the gap between the administration and student body.
Rohit*, a contender for last year’s student union election at Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology (SMIT), explains that the elected representatives are forbidden from aligning towards any political ideology to prevent third party interference, making for friendly elections that stress more on strong cooperation between students.
He also mentions that their college politics isn’t like the other universities’. “We have around 10 posts – the Vice President is the spokesperson, then comes Debate Heads, Cultural Head etc., and meetings used to take place fortnightly. The administration interacts, only if needed, or has to explain a certain situation/decision or to stress why the rule is there. It is very transparent”, he tells.
But does this mean that all the students in Sikkim have the same stance? Not quite!
Sikkim has seen its fair share of student-led protests, the most famous being the 2014 protests over the extensive fee hike – the lathi-charge and tear-gassing that the police force used to disperse the crowd, led to criticism by many within and outside the state and more recently, the rallies led by the Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum (SPYF) regarding the defection of MLAs and poor healthcare facilities in Geyzing in West Sikkim.
The Ones Who Migrate- Then there are Sikkimese students who study outside the state and have problems of their own. Palsang Chembu Tamang, the ex-President of Sikkim Students Association, New Delhi, states that there are certain pressing problems that the state government should help the students with, most importantly the funding for running the association since it makes it difficult for these young leaders to run an association.
“There is also a need for an office space for the executive body in the Sikkim House to conduct its meetings. Additionally, the quota seats should be given especially to the BPL categories but they give to the APL categories too, so students do not get good colleges nowadays through quotas as they did before”, says Palsang.
Zigmee Gurung, the current Joint Secretary for Ramjas College, New Delhi has noticed the deep-rooted bias against Northeastern students, which has been there for the longest time but has found considerable changes since students are now more aware than ever and have acceptance for different ethnicities. But, there is still room for change and development and wishes to focus on that in his term. Since he is one of the few students from Sikkim, who have actually gone on to become members of the student union in Delhi, it is clear that there is progress.
On being asked about his experience, he says, “the support has been overwhelming. I had not expected so much acceptance in a short period of time, as I am just in the first year. Also, I am here to break the stigma that stands again the students from the northeast. I will be their voice and I will do my best to strengthen the northeastern society.”
Even St. Stephen’s newly elected President, Raman Mohora states problems of weather, language barrier, food and accommodation, as problems the students before and now still face. But he too, like Zigmee, believes that times are changing and feels there are better safeguards and conveniences in place for people from the Northeast.
He hopes that the election victories of Zigmee and himself can help to change the idea that students from the Northeast aren’t concerned about politics and empower more people to participate and contest in elections.
“The example I would like to set is to create more well-informed, responsible and vigilant students. Students who are aware of the world around them and also about the state of the country. Most importantly, the message I want to send out to other students would be to believe in and create a society that is united without uniformity and a nation that is diverse without being fragmented”, he shares.
The Deal With Delhi-
Meanwhile, in Delhi, the conversations are punctuated with remarks on how the latest elections went – whether the leaders were noteworthy and thus, deserved praise, or found their way to their posts via muscle power and money. “The DUSU elections have the least to do with Delhi University. Money and muscle power-packed two things you need to stay at the top in those games and not to forget their least regard for anything to do with the environment”, says Nilza Wangmo Goji, studying International Relations at Jamia Millia Islamia.
“For me, the elections were an eye-opener and I could connect it to our mainstream political campaign”, Nilza adds.
Thinles Shunu, a first-year student at St. Stephen’s compares his college’s elections with DUSU’s and observes the difference between the two, the most prominent being the interruption of ongoing classes during the campaign season with the former allowing certain time slots so that the classes aren’t hampered and the latter becoming a sore distraction from studies.
Mohora, also agrees with the sobriety of St. Stephen’s elections. “The campaigns are mostly a quiet affair with no loud sloganeering and littering of posters and papers. It’s a sober affair. It needn’t get any better than that,” he continues, “our campus space accommodates all types of views and does not promote any particular ideology. We are a space for everybody.”
This isn’t an indication that one institution functions better than the other, but cements the fact that on either side there is an ever-growing awareness of the power of politics and what either can learn or unlearn from the theories already in existence.
Javed Hassan, pursuing Masters in Social Work at Jamia Millia Islamia is of the thought that parties should not be allowed in college elections as they create cadres based on ideology. “I am all for being political but I don’t want involvement of political parties in elections. Political parties are not needed in Universities. They just make students mind rigid and shape their views and opinions. It’s a volatile age to be influenced by something you don’t necessarily know about.”
But one thing is certain – the majority of students in Delhi, both Sikkimese and non, are distressed by the amount of waste produced during the elections. “It really is wastage of paper, year after year”, says Shunu.
Supporting his view is Nilza, who notes that the DUSU elections are one of those times where one can see the maximum number of paper waste done in an entire year all around the campus. She adds, “defacing walls, pavements and anything that crosses their eye is definitely the favourite modus operandi. ABVP and NSUI travel in packs with their own kind, the quintessential goon thing to do and not to forget with all the hoardings and posters with the name of their candidates (ballot numbers). Also, they have the audacity to enter the classrooms, most of the time without permission (10-15 people) and leave us with, well more printouts of their ballot numbers.”
Conclusion– One might scoff at them or praise them for what they do, but one cannot deny that student leaders have always been instrumental in shaping the political thought of the rest of their peers. To curb their freedom and restrict them is to start a revolution.
Whether, they align themselves with politics or keep their distance from it, the fact remains that they are ready to take action for what they believe in and if there is a future to believe in, it is in the hands of these young people who constantly generate questions, take active participation in discussions that impact their lives and dream of creating better opportunities for themselves and the society; simply speaking, the young refuse to be dismissed.
*Name changed to protect identity.