Campus Crunch

Change is the only constant

By Ira Saxena, Batch of 2016

The freedom of speech and expression is probably that one fundamental right that has never been better exercised than in the present times. The modern citizen of the world knows the power of peaceful protest and the institutions of the world (from offices to national governments) know and respect the power of the same. Voicing opinions, raising concerns, signing petitions – they have become commonplace. Analogous to a machine, such regular voicing of opinions works towards keeping the system ‘well-oiled’ and the members, aware of their power to bring about change.

What is a Students’ Union?
An organized, autonomous group of students (and alumni) which strives towards raising concerns over redundant systems, initiating imperative changes, voicing their opinions on issues concerning or affecting them. Exercising the freedom of speech and expression is what the union stands for. The union takes onto itself the onus of representing one and all and ensuring that the voice of the students is heard, where it needs to be. It could be voluntarily formed or democratically elected. Above all, the role of a students’ union is to aid and keep in check the college/university mechanism and in no way hinder the same.

A Comparative Study
The Delhi University probably has the most active and democratic students’ union(DUSU). This body has often made it to the headlines by protesting against or espousing changes. They have helped keep the system intact and helped the system have an all-inclusive take on pivotal issues. Democratically elected, with about 90% colleges under DU participating in the same, DUSU paves the way for other students’ unions.
Technical, or in general, professional colleges are often considered to have demanding courses and career motivated students who are not keen to indulge in general politics and voluntary services that come under the purview of students’ unions. This is true to a large extent as many such colleges and universities lack a proper organization; however, there are numerous Indian and international colleges that break the norm.

IIGSA: IIT Guwahati Students Association serves as a platform where students can share their individual problems. Problems are discussed with students’ welfare committee and taken to the concerned authorities.

NIT Warangal Students’ Council: This democratic organization has an organized, representative system of elections and a 13 point agenda of duties and responsibilities. Some of their areas of work include – aiding the administration improve student amenities, help improve fellow students’ career prospects through personality building, etc, and helping the administration in smooth conduct of student activities on campus.

NSIT chapter
NSIT too has seen numerous instances of students voicing their opinion. Across years, students have brought to the notice of authorities the need for change and, to the students, their (students’) power to initiate it.

In 2010, NSIT’s first students’ union, NSU was founded. It aimed at initiating a series of changes in the library, the canteen, and the curriculum along with a number of other issues. The reason for NSU’s inception was the lack of Internet browsing facilities, new books, research papers, and a reading room in the library. They also voiced concerns over lack of canteens, need for syllabus upgradation, lack of sports facilities and competitions on campus. Four years from then, most of us would agree, that this small initiative did lead to some
changes and as for the rest (of the issues), it left some ‘food for thought’ for the coming batches to pursue. In 2012, a group of students led the ‘Reform NSIT’ movement. Around 1000 students signed the petition demanding answers to the lack of certain basic facilities in our college. An RTI was also filed on the same.

Several other campaigns (on campus or online) were led across the years on syllabus upgradation, early result declaration, the introduction of percentile or GPA system, Wi-Fi access ,etc. The most recent amongst the issues raised have been the demand for
a bigger auditorium and the demand for a change of the Girls’ Hostel 1 warden.

The Down Side
Though this involvement in institutional functioning has been heralded as the era of ‘self and community aware’ citizens, its disadvantages must also be duly recognized. It surely disrupts general functioning of the institution by taking the system at ransom. It also pushes towards immediate redressal of the issues concerned, leading to hasty decisions. Also, for the functioning of an institution, it requires a certain level of autonomy, which can be hampered if it lives in constant fear of being challenged. Hence, the students’ body needs to keep in check its activities and remember that the sole purpose of its formation is to aid the work of the administration and not hinder it. Hence, students must remember, ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’.

Prof Duru Arun Kumar

Faculty Opinion: Prof Duru Arun Kumar

Q1. Why does NSIT not have a students’ union or an organized body to address
all the student issues? Would such an organization benefit the institution (if it

  1. Technically and ideally, professional courses are very demanding, where students are very busy doing courses, practicals, projects, and internships. The students have very little time to spend with their peers and discuss issues leisurely (essential to form an organization).
  2.  Since engineering education is in great demand, the students who get admission here would not like to get into any trouble with the college administration and faculties. Even if the students face problems in college and talk about them, many would not like to take them up collectively with the authorities because they don’t want their grades and degrees to be affected. This may be an important reason for lack of organization among students.
  3. Some of the students have taken admission here because they did not qualify for the institutions of their first choice or lack of other options. Therefore, many do not develop much affinity towards college.
  4. There is a perception among the social scientists that young people in urban India are becoming more and more individualistic and self – centered, and importance of sharing and collective responsibility is on the decline.
  5. If we have such a system of collective representation, certainly, it will be beneficial, and there will be a greater sense of accountability on both sides.

Q2. In the wake of a number of protests, where students are taking to demonstrations, how beneficial is the trend? Should such peaceful voicing of opinion within the campus on student issues be promoted?

Every system has to have checks and balances to ensure that it functions smoothly as well as adapts and grows with changing times. Unfortunately, our system is so bureaucratic that even if the intentions of the management are good, they are not able to deliver because of too many protocols, rules, and regulations. But if the matters reach such a level of apathy and hopelessness, then such reactions are inevitable. It is also human nature to protest about our rights but ignore our failing responsibilities.

Q3. What alternate mechanism do you suggest to address student’s issues/grievances effectively?

There should be more dialogue at the department level and initiative has to come from both the sides, students as well as authorities. When we voice a problem, we should also suggest possible solutions to it. Otherwise, there will always be a deadlock. We have extremely bright students who can help find solutions to technical problems. Students can spend some time in finding out how administrative procedures are followed at the institute, and be more empathetic towards the system.

Dipankar Arhat (Batch of 2013 – ICE)

Alumnus Opinion: Dipankar Arhat (Batch of 2013 – ICE)

Q1. Why does NSIT not have a students’ union or an organized body to address all the student issues? Would such an organization benefit the institution (if it existed)?

NSIT does not have an organized body to raise issues of the students, but it does have the provision for two student representatives to be included in the meeting of Board of Student Affairs (BSA, held biannually or quarterly) which deals with student grievances and affairs of budget allocation for various issues of hostels, academics, and co-curricular activities. A student council can definitely survive and will surely benefit students. There are numerous instances which go unattended by administration. Only a student can address the real issues and possibly make them understand the situation with more severity.

Q2. In the wake of a number of protests, where students are taking to demonstrations, how beneficial is the trend? Should such peaceful voicing of opinion within the campus on student issues be promoted?

Protests are wake up calls to the administrative staff; and they should not be made a trend. It is not in the disposition of a student to come out of their routines to protest. Administration should acknowledge this primarily. Students at NSIT have compromised on many things while being a part of one of the premier institutions in India. And therefore, I believe, protests have been the last resort at NSIT to be heard. Students should rationally think if such demonstrations are really important or the matter can be resolved without mass involvement.

Q3. What alternate mechanism do you suggest to address student’s issues/grievances effectively?

One thing I learned from demonstrations and meetings is that all of it should be well documented. All your grievances should be first addressed in a formal letter to the concerned department. As a proof for having raised this issue before, this gives students an added advantage. If nothing remedial is done, FILE AN RTI. It is the most effective tool.

DISCLAIMER: The Alliance doesn’t sponsor/inculcate the formation of unions or other such student run organizations, and this article should be interpreted as mere reporting of the facts and opinions of teachers and students on this issue.

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