There is no common ideological thread shared by students in Tamil Nadu

news Politics Saturday, April 16, 2016 - 09:06

Students’ politics was not always dead in Tamil Nadu. Student movements played a major role in shaping the politics of the state. From the Anti-Hindi agitation of the 60s to raising their voices for the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils in past couple of decades, the student community has played a significant political role. But what was initially a movement which bulldozed through powerful government and the establishment, has today been reduced to sporadic bursts of protests and demonstrations. The vigour among the student community fizzled out, and this was a result of the de-engineering of the campus politics by political parties.

“The decline in students’ politics happened somewhere after DMK came into power in 1980s. Today there are still some organizations like the SFI and the Indiya Desiya Manavargal Sangam, but nothing is as big as the students’ politics scene is in other parts of the country,” says Professor C Lakshmanan from the Madras Institute of Development Studies.  

The students’ politics sphere in Tamil Nadu is pretty muted compared, to say, Delhi. The scope for protests of a JNUSU-scale in universities across the state remains questionable. “We have seen massive participation from students in issues relating to Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, when political parties mobilize their support for an emotional cause, as it is a volatile subject. But the students are not organized in that manner for their own rights or grievances. They are also not exposed to the larger political economy of the state or the country,” opines Lakshmanan.

On the other hand, Chella from the Tamil Nadu chapter of Students’ Federation of India (SFI) blames the non-conducive political environment for the failure of student unions. “In today’s political scenario, the youth leaders of the concerned parties are all big leaders, who definitely are not representative of the youth. Only a youth leader in the true sense can understand our problem and mobilize politics among us, but since there is a glaring age gap between the leader and the community, there is no backing for student politics here,” he says. MK Stalin of the DMK, at 63 years, still heads the party’s youth wing.

Moreover, there aren’t any substantial student unions in colleges and universities across the state. The only recognizable student political organization is the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, which reeled under controversy last year when an anonymous complaint from the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development led to the ban of the organization. The ban was subsequently revoked after much criticism from political parties and student activists.

But the flurry of student bustle over the course of the controversy highlighted the situation of student politics in the state. “When the Ambedkar Periyar Circle was banned in IIT Madras, there was a huge uproar and everybody voiced their opinion against the ban, questioning the right of the administration to do so. But why didn’t these people, who were vocal in questioning the IIT-M, raise the same point for Madras University or any other universities?”  questions Prof. Lakshmanan. There haven’t been enough questions raised on the existence and functioning of student unions in universities across the state, he says.

The answer behind the mysterious absence of student unions lies in a circular issued by the state government requesting universities to disallow union elections. “Almost 95% of educational institutions do not allow for student union elections in Tamil Nadu. This is because these elections lead to unnecessary unrest; there have even been casualties in some cases,” says Dr. G. Thiruvasagam, former Vice Chancellor, University of Madras.

Regardless of the absence of unions, student activism in matters of importance is seen lacking among the youth. A recent example can be traced to the protests that sparked across Chennai and other cities when an engineering student committed suicide on campus, owing to atrocities at the hands of the administration.

“SFI and other organizations have stood against atrocities that have happened against students, but in professional colleges the situation is different. The people involved in the issue protest initially, but soon the fervor fizzles out. This is the biggest difference between an arts student and a professional college student,” clarifies Chella.

With such divisions sprouting within the student community itself, it is difficult to bind them with one common thread of thought. In such a diverse milieu, will the students’ politics scene ever witness an uprising on the scale of JNU or a Rohit Vemula? “Unlike UoH or JNU, students in Tamil Nadu do not have a common ideology binding them,” says Chella. “Without that common thread, it is not the same.”

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