Big things happen over simple slogans written on a small placard. Many such slogans emerge from campus students who feel helpless at the corrupt ways that have become part of the system over time; or have traversed generations because of the fear of confronting people in power but got the courage to speak out through groups of like-minded people.
What seems like a small window to release frustration has become a significant platform capable of triggering big social movements that can have a profound impact on the society. Such movements have been witnessed in the past around the world during great revolutions, freedom struggle and social struggles against injustice.
There is no denying that student communities and organisations play a big role in social change. Sometime they take on influential politicians head-on with nothing but their voice and rights as their weapon. At times for social justice they work in tandem with the government. With their wings of influence growing wider over the years—an outcome of intellectual discourse and free thinking—their roles and responsibilities have become a topic of debate and their activities questioned. Should student unions strictly stick to students’ welfare alone or involve in other areas like politics and social issues?
Many argue that student unions should not engage in political activities because of elements like money, violence and muscle power that are usually associated with it. Some have been harsh towards student organisations in Nagaland—they have been mocked left, right and centre on social media and offline too for its involvement in issues not particularly associated with students.
While leaders of student unions shouldn’t make politically-incorrect statements publicly and enter the field to make money, the argument that they should completely stay away from politics, or not to interfere in matters not connected with students’ welfare is a myopic notion. Student bodies respond to all sorts of issues confronting not only the students but the society too. Many issues are offshoot of ideological differences of political parties. Whether we like it or not, student unions and politics go hand-in-hand. Its role can’t be narrowed down to just “students’ welfare” and that alone.
The ones that brought about social transformation and helped eradicate injustice were those who went beyond the supposed call of duty. Closer home, it was the North East Students’ Organisation (Neso), a conglomeration of student bodies that spearheaded the protest against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill of 2016 while the otherwise loud-mouth civil society organisations didn’t have the courage to act first.
Several political parties and politicians jumped in towards the fag end of the protest in the region and tried to take away the credit by talking big but it was Neso and its affiliated students’ unions that “did it.” Neso acted beyond “students’ welfare” and helped to stall the controversial bill in the Rajya Sabha.