The end-semester exams at Aligarh Muslim University have begun. The exams will be followed by a brief vacation and the university will now reopen in 2020, but things will not be the same.
December 31, 2019 will mark the end of the tenure of the elected students’ representatives to the AMU court – the highest decision-making body of the university.
A student representative is elected through a democratic process and represents each faculty of the university. The elections for the same take place during the AMU students’ union election every year. The chairholders of the students’ union are also the members of the same AMU court. Most importantly, the union’s president is also a member of the university’s academic council.
A lot has been said and done with regard to the necessity of a student union in an educational institute.
A lot of emotional, democratic, and at times unnecessary arguments have been put forth proposing the need of a student-representative body. Protests, struggles, suspensions, and boycotts have become mainstream in the name of its restoration. Arguments have been put in favour of a union and how the administration of every university tends to destroy the idea of one.
However, we have failed to ask a very basic question: What good has the union done in the recent past, except for calling out issues of national and international relevance and promising to resolve the same?
It seems as if the only ‘idea’ the students’ union has been protecting is the freedom to call out right-wing nationalists.
The AMU students’ union has been a misrepresentation of the students.
It is ironic and funny to see pretentious sherwani-clad student leaders of the university promise everyone ‘hall tickets’ – the eligibility criterion for appearing in examinations – in spite of the fact that the minimum attendance requirements are not met by most.
For the ongoing exams, the AMU administration has introduced a new detention system. From now on, students unable to meet the minimum attendance requirement will be allowed to write their papers but their answer sheets will remain unchecked.
These measures would not have been a “problem”, some say, if the students’ union existed. Or better, the union would have “prevented” the implementation of such strict rules and attendance, they say, “wouldn’t have been an issue if the union was in place.”
How efficient the new system is is an entirely different debate, but what is disturbing here is how we identify the students’ union with purely unacademic causes, which are unidentifiable for any dignified students’ body.
Another high of the union elections is the highly energetic and emotional final speech: a historically important practice, a showcase of oratory skills and never-ending promises, and an identifiable pattern of insult directed towards the university administration; specifically, the sheikhul jamia (Urdu for vice-chancellor).
In recent years, not a single contestant has deviated from this routine. Some, however, have failed quite emphatically at the oratory part.
Palestine and Kashmir have always found honourable mentions in the said practice, with promises ranging from committing to the cause of Palestine effectively to the rights of Kashmiris being returned to them. The previously-formed unions have thereafter stood as a mere witness to all the misdeeds as they arranged candle-marches for a stretch of less than a kilometre, starting from the library canteen to the iconic Bab-e-Syed (the Gateway of Syed). The footsteps haven’t moved an inch further and all attempts of taking the procession to the collectorate have been curbed with threats of legal action.
These issues require a platform which should have been ideally the union but the central idea of the same has failed brilliantly. It is a misrepresentation of the students and it has been nothing but a colossal liability for the students and the administration alike.
No question is being raised about the capability of a good union and the power it can exercise if the general students of the university extend their full-fledged support.
But given the conduct of the union in recent times, where the sole motive of the leaders has been to enter mainstream politics, will the general students really want to back them in the face of imminent suspensions or show-causes? Will the general students really wish to risk their academic career for the sake of their leaders who act, at best, with fragile and vested motives?
This, however, wasn’t always the case.
The union, in the past, has been responsible for establishing a school that it ran itself and was later taken under the aegis of the university. A leader from the same union boycotted VC Mahmood Ur Rehman’s meeting of AMU court members in 1998 when the latter labelled AMU students as ISI agents.
But it was the progressive and democratic thoughts of the union leaders of that time which enabled them to execute their duties effectively.
This union being good or bad, their delivery of promises, their purity of intention, are a range of debates that’ll go on for a long time until someone steps in to change the existing system. Given the current conditions, this seems like a far-fetched option.
The right way perhaps could be to adopt a method of dissent and disapproval that fits within the definition of keywords such as ‘democratic’ and ‘legal’, leaving out the scope of a possible clampdown on students, either ‘democratically’ or ‘legally’.
Vandalism and public disruption can never be a way out.
Md Sabeeh Ahmad is a first-year-student of B.A. L.L.B at Aligarh Muslim University
Featured image credit: PTI