Published: 14th May 2020
NEP 2020: Student leaders react to NEP's silence on student role in decision-making processes
Several student leaders from across the country believe that the possible curbing of their role in decision-making bodies could devastate the student community
The final draft of the National Education policy will be released later this month but it has been reported that the draft remains silent on the role of students in decision-making bodies in the institutions they're part of. The year 2019 stood out in many ways, especially because institutions across the country saw maybe one of the most historic student uprisings against issues like fee hikes. Not just that, the universities also became the epicentre of dissent against government policies as well. Which is why the decision of the NEP drafting committee has left student unionists across the country worried.
We spoke to a few student leaders across the country — from JNU, whose struggle against the administration garnered international support and wide-spread coverage to Pondicherry University, which held a long-drawn fight against fee hikes to the University of Hyderabad that is known to have been the heart of the revival of the student movement in India to Panjab University, that only just elected its first female President the previous academic year and now could not have elections ever again.
JNU Students' Union President Aishe Ghosh's video speaking about the mob attack on the students while holding on to her bleeding head went viral hours after the attack. After months of protesting against the fee hike, demanding participation in the academic council and several other issues, Aishe's face became everyone's display picture and her words resounded among other student communities as well. So to hear that the NEP could suggest lesser or no participation of students in the institute's decision making, was not shocking to hear for Aishe.
However, she says this could drastically change the way student politics works in India and rob them of basic rights. "This is a clear agenda of the ruling party to stop students from getting involved in politics. If this is implemented then there will be a top to bottom approach in all matters of the institution, and students, who are at the bottom will not get a say in anything. The committee must consider the fact that a lot of those who are members of the cabinet and ministers today, were once student leaders and part of Unions during their student days," she said.
She believes that the government fears the students especially after the mobilisations of protests across the country against policies like the Citizenship Amendment Act. "The NEP seems to want to further the privatisation of education and that can only be possible by doing away with student participation. The NEP doesn't discuss sexual harassment, drop out rates, no conversation on more fellowships or reservation. None of the things that really matter. They just want to get rid of student voices and the student community should understand that this is a curbing of student rights," she added.
Thallapelli Praveen, a member of JNU student body BAPSA and a former Presidential candidate said that NEP's decision could erase the leadership potential among students, "Student are continuously disturbed and undermined by the current government so as to dismantle the thinking capacity of students. The thinking capacity of students has always ensured the best and has risen against the unjust government's of the day. From the FTII Pune strike to the occupy UGC against fee hike protest in Delhi, against the institutional murder of Rohit Vemula and against the state and police hounding student activists in JNU. From protests against the roster system to the protest against fee hike, students have risen against the BJP government's unjust policy and politics and they are afraid of the students' thinking capacity," he feels.
Parichay Yadav, the President of the Students' Union in Pondicherry University also led a long protest against the University's decision to raise the fees and thinks that the NEP's stance on the matter could be an attack on student voices, "So even higher education spaces will become like schools. They don't want any dissent or discussion to happen in these spaces. Students are the stakeholders in any institution and a student leader always knows the issues that the students are facing and can represent them fairly. Also, the bigger picture is that student-led movements can go beyond a university and influence the larger political movements," the leader said.
SFI President VP Sanu also echoed his colleagues's opinion that students are the first stakeholders in an educational institution and thus can never be excluding from the decision-making process. "There's no space for any form of social justice if we go by the NEP," he says.
Iniyavan Banumathi, the President of the Ambedkar Students Association in the University of Hyderabad also accused the NEP of 'borrowing from the Brahmanical legacy', "Representation is not mere tokenism but an act of reaffirming social justice. I came across an article that there are only three ST, one SC and zero OBC secretaries at the Centre. Largely, this has been the social justice which this Brahmanical state was able to produce and one cannot expect NEP to produce the same," he explained.
He also points out to the often overlooked fact that to this day, caste elites are the ones who have been disproportionately present in spaces such as student bodies. "I would say the presence of Dalits in such bodies would make the difference. For that matter, it is the Dalit Bahujans who have been vehemently fighting for reservation implementation or against institutional discrimination through various means," he pointed out.
For Panjab University's first woman President, Kanu Priya, the student participation in decision-making only just began. She believes that student participation so far in many institutions is mostly just been a formality. "Even if we are invited to a senate meeting, we only sit there as an audience. If we want to say anything, we have to submit a memorandum but we can't say a word. In many colleges just like ours, the amount of student participation is almost negligible, the student bodies don't really have any powers. Only now, in universities like ours we are trying to increase student participation. Already we barely get a say in anything and now it only looks like it'll get worse," she said.
"Student bodies are the epicentre of dissent. We've reached a point where we get a space in the media, where we have a voice. And now, efforts are underway to take away those very rights. This is a head on attack on the student community," the young leader feels.