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Karnataka govt considers re-introducing student unions

September 11, 2019

After a three-decade ban, student unions in colleges may see the day light

Higher Education Minister of Karnataka, C N Ashwath Narayan while speaking to the media on September 9 said that the state government was considering bringing back student elections at state campuses.

He said, “We can consider re-introduction of student elections at campuses and I will look into the procedure.”

While student politics in other parts of the country is significantly affecting the political discourse on the national level, student elections in Karnataka’s campuses have been banned since 1989-1990. 

Three-Decades Of Student Unions’ Ban

Karnataka has produced a lot of political leaders who went on to hold important positions and offices. Many of these leaders like DK Shivakumar, Roshan Baig and Shobha Karndlaje began their political careers with their days as student leaders in the 70s and 80s.

Students Politics scene in the state was abuzz up until the 1989-1990 session. Reportedly, these student unions had enormous influence over the university politics.  

However, during 1989-90, there were several cases of caste-based violence on the campuses under the garb of student politics. There were also allegations of these union elections serving as extension to electoral politics leading to more violent clashes. These incidents led to the complete ban on such unions when Veerendra Patil was the Chief Minister and KH Ranganathan was the higher education minister.

However, with each year passing, the demand for student unions, believed to be a bridge between the administration and students, has been growing louder from a section of students and activists.

“Careful Examination Before Re-Introduction”

Mr Sharan KA, founder of Dialogue, a Bengaluru-based NGO which is a student-run policy making institute which advocates for ‘political literacy’, said, “I believe that every student is entitled to a political opinion, as long as the integration of the country is kept in mind. What is happening is that certain boundaries of national interest are being crossed. I believe that this is (student unions) are essential to the democracy of India. However, there should be certain self-regulation among these unions so that there is responsible behaviour and there is a deterrent. They shouldn’t become anti-establishment to the core. They have to be productive and this move from the government would be welcomed.”

He further said that such unions would help students to hone their leadership skills.

It may be noted that it is not the first time that there have been talks of lifting this ban. Last year too, when the Congress-JD(S) government was in power, the then higher education minister GT Deve Gowda had said that he was in favour of student elections. The then government had considered lifting the ban, but not much really came out of it.

A former professor with the Bangalore University, on the condition of anonymity, said, “If at all student unions are re-introduced into the campuses, it has to be carefully thought of decision. The student elections were banned for a reason and with good intentions, earlier. So, in the case of re-introduction, the pros and cons have to be weighed and experts should be consulted before re-introduction. Though student unions and elections of such nature bring about the element of democracy on the campuses, due to semester system and academic pressure, many students might shy away from them. So, this is also a factor which is to be considered. It cannot be re-introduced overnight. I, as an academician feel that the reasons for which it was banned has to be examined, to avoid recurrence of such instances. Whatever is the outcome, should be in favour of student and academic community and their welfare.”

Shraddha Goled

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