Understanding the students politics in Sikkim

Understanding the students politics in Sikkim

Student movement or campus politics can be define as a protest led by student association on various issues related to public policies, environment and social awareness. There are various types of student associations in Sikkim. Some confine themselves to the internal affairs of respective institutions whereas there are student's association with a much more broader agenda that actively associate itself with influencing public opinion. These associations actively pressurize the state government with regards to state policies by virtue of acting as a pressure group.

A pressure group is an organization which attempts to influence government policies through protests and demonstrations (Peru 2019: 1). Pressure groups are formed when people with similar opinions get together for similar objectives. Pressure group in the Sikkimese context can be defined as the organization which influences government policy making, as they are the powerful minority force in society which promote and defend common interest (Beams 2008: 2).

In the Indian context the involvement of the student in politics has a rich heritage. They participated enmasse during nationalist movements like Swadeshi movement, Non-cooperation movement, Quit India movement and social reforms against the British government. Preindependent India encountered huge involvement of students for nationalist movement which led to numerous social reforms that India stands for today. Today every universities and colleges have rich culture of student representative body (Student Union) with different structures and motives (Pattnaik 1982: 1). Though most of the time Student Union are preoccupied with University's issues there are many Student Union all over India that intervene in different capacities at National policy formulation level. For example, protest led by Students Union of Jawaharlal Nehru University, University of Hyderabad and Jabalpur University are a testimony.

They act as a strong pressure group with an aim to make local, national and international interventions to shape public perspectives. Page no:2 1.1 EVENTS AND BACKGROUND: UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES OF SIKKIM Sikkim was a kingdom founded by the Namgyal Dynasty in the 17th century and officially merged with the India Union as the 22nd state in 16th May 1975. When Sikkim was a small Himalayan kingdom the royal dynasty had established secondary and higher secondary schools established. However, colleges and universities were established only in the post-merger era. It was in September, 1977 (after two years of merger with India) that Sikkim Government College, Tadong presently known as Nar Bdr Bhandari Degree College was established in Gangtok (capital of Sikkim) by an Act of State Legislature, 1977 and in 1995 Namchi Government College was established. Both the colleges are affiliated to Sikkim University established by an Act of Parliament of India, 2006. Similarly, of the many colleges established in Sikkim,17 colleges are affiliated under Sikkim University.

The Universities/Colleges in Sikkim have adopted a similar culture in Sikkim when we analyze student's intervention in the public realm. On May 2012, Students Union of Sikkim (henceforth SUS) held a signature campaign at Sikkim Government College (aka Nar Bdr Bhandari Degree College) and Namchi Government College and placed an eight-point demand charter to the then Sikkim University-Vice Chancellor, the HRDD Minister, and HRDD Secretary in Sikkim. In the beginning the members of SUS submitted the memorandum to the Sikkim University Administrative Block at Samdur to Prof. Mahindra P Lama (VC of Sikkim University). Along with the memorandum a seven days ultimatum was forwarded by SUS to the Vice-Chancellor to meet the demands of the students.

On a similar note SUS also submitted the copies of memorandum to the office of the HRDD Minister and Secretary. Following the protest a brief press conference was organized by the panel members of the SUS. The press-conference was addressed by SUS President Jiwan Subba, Secretary Pankaj Rai, Treasurer Anand Biswakarma and Publicity Secretary Ravi Giri. Numerous points which affected the students interests were made public by SUS representatives during the conferences pledging the pressure exerted would continue till the demand placed are fulfilled. SUS representatives also stated that Gandhian method of peaceful protest and disobedience would be the rational choice of action in case of noncompliance by the University administration.

 On 5th July 2014, Nar Bdr Bhandari Degree College students led-protest over the extensive fee hike. The peaceful protest quickly morphed into rioting and police authority had to intervene using lathi (long bamboo pole) and tear gas. The very next day the agitated students organized a rally and blockade against the police for about three days. The student body went on to demand the suspension of East District Police Superintendent Manoj Tiwari and complete rollback of hiked fees. The success of student protest came in the form complete roll back of the fees by the state government. As for the Superintendent of Police, he was transferred from his office in Gangtok.

The incident narrated above reveals the fact that Student Protest in Sikkim like in other parts of India is not only confined to the demands of reforms within the campus but strive towards fulfilling their responsibilities towards the Sikkimese society. In simple words they act as guardians of issues that affect every youths of Sikkim.

A special case in reference is the event in January 2019, where Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum (henceforth SPYF) an organization largely made up of students from the universities and colleges of Sikkim organized a foot march ‘GangtokChalo’ from Geylshing West Sikkim to capital Gangtok. Their main demands were upgradation of the Gaylshing and other district hospitals in Sikkim according to the Indian Public Health Standards (IPHS) guidelines. The event of this caliber was witnessed for the first time in Sikkim. Students from different colleges and universities united to place their demand which actually catered to the interest of the general public.

Students’ movement in Sikkim like in other universities and colleges are broad based with a larger motif of creating awareness among general masses with an aim to act as a pressure group. By acting like so, these student bodies try to intervene on a micro level to bring about a change in the policies of the government. Though the functioning and pressure tactics of the student associations in Sikkim and other parts of India seems to be the same, it is observed that the direct influence of political parties among student bodies in Sikkim is covert. In Sikkim the student associations seems to be relatively independent of political party influence while aiming to bring all round development in the campus and create social awareness.

But in Universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) there are student wings which exclusively favour and affiliate themselves to a particular political ideology. Further, Student Union that are affiliated to influential national parties are bound to influences the mindset of the students and in turn get more attention and followers.

The political parties respond in kind and help it’s student wing to gain important portfolios in campus while furthering their political agenda via the elected student representatives. As stated in the preceding lines the political parties receives electoral benefits from the student representatives. For example, the student representative distribute pamphlets, conducts meeting, protest etc., to influence general electors within and beyond the confines of the University premise.

Student politics often occupies a center stage in the political life of the third world countries. These are essentially political activities undertaken by students of undergraduate and postgraduate levels at institutes of higher education, mostly public universities and colleges (Munish 2014: 1). Because of the party involvement in campus politics, it creates conflicts in campus and an atmosphere of hostility inside campus. Moreover student wings of national political parties have become especially active and involved in campus affairs (Munish 2014: 2). From this logic we see a clear relationship between powerful national parties and their student wings in Universities. Whatever might be the explanation for the spread of student involvement in politics, the studies conducted in India and elsewhere show that only a small minority of the total student population displays greater political interest and concern while the majority of students holds a conservative opinion about the place of politics in the campus. In fact, most of the survey on students in almost higher education shows that the vast majority is interested in obtaining higher education and taking their place in press on student street demonstration and indulgence in rioting (Pattnaik 1982: 10In Sikkim student wings instead of acting as a tool of political parties to mould general perspectives for electoral gain, they tend to act as a nascent pressure group. The Student's Association in Sikkim do not shy away from raising concerns that require immediate government attention like campus development, student’s problems (semester fees, hostel facilities, etc), environmental and other social issues like harassment and molestation cases, etc. Beside pressuring or drawing attention of the state government Student Unions in Sikkim also indulge in various awareness program which directly correlates to the well-being of human race and society in general. Environmental issues, domestic violence, harassment and rape are some important point of reference. Generally the student’s association/union aims and functions is from any other associations because the student associations not only talk about welfare of the student and campus but also look towards the social development. There are many reasons why ‘student union’ are active in all fields, education is one of the most important factors where the academic studies provide knowledge, motivation, skills to understand the political matters (Jarvis, Montoya and Mulvoy 2005: 22). There is mainly three resources which influenced the students in campusPolitical resources, Psychological resources and social resources: political resources such as knowledge, sophistication and political skills to understand the political life. Psychological resources mean to have a concern knowledge about the democratic government and its values and social resources mean the gathering of the students inside campus their connection and their works as an organization (Jarvis, Montoya and Mulvoy 2005: 26). The purpose of an educational institution is not only to instruct the curriculum but also to produce equally responsible and aware citizens by facilitating dialectical research. The student unions, on the other hand, act as a link between students and the campus administration, make the administration accountable, help them organize events and address grievances faced by students. So it is almost contradictory to the practices of democracy and liberty to expect apolitical campuses and universities

Today in Sikkim, Sikkim University Student Association (SUSA) and Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum (SPYF) are the two most active associations which have led major protest on various issues. SUSA is a student represents council of Sikkim University and SPYF is an organization of students forum from universities and colleges of Sikkim. These two are the only associations which not only deal with the issues related to student and campus but also outside the campus.

Stating  about  the SPYF, the members of the organizations are mostly from different universities and colleges but the protest organized by the organization on issues like Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) 2019 that it gained wide scale recognition and mass support of the general public in Sikkim. On13thMarch 2018 SPYF in collaboration with Sikkim Gayzing College and schools together organized a rally against the increasing molestation cases in Sikkim.

 The SPYF also took up a protest demanding upgradation of Gayzing and other district hospitals in Sikkim. Though their proposal was rejected several times they continued to present their demand to the state government. And on 20 January, 2019 with the huge participation of students from different colleges and universities, SPYF began the foot march ‘Gangtok Chalo’ from Gaylshing (West Sikkim) to capital Gangtok with the same central demand of improving facilities in all hospitals in Sikkim. Moreover the forum is an organization of youths who believes in change and transformation for better society, health and education.

The organization is for all round development of the Sikkimese society in a sense they try to inculcate a culture of equality and rights. They are of the view that every citizen of India has the basic right to dignified life and liberty therefore should not shy away from expressing their views in public or defy even the one in power to protest themselves against inequality, injustice and unconstitutional norms. Student union all together has been inviting press conferences to expose the loophole of the various sector of state departments in Sikkim.

SUSA is another important student representative body affiliated to Sikkim University. This scholarly union also interjects itself in various levels of the government decision making mechanism other than colleges and Universities. Meaning they are not only confined to the demand within the campus but have larger societal bearings. In simple words they act as guardians of issues that affect every youths of Sikkimese society.

 SUSA was vigilant and even took up a pen down protest ‘mission campus’ demanding the early completion of university campus in 2018. And because of the mass mobilization and pressure exerted by the student body, the University administration were forced to garner a written assurance to the student community of the university.

The fact remains that the Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum is an independent organization formed by the youths of Sikkim Page no:20 (or students of different colleges and universities of Sikkim) which is not a representative body affiliated to any colleges/universities whereas Sikkim University Students Associations is a student’s representative body of Sikkim University. Though SUSA is a student representative body of its respective university their activities span beyond the university but aren’t student wing affiliated to of any regional party in Sikkim. SUSA's approach towards protest is meticulous, systematic and peaceful.

SUSA has organized numerous successful protests and rallies on these lines. Much of the protest organized by them are process of negotiations with an altruistic fervor. This is an important yard stick to measure the difference between SUSA and other student’s representative body of universities and colleges in Sikkim. Therefore looking at the relation of Student Associations and political parties, there is limited evidence that suggest a patron-client relationship between union of students and the regional political parties in Sikkim. Thus student associations have been able to preserve relatively autonomous in Sikkim.

Further the state government have not been able to neglect their demands. The most the state government has been able to do to undermine the protest is to delay the fulfilment of demand for change. However the state government has been unable to reject the demands place in totality. By doing this, Student Unions in Sikkim try to maintain a benign check over the policies of the state government which directly have a bearing over the society of Sikkim.

 The state government on the other do not interpret such checks as threatening but considers as a genuine civil society demands, whereas in other state like in Delhi, JNU student protests are sometimes met with force and repressive state measures. However, in Sikkim the relation of student union with political party is more positive and reciprocal, the student union beside the campus activities indulge themselves more in social activities which make them one of the pressure groups who speak up for the mass interest and pressure the government till the demand fulfillment and sometimes also organized programme to indulge youths in good activities spreading good messages to societies.

In the history of student protest the only episode that witnessed violence was the protest led by the student of Nar Bahadur Bhandari Degree College, Gangtok, on 5 July,2014 regarding fee hike. The protest took a turn for  the worse only after the police authority started negotiating students’ demand with force The demands of the students were met unconditionally in the end. It was because of their protest the students today get their due benefits. At the same time many non-conventional PG courses were introduced in Sikkim University, zero semester and low fee structures were maintained in all government colleges within the state. Other than the two prominent student led Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum (SPYF) and Sikkim University Student Association (SUSA), there were other student representation which formed but could not keep its vigor.

 This was the major reason for the collapse of other student's body. The major strength of Student's movement in Sikkim comes from the fact that the like s of SUSA and SPYF have been able to create a sense of unity of oneness to stand together for justice, equality, despise crime. The strong unity was explicit in the month of November, 2019 when students of major colleges along with SUSA gathered at the MG Marg to demand justice for 9 years old girl who was brutally raped and murdered in Machong, East Sikkim. Thus we see a huge potential among Student Union to play a positive role in engendering awareness in Sikkim by acting as a pressure group.

When it comes to the relationship between political party affiliation and Student union is Sikkim, it is safe to conclude that their relationship is much more nuanced and covert. In addition it is because of the efforts of student unions that there are qualitative/quantitative changes in higher education in particular and wider Sikkimese society in general. The preliminary study presented above also highlights the fact that the modus-operandi of student association in Sikkim is subtly different than student bodies in DU, JNU and JU. In conclusion, Student Unions/Associations in Sikkim have tried to strive towards being a responsible organization that exercise fundamental rights and duties on one hand and preserve them on the other.

by Anthoney Subba