In recent months a passionate debate has been raging about the worthiness or unworthiness of student involvement in politics in Jamia and other universities. More specifically, people have either aligned themselves in favor of or against the reinstatement of the Students Union in Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI).
I am in favor of the reinstatement of the political process among students in form of the students union. In defense of my argument, I have jotted down the following points:
1. University is a Microcosm of Society:
It is important to understand that the university is the representation of the society itself. The university reflects the economic, social, political and cultural reality of its environment. The population within the precincts of the university cannot and should not remain insulated and protected from the good and evil that prevail outside the walls of the university. In short, university education must develop in us the ability to cope with the outside world and engage with it meaningfully and productively.
2. Goody Two-Shoes Approach to Education:
Some members believe in the “goody two-shoes” approach to education, where students, perhaps in continuation of their highly structured and disciplined school days, ought to study, play, eat and sleep in proper measure and excel in exams, and land rewarding jobs before even finishing the course.
Nothing is wrong with that. But in addition to that, I feel that students getting a university education must get a more integrated and comprehensive experience in terms of developing life skills that would help them cope better with the outside world.
Top administrators, especially former babus and military generals tend to cultivate this virtue which to their mind is in the interest of a peaceful and conducive atmosphere for studies. This school headmaster approach to running the university has become the norm of sorts, and has proved to be especially helpful in suppressing differences in views and opinions and to scuttle any structure representative of the students’ voice.
To my mind that is nothing but a ploy to whitewash their inability to cope with a democratic environment.
3. Political Socialization:
University should play a vital role in the process of political socialization. Students must get a first-hand taste of how democratic structures and processes function. Opposition to students union and political activity in the campus presupposes that politics is inherently an evil project and produces evil consequences from which our students must be protected.
Keeping students away from politics creates a vacuum in terms of supplying sane political leadership at the local and the national levels, automatically creating space for lumpen elements in the country’s polity.
Hence, disbanding the students union and discouraging political participation is a disservice to the whole nation. Therefore, instead of eliminating the whole process, the university administrators should allow political activism among students in a manner that does not in any way affect the academic activities of the university.
[Zafar Bari is a Jamia alumnus. He graduated in 1999 from the Master of Arts program in Social Work. He presently resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He can be reached via e-mail at: zafar_bari[at]yahoo.com]
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