For a country like India that spans the entire cultural spectrum of the world, the feature of our democracy is what continues to help us in moving forward as one nation and not as a conglomeration of separated regions, each with their own agenda. Just after 1947, while the critics across the world penned down the low probability of India sustaining the partition, it was only our varied tradition and the different lifestyles that helped our leaders in paving a strong Constitution and ultimately, a growing nation. A major reason behind our founding leaders keeping in mind every single stratum was the ability of that particular group to have a political mindset and hence, push for an agenda that might guarantee the well-being of the same socially-active class. A special echelon which has continued to hold our leaders accountable on their promises and has sculpted a rather unique set of national political standards has been the student class.
From the freedom struggle to every year’s every election, it has been the youth of this country that has taken to the streets and has had the moral backing to question what’s wrong and to be the fore-runners in any struggle against an unjust manner of treatment. Although the spirit of youth involvement has always thrived in the decision-making process of our democracy, yet the last decade and a half have seen a tremendous effort by student unions from all across the country to spearhead the idea of student-led movements throughout India. Be it the Jadavpur University protests in 2014 that called for Hokkolorob or the desperate need of noise against women oppression, or be it the Justice for Rohith protests led by the Joint Action Commission which uncovered the deep-rooted casteist genes of our society. Be it the infamous and misrepresented JNU protests that revealed the clear bias of our media, or be it the protests by national institutes like Delhi University, TISS and BITS Pilani against educational decisions like autonomy and unregulated fee hike.
Although the entire world has seen a dramatic rise in student uprisings against policies ranging from market reforms in the US to institutional alterations in the European continent to the governmental changes in Hong Kong, the number of such protests have grown steadily in our country. According to these reports by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, MHA, the frequency of student agitations rose from about 6,005 in 2011 to 7,385 in 2012 to about 11, 748 in 2014. As the latest report describes, the number of student-led protests or agitations comprised of about 8.81% of total protests in the country in 2016. To put this in context, the number of communal agitations was at only 5.69% in the same year.
With a lot of articles covering the side of the debate that fails to encompass the opinions of the student activists themselves, this piece aims at changing that by going a step forward and asking the people of influence, the ones who are actually responsible for the beginning of a newer form of change in the society. Like Piyush very truly writes in his piece on the need for student politics in a country, “politics is needed in institutions not only because it is present everywhere but to produce better leaders instead of having leaders foisted upon us because of their money/muscle power or by virtue of their lineage”. The need for educated politicians in a country with the largest voter base in the world is something that our educated crowd not only needs, but also very justifiably deserves.
If we glance over the age profile of an MP in today’s India, the surprise does not evade us. According to this analysis, MPs between the age of 56 and 70 form about 44% of the current batch whereas this age group just forms 8% of the total population. This has caused the average age of an MP in the country today to increase to 56 from 46.5 that marked the first Lok Sabha of free India. More importantly, this data profile by PRSIndia shows that a mere 13% of today’s cabinet is under the age of 40. In a nation that has 65% of its population below 35, this number seems to be highly appealing. As a result, I talked to these leaders of tomorrow, the ones who have the power of stepping up and taking the reins of India from their corrupt, communal and quite appropriately, confused predecessors, about the way they perceive student politics taking shape on a national scale and about their expectations from a more youth-driven nation.
- Kawalpreet Kaur, the president of All India Students’ Association – Delhi Unit’s president, comes out as a strong proponent of student politics. Being a part of student activism herself, she felt that it is inherently necessary for students to be aware of the world, as they will form the voter base of tomorrow. On being questioned about the common argument against student politics that pitches it as a source of hindrance to the flow of education, she explained as to how being a part of a form of revolt fits the learning curve better. She went on to describe her own time as an activist as she pointed out the incidents wherein she got to practice the theory that students mug up in their classrooms. As I presented her the above-quoted data from the MHA and asked for her opinions on the sudden upsurge in the number of student protests, she chuckled and reassured the need for an upsurge as an enhancer of democracy. She felt that it was the incompetence of the government in power as it failed to satisfy an important stratum of its population, hence leading to an upsurge. Diverting from the student involvement in politics, I further asked her about the scenario of an apolitical student base from her point of view as an activist herself. She blamed this lack of intervention by a certain segment of the student base on a deficit of empathy and increased ignorance. This combined with a fear of one’s life that today’s times instill holds a lot of students from stepping forward and taking a stand. Moreover, Kawalpreet goes on to point out as to how certain factions in today’s student activism generate a more violent environment and hence, further amplify the inhibition in the crowd.
- Fahad Ahmad, the general secretary of the student union at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai (TISS) pointed out that this sudden increase in the number of student protests throughout the country is a simple consequence of the ignorance of consecutive oppositions in the country’s He strongly felt that it is the salient feature of an effective democracy that it allows voices of dissent to be heard in every corner of its being, especially when the strata in question are tomorrow’s leaders. On being questioned about his take on the chunk of the youth that decides to turn the other cheek, he specifically blamed it on the education system that prevails in today’s society. He further went on to describe as to how certain branches and fields are seen as being above a social responsibility. This, according to Fahad, is what causes the representatives of the said branches to care lesser than their counterparts. Encouraging more of today’s youth to put their foot down and bring a change in the country, he called for more organized student activism. He felt that protesting as a single unified force and not for a range of issues must be the end goal so as to achieve a stricter sense of transformation throughout the nation. To the common argument about activism being an obstruction to the natural flow of education, he pointed out the flawed education system again. He called attention to the system’s twisted definition of an appropriate education which locks the minds of students to nothing but books and forces their creative voices and curious minds to die a silent death.
- Syamantakshobhan Basu, a former student at Jadavpur University and one of the fore-runners during the Hokkolorob protests talked about the callous nature and hunger for power that is inherent to the existence of an authority itself. Relating to his own experiences during the said protests, he expressed how any administration’s sole aim is to either appease the government in power or to secure credibility or profits for themselves. Be it by improved rankings, government approval or corrupt projects, the authorities always try their best to stay on the good side of power and in this transaction, tend to disappoint the masses of students who look at them for nothing more than mere accountability and transparency. As I gave him the data on the rise in student agitations in the recent years, Basu felt that that is a result of a higher degree of targeted victimization by consecutive governments, combined with a wider spread of ideas and opinions about the state of affairs, hence fueling the simmering rage. Like his fellow interviewees, he came out as a strong critic of labeling activism as a form of barrier to the process of education. He explained as to how a wider knowledge of society and issues pertaining to it instills the sense of self-actualization and self-consciousness in a student, making one a better and more socially responsible human being, which is, after all, the end goal of a good education. On being asked about his opinions on the ‘apolitical’ trend of today’s time, he flagged the adjective as a luxury that only the privileged elite can afford. He explained as to how victimized classes seem to have no option but to be involved, which is something that ideally every citizen must choose to be. To this, he also blamed our electoral policy of ‘choosing the best out of the worst’, that forces a lay person’s hand at not caring at all. According to Basu, this is a mistake as well, as being privileged doesn’t guarantee a safe haven from the storm of incompetent leaders in power, while allowing corruption and oppression to increasingly consume society as a whole.
- Anupama T V, an IAS officer in the government of Kerala, drew a clear distinction between active student politics and the trend of student over-activism that prevails in today’s youth. On one hand, she expressed her admiration for the increased number of citizens that are democratically and socially more aware than their ancestors, but on the flip side, she felt that the very devoted participation of mainstream political parties in student activism today is creating an image that makes the entire idea of student-led politics seem like a broken tape of violence. Although she didn’t hesitate to applaud student activism as a reviver of the vibe of democracy and she agreed with the need of a guiding hand, yet she felt that the involvement of violent agitations and political blame game is definitely not the way to keep the spirit alive. On the topic of the sudden increase in the number of student agitations, Mrs. Anupama affiliated this hike with the general trend of increased agitations in the society and the direct reflection of social activities to the campus dynamics, hence resulting in a boost in student-led politics too. Adding to this, she felt that an increased sense of aggression among today’s youth is surely a factor as well. She went on to elaborate as to how the presence of nuclear families and a very wide exposure to media from across the world tend to influence one to express more, which could then lead to more frequent agitations.
At the end of these insights into the heads of the supposed leaders of tomorrow’s democracy, the readers must pause and introspect. The readers must look into themselves and find out as to what they feel. The readers must awaken and frame a proper opinion because after all, an opinion is what will frame their tomorrow. There are no student uprisings without students. There are no means of protest if the crowd does not believe in its power to bring a change. Concluding this piece, I place the final period, asking, nay, pleading the youth of my country to step up. I plead them to drop their weapons and their cusses and their rape threats and I offer them their voices, their only chance to bring a change in a country that’s still fighting to keep its head up. It is you who must question. It is you who must ask. In a parliament where 34% of the oldest MPs are labeled as inactive, you, the reader must realize that independent India might be a young country, but it surely is no longer the country of the young.