As protest settles, demand for a Student Union grows in BHU

By Siddhant Mohan,

Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has been a center of active politics for many years until it suspended the Student Union elections in the campus and applied every possible measure to crush its rejuvenation possibilities. Now, almost every major central university, excluding BHU, has started conducting student union election following Lyngdoh Commission’s report and UGC guidelines.

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For BHU, the total blockade of Student Union election came in parts. Since 1956, the students union were suspended several times, but for the past twenty years, it has remained suspended after two students were killed in police firing during the run-up to 1997 elections.

But after the recent turmoil in the university and conduct of Union elections in almost every central university, a faint but potent discussion is rising in the University – “Whether the BHU needs the Student Union again to solve the students’ matter?”

Roshan Pandey, a student of the graduate course in geography, believes that if there was a union, things would have been easy. “I am connected to AISA, but I must talk as a student that there is no forum with the support of which students can put their voice or demands before anybody,” said Pandey.

Pandey said, “People had high hopes from the Student Council which university introduced a while back, but that came as a puppet in the hands of the university.”

In 2011, BHU introduced Student Council in the University. The Council, unlike Union, barred political parties or their student’s wings entering the campus. Following the Lyngdoh recommendations, Council elections were fought in a limited budget and without any posters, banners or pamphlets. Students chose the class representatives, and those class representatives, in turn, chose the Council’s general secretary. Vikas Singh was chosen as the first and until now, the only General Secretary of the Council. After few clashes and protests, University administration suspended the Council election as well in a couple of years.

Vikas Singh talked with about the limitations and shortcomings of the Student Council in the University. He said, “Council had the chairman who had to be a staff from the university and his appointment was done by VC. You can understand that there is no meaning of students electing someone when there is someone from the University to govern the elected body.”

“University first needs a democratic environment, the union can follow that after. Talking with authorities in the campus is almost impossible. There is practically no possibility of students’ front which may put issues of students before the administration,” said Vikas.

After the recent protest o female students which ended when Police used violent measures, there was the dialogue between Varanasi’s district administration and University administration. Many students felt that there was no narrative in the whole picture which could be from the student’s side.

Mineshi Mishra, a student of Psychology graduation at the University, said, “There were rules of closing the hostel gates around 7 in the evening. University can make rules, but the rules will only sound legitimate if they involve someone from our side – the student’s side – to make some rule. They make rules on an arbitrary basis, without any talks.”

“There is no such question if whether the BHU needs Union or not? It is a mandatory practice, which should be addressed on priority as per the UGC guidelines,” said Mineshi. She said, “Without the Union, sides and versions of the students are being taken on an arbitrary basis.”

After Lalji Singh vacated the post of VC in 2014, Rajeev Sengal from IIT BHU took charge as acting VC until the appointment of Prof GC Tripathi on the post. During his additional chargeship of VC, Sengal heard students demanding union elections and promised to talk to find a way for conducting the elections, but he could not complete his promise as soon Tripathi was appointed.

Vikas Singh said, “Many believe here that the Students Union will be the root of many problems in the university, but many do not know that it is the absence of Union which is causing the problems.”

Student’s groups of various political fronts are present in the university, but they basically work to increase their influence in the state-owned colleges and Universities. NSUI, AISA, SYS, BCM (Bhagat Singh Chhatra Morcha) and ABVP are some of the key student groups that come out every now and then during protests at the University, but they demanded very little for the Union in the campus.

District president of NSUI Vikas Singh, who studies in Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, said, “We believe that union should come in the university, but the Sanghi and fascist set up in the university does not want it to come.”

Umar Khalid, Student leader, a member of Bhagat Singh Ambedkar Students Organization (BASO) and JNU student, told, “What I feel that students politics in UP is based on two things. First, the rhetoric that ‘fascism has come’, or ‘the oppression has started’, and Second, that the students union elections often serve as the launchpad for the assembly election tickets. These two things have created a perception in the minds of students that such politics will enter into the campus.”

“These student groups first have to make it clear to the rest of the students that they do not mean that kind of typecast UP politics. If they want to establish the student’s voices towards the administrative bodies, they must tell the same to the students and adhere by what they say,” added Khalid.

He also said, “These groups should not lose the momentum of the students’ protests which happened recently. They should act now, and act fast.”

In response to the Students’ Union elections, University PRO Rajesh Singh tells that University conducted a survey a while back, in which students agreed that Union elections will only disrupt the studies. After telling this, PRO Singh moved towards telling Malviya Values and Mahamana ki Dharti sort of things, an obvious administrative response from the University.

Central Minister Manoj Sinha, Uttar Pradesh BJP Chief Mahendra Nath Pandey, Samajwadi Party leader Shatrudra Prakash, Varanasi’s former MP Rajesh Mishra and various other key political people graduated from the BHUSU (BHU Student Union), but it is an irony that as a visual arts student Minakshi Yadav said, “nobody tried to hold the elections on the campus regularly, even if they held the power in the center or the state.”

With about a 20-year void in the Students’ Union, the university also lacks any sort of Teachers’ Association or Union. When the protest was happening in the University last month, many questioned the existence of teachers of the university, who claimed to be progressive and forward but did not come to show solidarity with the students.

However, the faint talks to establish a teachers’ union too has started in the campus, maybe a rumor, which no teacher dared to deny or accept when we reached to clarify.