The Aligarh Muslim University Students Union elections 2017-18 were held on December 11, 2017. Sajad Subhan Rather, a Kashmiri research scholar pursuing PhD in History was elected Vice-President. Maskoor Ahmad Usmani and Mohammad Fahad were elected as the President and Honourary Secretary, respectively. Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview of Sajad Subhan conducted by Javid Ahmad Ahanger and Suhail-ul-Rehman Lone
QUESTION: Can you introduce yourself, your earlier life and your journey to AMU?
ANSWER: I am a resident of Gantamula Colony Baramulla. I come from a humble background. During my early life I was very inspired by persons cracking civil service examinations and I intended to be a civil servant. However, after getting admission in PhD course, I realized that there is more than one way to contribute to the society. I became particularly interested in student activism here.
Q: Being from Kashmir, it seems difficult to contest elections in Indian universities. How did you manage this whole process?
A: There are quite a few stigmas attached to you if you come from a State like Jammu and Kashmir. However, to be honest, I did not face much of an issue in this university. I found the atmosphere very cordial and felt a sense of security. I think the students here are very mature in this sense. The election days, however, were very tense for me as they might have been for other candidates. The support afforded to me by my friends and colleagues hailing from Jammu and Kashmir as well those belonging to other regions boosted my morale. I am very thankful to all those who supported me throughout this whole painstaking process.
Q: Can you share with us your experiences, which encouraged you to take part in student activism?
A: When I came to this university, the first thing that struck me was the unhygienic food in the dining halls. I discussed this with some active students and we came up with the idea of a Food Committee. Our job was to look into the working of our own dining hall and make certain that the students were not paying their dining dues for nothing. Alhamdullilah! With our efforts and the support of the students, we were able to put pressure on the concerned authorities to the students’ satisfaction. Being successful in this venture, I realized my potential to channelize my energies towards solving larger problems that students face.
Q: In your speeches you said that this university has forgotten the culture of debate and discussion. Now you are in chair. What are you going to do to revive this culture?
A: I have been saying this from day one that the Students Union is meant for debate, discussion and dialogue. I stand by my words and I intend to provide the students a platform for this purpose. I am committed to making our debating club fully functional. We will be inviting intellectuals, scientists, and scholars from different parts of the country to our university in order to illuminate the students on various issues and branches of knowledge. We plan to make available to them different avenues for the development of their personalities. We plan to make arrangements for them to voice their opinions and make sure that their opinions are heard.
Q: Students within the University premises claim they face problems related to hostel accommodation, food hygiene, insecurity among girls and other day to day issues. What is your road map to solve these issues?
A: There is no doubt that we are facing a lot of issues. It is primarily due to the lacunas in administration especially the misuse or under-usage of allocated funds. Solving those issues is a matter at hand. It cannot be done overnight and is certainly not possible without the support of the students. Currently our Union is devising ways to reach out to the students. We are visiting the halls of residents and listening to complaints. In coming days, we are going to inspect dining halls as well as make the security apparatus properly functional.
Q: How do you look at student politics in Kashmir University and other Universities in Kashmir here given the political climate in the valley? What can be done to help revive it?
A: Besides academics, student activism is an essential part of learning in a university. A university that does not allow debate and dissent loses the honour of being called the “highest seat of learning.” It is unfortunate that the authorities have gagged the student voice, thereby depriving us of an essential part of democracy. Students are denied the freedom of expression. Also, I would say that a Students Union is meant as system of checks and balances on the administration. The absence of a Union in the University is directly intended to conceal corruption at different administrative levels.
I think the students need proper grooming and a positive attitude from those who are at the helm of affairs. Also, students need to come out of the closet and participate in conferences, seminars and workshops in and outside the State. That way they can expand their mental horizons.
Q: Lastly, we in our state generally talk that we suffer from lack of leadership; can we expect in you a future leader?
A: I have done my masters from the Kashmir University and I can say with surety that there is no lack of talent in Kashmir. From writing skills to entrepreneurship to leadership qualities, students from the Kashmir University can contribute in diverse fields. It is the lack of quality education, exposure and dearth of opportunities, which prevent most of the students from making any big achievements. Given the chance, they can surely showcase their capabilities.
It is too early to say anything about my future plans. My election as vice-president of the Students Union here does not necessarily mean I will contest elections back home. I may become voice of the people by other means too. Right now I am completely focused on delivering what I have promised to the students of Aligarh Muslim University. I got a popular mandate from the general students of the varsity and currently I am committed to come up to their expectations.
Q: You are familiar with the growing insecurity among the Indian minorities particularly among Muslims. What will be the role of your leadership in the Union for these crucial and important issues?
A: Aligarh Muslim University is an institution that a majority of Indian Muslims looks up to. This Union will make sure to sensitize the students and general populace to the issues that Muslims and other marginalized communities are confronted with. It is an important part of our agenda.
Q: What is your message to the student fraternity of Jammu and Kashmir?
A: Kashmir possesses rich intellectual minds but unfortunately conflict has negative impact on our lives. My message to the student particularly youth of Kashmir is to give their hundred percent in studies. It is only education that can change our destiny.
(Javid Ahmad Ahanger and Suhail-ul-Rehman Lone are doctoral candidates, Aligarh Muslim University, Department of Political Science and History, respectively)