noun \ˈyün-yən\: an organization of workers formed to protect the rights and interests of its members
A students’ union is built to protects the rights and interests of the students. Students have for a long time been a certain class representing enlightenment and growth of society. As these two fields have faced certain difficulties throughout history, they needed their own union. And thus began the struggle.
History of Student Unions
Student Unions are very similar to workers unions, except the latter was founded because of pay as the main issue. The students’ unions date back to the pre-first world-war era. During the war, the students’ had to either join the army or stay back and protect the universities. This also included digging trenches and sandbagging. After the war, many of the students returned to complete their degrees. And thus, the students’ unions gained some power and began pressurizing the authorities for better facilities for the students.
Post-1960s saw the student’s unions shedding political light with protests against the Vietnam War, women’s rights, and apartheid. This also led to the organization of student festivals. Since then, students’ unions all around the globe have continued their struggle, and they will continue to do so as long as students are the masters of their own minds.
India’s Student Unions
The concept of a students’ union is meant to be by the students, of the students, and for the students. But in a country such as India where every last bit of politics can be bought and sold either the students’ unions are made defunct by appointing ‘student councils’ appointed by the institution which never can be of any help to the students’ interests. In other institutions where these unions still exist they are mostly owned by the student wing of the ruling party. For example, the students’ union of Bangalore University, the only functioning students’ union in the city is owned by ABVP, the student wing of BJP, the ruling party.
These student unions’ due to their affiliations with a party in power preach the same kind of hateful politics. However in certain institutions, such as Presidency University and Jadavpur University of Kolkata and JNU of Delhi is different. These student unions serve as voices of dissent towards the countless atrocities of the government while also serving the best interests of the students. As of now, the union of Presidency is held by Independents’ Consolidation, a non-partisan student body with no affiliation to any political party outside. The case is the same with the 3 student unions of JU with the exception being their arts students’ union which is owned by SFI, the student wing of CPI(M).
The student union of JNU is currently held by a left alliance between SFI, AISA (student wing of CPI(ML)) and other smaller left fractions Student Unions in India can be classified into two categories, i.e. student unions elected by the students and student councils appointed by the University. It is every human’s basic fundamental right to elect a person to represent his or her interests. Not have someone appointed who may or may not have my best interests (as a student) in mind. An ideal student union should be by the student of the student and for the student. Completely without any outside political affiliations. With a legitimate students union, any issues or grievances can be raised all within the legal framework of the Indian Constitution
Student councils are appointed because colleges have their own set of agendas which is to promote and benefit the college and not the students. If a college decides to sell a seat for some form of payment, then the students will not be able to protest. Private colleges like Christ University, Jain University, and many other institutions have banned student unions. These have been replaced with student councils. Hence, no protesting or stepping outside the university’s guidelines.
In the majority of colleges that do have student unions, the union is held by the student wing of the political party in power. In colleges like Presidency, JNU, Bangalore University (ABVP), JU, Delhi University (Congress), etc. other forces win the union election. Presidency and JU are non-partisan and not affiliated to any higher political party.
Currently, protests are being held in colleges across West Bengal because the State Government is trying to implement a student council model where councils will be affiliated to political parties. Some examples of student wings part of political parties are SFI (CPIM), ABVP (RSS) and AISA (ML). The system is so messed up that a basic constitutional right feels like a privilege. Just like freedom seemed like a privilege to the negro slave.
Student Unions Across The Globe
A union is an idea, a flexible idea. Students’ unions now no longer remain within the bounds of a single university. There are organizations such as the West African Students’ Union (WASU), an association of students from various West African countries who were studying in the United Kingdom. Student Unions have also moved away from just working for students’ right and have raised strong voices against political injustice. Like the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) who led the six-year Assam Movement against alleged illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The students’ union of Presidency University, (Calcutta) have been securing the rights of the students and representing them on different fronts. They have upheld the ideology of non-partisanship while staying independent. In other words, they have constructed a platform by the students and for the students. The practice of organizing Union General Body Meetings has kept the processes democratic. The struggle against forces preventing the students from securing power has stayed strong.
Power To The Students
Now, the only way to secure rights for students all across the globe is to be united in one single struggle. A struggle of non-partisan nature, against any force which stands to prevent democracy and self-determinism. The students’ union stands as a platform to raise the voices of the students and leading their movements. The students’ union stands as an answer.
Power to the students.
The article was originally written by Nilabja Banerjee for the title ‘Union’.