Updated: Nov 23, 2021
With over a billion populations, India is the world’s largest democracy. And with many obvious reasons, it is a tough task to govern a country like this. Since independence which dates back to 1947, the country has faced major changes in terms of social, political, and economical aspects. Given the type of electoral makeup that India has, it makes the politics in the country more interesting.
Youth is filled with zeal to change the world and their young mind is stretching their limits to change the system. Impact of student movements on politics can’t be undermined and it has a long way to go as 50% of Indian has not even crossed the age of 25 (a majority of the population is very young and under the system of education).[i] Students are the foundation or pillar of national development. It is a well-established fact that the role of students in independence movements was very impressive.
Universities act as a centre for western culture, ideas, and political thought.
“Student Activism” also termed as “campus activism” is an act of students through which they can cause political, social, and environmental change. Most of the student activism is an institution based which focuses on the welfare of students enrolled there by the ways of student unions which are popularly called “chhatrasanghas”.
Indian youth played a crucial role in national liberation movements. When you go through modern Indian history you will come to know that thousands of youth in India have sacrificed their lives for the nation’s freedom. In India, the organized student movement is over 80 years old. In 1936 a permanent student organization named the All India Student Federation was formed to boost the pace of the National freedom struggle movement by the active participation of students in the country.[ii]
As of now, through student movement students are rising as an irrepressible force in defence of not just their rights but also of everybody who is feeling burnt of majoritarian politics. Today student activism in-country is more focused on the issues of national importance i.e. the policy of a state is responsible for this type of activism. They act as pressure groups on government.
One question that arises is what are the factors that lead to student agitation? When studied deeply we come across factors such as Unemployment, or the fear of unemployment may lead to unrest and it is leading to it. Another factor includes deprivation and injustice which is faced by the lower strata of the society such as Dalits which comes under the SCs and people from scheduled tribes too face the same challenges, the prevailing education system in our country is one of the major issues that lead to student agitation. Alienation is also one such factor due to which there are student agitations is taking place. Alienation from the social and political system may make rebels of youngsters. From a social point of view, the best example available is of ‘The Bhim Army’ which is termed as a rebellious group which comprises of Dalit youths is active in the western part of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Haryana.[iii] From the political point of view, we can refer to the Kashmiri youths for that matter. The alienated youth of Kashmir are rebelling because they are alienated from the Indian political system. Overall it is no wrong in saying that “the alienated youth is a marginalized youth”. Apart from these issues, there are many available and the list is endless.
Most of the students in colleges/universities are of the age group of 18-25 and at this stage of their life idealism is one of the ruling emotions in them. They develop a political inclination towards a certain political party. In India, much of the youth is inclined towards the left or right-wing politics which follows the ideologies of leaders such as Lenin, Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler, etc. This tendency is termed a Radical Attitude. It is of two types which are Right-wing radicalism and Left-wing radicalism in which right-wing radicalism is more focused on factors such as religious fundamental changes to bring about a society where religious norms will dominate or the ethnicity which seeks dominance over a particular ethnic group whereas left wind radicalism focused on transcending the existing social orders for an advanced exploitation free social society. Apart from this, there are many psychological factors associated with students’ movement such as the desire for power, feeling of anti-establishment where students have a bitter feeling about the existing political forces.
They find corruption and hypocrisy in their establishment.
With more than 150 years of history, the student union is considered as one of the most important pressure group on the university as well as the government. Student's Literary and Scientific Society is the first organized and formalistic organization of the student-founded by Naoroji Furdunji and Dadabhai Naoroji in 1848 i.e. during the pre-independence era.[iv] The first strike by students was held at King Edward Medical College, Lahore. It was a fight against academic discrimination that favours English people over Indian. It achieves it is objective and proves to be a complete success.[v] During the launch of the Swadeshi movement in 1905, they participated equally by boycotting colleges and student clubs. During the independence struggle, the Indian National Congress realized the importance, strength, or influence of youth and students in politics. It impacted its strategy as they start involving them in the short term program of rural reconstruction.
Bengal students led movements played a very important role in the freedom movement. They were very committed and awakened that they decided to conduct the All India College Students Conference in Ahemadabad in 1912 and gave the thought-provoking and inciting motto “Charka Swaraj first, and education after”. Then in 1919 thousands of students gathered in Jallianwala Bagh which resulted in the loss of their own life. In 1930 they supported Mahatma Gandhi in his Satyagraha. In 1936, Hindu Students Federation (HSF) was established with RSS ideology as a core and focuses on sentiments or issues of Hindu youth. In mid-20th-century student movements and organizations were mainly divided or formed considering religion as a basis of determining members. Hence, in 1937 Muslim league founded All India Muslim Students Federation (AIMSF) to address their grievances and demanded the formation of a separate state. Then in 1942, they took part in the Quit India movement. The national student union of India and the Young Socialist League were found in 1947 and 1948 respectively. There was a flood of association as well as student movements after independence.
There was also a shift in ideologies due to globalization and change in approach due to the advent of the internet. Recent student movements include movements like cyber activist movement which is a fight against the monopoly of the Micro Soft corporations (in the software industry).
Students' movements influence the behaviour of administration not only of a respective institution but also others in general, influence regional leaders manifesto and laws or policies at large. Colleges/Universities can play a very vital role and can contribute to the bureaucratic culture and injustice, or they can raise their students' voices. One thing is sure that there is something impactful, different, and somewhat poetic about calls for justice and change which are being echoed through college hallways.
[i] Youth in India, Central Statistics Office Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA, 2017, http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/publication_reports/Youth_in_India-2017.pdf. [ii] ArhoniLotha, Role of All India Students Federation In Freedom Struggle (1936-1947), DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY LOVELY PROFESSIONAL UNIVERSITY, 2015, http://dspace.lpu.in:8080/jspui/bitstream/123456789/3430/1/11312294_5_2_2015%201_15_01%20AM_full.pdf [iii] Bhim Army, Azad Samaj Party Built on Ambedkarite Philosophy — the Bedrock of Dalit Assertion, NEWS18 OPINION, April 14, 2020, https://www.news18.com/news/opinion/bhim-army-and-azad-samaj-party-are-built-on-ambedkarite-philosophy-the-bedrock-of-dalit-assertion-2576663.html. [iv] Dinyar Patel, A timeline of Dadabhai Naoroji’s life, https://dinyarpatel.com/naoroji/timeline/. [v] A brief history of student protests in India, HINDUSTANTIMES, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/a-brief-history-of-student-protests-in-india/story-zYvk2GeblUVBtzjOzcLA1N.html.