Jamia Millia Islamia: Why Not Students’ Council Instead of Union?
The students’ union in the present form is not at all democratic from any stretch of the imagination.
Jamia Millia Islamia celebrated its 97th Foundation Day on 29 October. The university has indeed come a long way from its humble beginnings. Like all institutes, Jamia has some positive points and some not-so-positive ones.
First things first. The administration at Jamia has been very anti-student and autocratic in recent times. Under these circumstances, it is natural that students feel stifled and strongly feel that they too should be having some platform to raise their concerns. And hence, the talk about having a Students' Union picks up pace intermittently.
But a Students' Union brings with itself its own set of problems similar to those we have witnessed in Delhi University and Aligarh Muslim University in recent times.
Why is Having a Students' Union in Jamia a Bad Idea?
Jamia as a university is quite different from other universities. In a small compact compound, a student can join in Nursery standard and stay on till his/her PhD. After spending so many years, students tend to think of themselves being above the laws and regulations.
Combined with the presence of some anti-social elements in the neighborhood, it becomes a heady mix of violence and control. This again is not a generalised statement but is true more often for those who actually win elections and are involved in student politics.
The Students' Union in the present form is not at all democratic from any stretch of the imagination. Only those students who enjoy some clout and muscle power are able to get elected to these positions. A student from a small course having only a few students will not have much of a say.
The Reasons Put Forward by Those Who Want a Students' Union Are:
a) Every other university has a Union, why can't Jamia have one?
Why compare ourselves only in this respect? Are we doing equally well in placements? Were we successful in creating a good brand value for our university? If not, why not? Just because few from JNUSU got national fame, it has inspired people who aspire for such fame for themselves to be bothered about the Students' Union. At the end of the day, it is all about personal glory for most.
There was a reason Students' Union were banned in Jamia – violence. Some ex-student leaders are even involved in land-grabbing incidents in the locality.
b) How will we instil activism among students?
There are many avenues open for this. There are so many causes and NGOs working for the upliftment of the downtrodden and many students from Jamia are already involved. Activism is believing and working toward a cause. Being in the limelight is not a necessary prerequisite.
c) Where is the democracy if students cannot raise their voice?
Get involved in your Subject Associations. They might not be as glamorous as university-level politics, but it involves actual work with limited resources. Work from the grassroots if you are interested in politics.
d) How will they become future leaders? Our community lacks leaders at the national level.
Now, this is a flawed statement at many levels. Firstly, students in Jamia are not from a single community. Secondly, there is no such rule that students from only one community can be a part of Students' Union. (If this is an unsaid rule, then it is a bigger problem.) Thirdly, we jeopardise the careers of thousands just so that a handful can use this as a launching pad for their career in politics!
Do We Have an Alternative?
We already have elections for Subject Association in all departments. This is a grassroot level organisation having class representatives, joint secretary, general secretary, and a Vice President.
A university-level body can be made combining these elected Subject Association members.
Much like the Indian Parliament, this Students' Council can meet regularly and discuss the problems being faced by the students. The Council can select a President, VP, and GS among themselves and work in tandem as a unit.
The Students' Council can also help build synergy between students taking help from their areas of expertise. For example, students from Mass Communication can be asked to cover different department fests, click photographs for their placement brochures etc. Engineering and MCA students can help build websites. Fine Arts students can help in getting posters designed for different events. Tourism students can organise college trips. MBA HR can help prepare students for placements for the entire university. Why take external help and pay money when you have such in-house potential resources? Students' Council may work closely with the Alumni Association.
Many years back, being a student in Jamia, I had suggested a mentorship program to the training and placement cell, where each incoming student would be taken under the wings by an Alumni, who would then assist the student in his/her college projects, internships, and finally in the placement. We should focus on initiatives that help our students grow in life.
In short, I would request all of the present and ex-students that our efforts should be result oriented with an eye on the end result. Do we want Jamia products to be well-respected professionals or should our focus be to see few netas coming out from Jamia? The ball is in your court.
Note: Before you start questioning me, let me tell you my family has been a part of Jamia Millia Islamia since pre-independence days. I did my graduation from there and then came back for my post-graduation degree just because Jamia held a special place in my heart. Whatever I say is with the best interests of this university, which I consider my second home.
(A social media strategist and an ex-student of Jamia Millia Islamia, Asad Haider Zaidi is the co-founder of ShouldertoShoulder movement, an initiative launched to promote universal brotherhood across different communities. His aim in life is to spread the message of goodness, humanity and love in society. He can be reached on @asadzaidi. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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