The Students Outpost wants the Bengaluru’s college students to engage with politics and “give a damn”.

From sexual harassment to rights This collective is mobilising Bluru college studentsSurjith S Pi
news Students Friday, June 22, 2018 - 10:56

It’s 5 pm on Wednesday and it’s almost time for the working population of Bengaluru to leave their work places and face the peak hour traffic.

Away from all the noise, somewhere in Cubbon park, a group of college students sit in a circle. They are discussing Communism, Bhagat Singh, the apolitical nature of the students in the city and how the educational institutions they study in are taking students for granted.

It was the first meeting of The Students’ Outpost (TSO) after the colleges in Bengaluru reopened for a new academic year.

“The thing is, our colleges don’t have any system of addressing student concerns,” TSO co-founder Shalom Gauri tells TNM. The final year undergrad student adds that most colleges don’t have elected student unions. Even in the ones that do, unions do little other than organise college fests. And the management has total control over these unions, she adds.

Perhaps that’s why TSO’s agenda is quite straightforward and political: It is not enough to have an opinion. Shalom says that it must be an informed one.

Shalom says that the idea of forming TSO was conceptualized by Varkey Parakkal, who recently graduated from a private university in Bengaluru. The duo met at a protest against beef ban in June 2017, and felt the need for students in Bengaluru to be better organized. That’s how TSO came to be.

Ideology

Varkey says that when he first came to Bengaluru from his hometown in Kerala, he struggled to overcome the cultural shock. His background as a student activist made it difficult for him to come to terms with how politically disengaged the student population in Bengaluru was. 

“Eventually, it dawned on me that there were two worlds within this city and that they were pliable citizens of the state for two completely opposite reasons,” says Varkey.

One of these worlds, Varkey explains, consists of the privileged and the middle classes. “These are your average IT guys, engineers, college students and so on. Most of them are migrants and immigrants. They come from favourable caste-backgrounds as well. They feel uncomfortable about the injustice around them but not enough to take organized political action,” he says. This is also the section that believes that all politics is bad and should be stayed away from.

On the other hand, there are those who do not have this socio-economic privilege, who have no option but to organize themselves and participate in politics to make their voices heard.

Varkey Parakkal. Courtesy: Surjith S Pi 

“For many, like daily wage workers, every moment of every day is a fight against systematised oppression. But even if they protest, the mechanisms of oppression and passive ignorance of the middle classes makes it difficult for their demands to be heard and met,” says the 21-year-old.

Varkey goes on to add that the docile and apolitical nature of Bengaluru’s student populace only widens the socio-economic inequalities. The motivation behind TSO, therefore, was not to have a students’ union. “It’s a collective of students from different colleges in Bengaluru, coming together to create a platform for discussion and action,” he says.

Presently, 10 students form the core group of TSO. But the collective itself consists of 200 students connected through Facebook.

Issues taken up

The first time TSO mobilized students to take a stand was in March this year when they gathered at town hall to protest against sexual harassment on campuses. In the process, they also ended up meeting many student survivors who had never spoken up before.

Shalom points out that to deal with sexual harassment, there is a need to form TSO’s sub-groups within colleges themselves, so that students have a support system even if management and faculty does not take their complaints seriously.

TSO protest against sexual harassment on campuses. Courtesy: Surjith S Pi

“That's a big part of the next step forward… Getting organise both outside and inside our campuses. The other is to organize events, talks and discussions to inform students about their rights,” she says.

Another issue that TSO intends to take up at some point is the money that private colleges take from them, over and above the fees.

“They just tie up everything to attendance and money. For instance, if you miss a foundation course and you want to repeat it, you have to pay Rs 500 for the course and another Rs 500 for the exam. If you get your hall ticket but forget to print it out immediately, you have to pay another Rs 200. It’s a never-ending list,” says an agitated Shalom.

 Agenda

The idea of TSO is to organise the students from across the city to come together so that they can discuss the issues faced by the students in their respective colleges.

Mounica Sreesai, a member of TSO, says that one of the aim of the group is to get the students in the city “to give a damn”. “Most of the students in private institutions don’t want to do anything about the issues they face but they keep complaining about them,” she says.

Since students from different universities are part of the group, TSO plans on coming up with ideas and events that they can implement within their colleges.

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