NEHU and its Students’ Union

By Benjamin Lyngdoh

I am not being defensive; rather, an attempt is being made to place an appropriate platform for fruitful deliberations by representing issues as they are and without holding a brief for any side. However, if the arguments being placed still produce a sense of disgust and irritation on the part of the NEHU students’ union then there is nothing that can be done. On the contrary, the ‘disgust and irritation’ can further be deliberated in-house or in public, in writing or in person. Accordingly, I place the following pointers –     

Firstly, do we need a students’ union? If the answer is ‘yes’ then what exactly is its role? Is it ‘organization building’ or ‘organization destruction?’ Contemporarily, the students’ union is increasingly seen to be synonymous with the phrase ‘from order to chaos and to more chaos’. There is no doubt that the students’ union is an important stakeholder in the university but that calls for a certain perspective towards dealing with issues and problem solving. In most cases it seems as though it is more bent upon creating problems.  The concept of ‘collective bargaining’ when it comes to demanding and fighting for the students’ cause seems to be an alien one. Oh yes, there is bargaining of course, but it is more of ‘coerced bargaining’. However, let us give our students’ union a fair chance. As such, we must not forget that the threshold of any organization building process is actually and in the true sense of the term ‘organizational destruction’. After we destroy, we build or we can build only after destruction. Nonetheless, how this destruction is managed and controlled determines the direction and outcome of progress. This is true not only for NEHU but for all organizations. As such, the authority of the university must reconcile to the fact that the students these days are far more alert, smart and aware of rights and regulations (and this is a good thing). Hence, the failure to act on responsibilities and duties will only lead to more forms of unionism across all stakeholders (be it teachers, non-teaching and/or students). After all, the best way to curb militant unionism is to ensure proper and timely execution of responsibilities thereby contributing towards a congenial and cordial path of organization building.           

Secondly, what about aggressive student unionism? NEHU has seen a number of student agitations in recent years. Most of these are predominantly related to hostel issues and research scholar fellowships. Whatever may be the case, the fact of the matter is that there is a degree of mistrust between the university and the students’ union. Well, the university is tied by its own constraints and the students are tired of their own hardships. Either way, none is having a rosy time. In the end, the primary target is The Dean, Students’ Welfare (DSW).. In my time at the university, I have never seen such aggressiveness and abuse. The series of locking of the DSW’s office along with the kind of foul language being used is just regrettable. In addition, the abuse and humiliation on social media platforms is abhorrent and unprintable. Is this what our students have become? If this is it then it is a shameless fall! Like I said at the very outset, I am not holding a brief for anyone but at NEHU, we have come to a stage where students’ union can and do openly threaten teachers point blank. In such a case, how is a person (DSW) supposed to react? Obviously he will react in the way in which he has reacted. Accordingly, just factor in one reality! If you think that you are thick skinned, always remember that there will undoubtedly be others who have a thicker hide then you. It is the law of natural justice. The world is round and it goes in circles. Further, the Vice Chancellor’s office is not spared. The discourse of the students’ union with the VC is at best appalling. True, there is freedom of expression; however it must not cross the limits of decency and propriety. The point is that in a situation where the bull is not grabbed by the horns, all levels of aggressiveness snowball into a snowstorm. As a result, we will get to hear terms such as ‘NEHU VC baahar aao’ and references of ‘tum’ instead of ‘aap’. Clearly, it defies all forms of decency and has degenerated into abusive language!       

Thirdly, the subject matter of admissions and the interference surrounding it is absolutely puzzling. I somehow fail to understand as to why the admission processes and procedures have to be vetted and certified by the students’ union. In the entire scheme of things, it makes the role of the department and the efforts and activities of the faculties redundant. Overall, the students’ union supersedes the faculties in as much as their ‘yes/no’ is the gospel truth. In addition, just look at the irony. In admission matters they are called as ‘observers’. Just figure this out, they observe over teachers. In the hierarchy of things they are above teachers. I mean things like these can happen only in  NEHU and it is crazy! However, the crux of the matter is that when it comes to admissions there is a trust deficit on the part of the students’ union. Hence, as teachers are we to introspect on our admission practices? It is indeed a Pandora’s Box and reeks of skeletons in the closet. On hindsight there is an inside story and it goes like this, ‘Instead of having outside interference from pressure groups like KSU and others (where the problems would be far bigger), it is better to have an in-house mechanism’. As such, we have the current system of students’ union observers. Fact is guys, if you want publicity and attention, there are far better ways of doing it. Our online system for admissions can be confusing to some of the applicants. In such a case, why not set up admission assistance outlets at various strategic points in the campus for direction and counselling to the newbies? Moreover, the professional courses at the university like MBA, tourism, engineering etc., require entry through national level admission tests. There is still a lack of awareness about this amongst the school/college students at large. Hence, this is one loophole that the students’ union can strive to address.              

Fourthly, it is an open secret that some of the students’ union leaders have mainstream political aspirations. This is good and for the few who have such an aspiration, the university is indeed the best place to initiate such dreams. So do it and see it through. Now, for this to be effective and have any tangible outcomes, visibility of the person is important. As such, if visibility is the only parameter then it can be achieved by doing good or bad or both. Hence, do as you wish and people will pay attention and the objective is achieved. Consequently, manage the show and play to the gallery. But what sort of leaders will this breed? Surely, the long-term consequences will not be good. On the other hand, I am looking forward to the day when students’ union elections in the university are contested on mainstream party lines like the Congress, BJP, UDP, NPP, HSPDP, KHNAM and so forth. I am sure these parties realize that the best place to look for talented student leaders is in the university, so why not take the leap? To my knowledge, the only time that something close to this almost materialised was in the year 2001-03. That was the time when the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) of the Congress tried to set up units. However, the plan and efforts then just fizzled out and died a premature death. Nonetheless, the time is ripe for the political parties to try again and with the BJP coming in aggressively and more visibly into state politics, it will not be surprising to see Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and/or Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) taking the first leap.

Lastly, the students’ union representation contemporarily is a huge concern. Over the years of my close association with the students’ union election, the exercise does feel like a bastion of ‘Ka Bri U Hynniewtrep’. The candidates are all from the Khasi community and even on the day of polling and counting, the interest is shown by this community only. But this is not what NEHU represents. NEHU represents a mix of cultures and practices and people, so why is there no diversity amongst the contesting candidates? As such, the voter turnout at the very recent students’ union election was only 47%. This is a result of a lack of cohesiveness amongst the student community. As such, one can be blunt and say that the current students’ union does not represent the entire student community.

In conclusion, I can foresee a degree of bitterness and resentment towards this article. But that is the least of my concerns. What is most important is that we learn from this across all stakeholders. We learn and correct, reengineer and reposition; chart out a new plan and strategies; all with the good intent of progress and organization building.          

(The Author teaches at NEHU)

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