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Student Activism In Goa : History Makes It More Relevant To Strengthen Students’ Union

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Students are an integral  part of the society. The very meaning of society is a long standing group of people sharing different languages, culture and lifestyle. Students are a very important part of this group which forms a society. While everyone lives together in the society each one plays a role and should play a role so that the society progresses. Strong societies are marked by active and informed citizens who are concerned about the society and are willing to work for the same. This has been the story of some successful and progressive societies around the world.

Similarly, students as an integral part of the society and have a great responsibility towards the society. It is therefore very important that they understand their duty and play a vital role in the society. Whenever they have been successful in doing so, the society has benefited and the country has prospered. History has witnessed various movements led by students and has been very effective in bringing about changes in the society and also streamlining the policy orientation of the government.

The world has witnessed many such movements in which students were at the forefront raising their voices over issues. Be it the Argentinian student revolution of 1920’s against the interference in the universities, the Canadian campus activism or for that matter the Tiananmen Square uprising in China though was suppressed, yet student community has proved its worth through activism and has shaken the very prevailing errors in the society.

One thing notable in the above mentioned movements was that, students with critical thoughts and logical minds mobilised themselves and stood against what they felt was not right till the end. It was this conviction and dedication towards a cause which brought about such things to happen and also made a mark in the golden pages of history forever.

Unveiling student’s movement in Goa

When we talk about student movement or student activism, the state of Goa is no exception. The past in this regard has been very remarkable and is worth studying.  The state though is known for the easy going attitude but the student’s movement in the past has proved every assumption wrong. The movement which was very significant in many aspects was of the early eighties. A group of young students whose main strength lay in the fact that they, in all sincerity, wanted to bring about a change for the betterment of the society, yet refused, to the very end, to be part of any political party. In 1978 the All Goa Students Union (AGSU) was riding on a halo of having successfully ended the 50 per cent bus agitation for students. The likes of Felicio Esteves, Desmond D’ Costa, Mohandas Loliencar and Cleofato Almeida Coutinho were the then torch bearers of AGSU and were very approachable and always interacting. They were the leaders who led the very vibrant movement to great heights. The group held regular meetings to strengthen the movement.

Ideology is something which is very important to take any movement forward. Ideological clarity among the workers was necessary. Thus regular study circles were organised to achieve the goal of ideological clarity. Keeping this in mind the first major event was a conference held in Ponda in 1981 organised by the then AGSU on the theme of the need of an ideology to guide the future of the students’ movement in Goa. This was an ideal event to be organised by students. This depicted the concern which they had towards the society and the dedication with which they worked. This was followed by a workshop guided by activists. The need for a strong and independent students’ organisation was expressed at this conference. Acknowledging this demand, the Progressive Students Union (PSU) was formed as a breakaway group of the AGSU. In an effort to create awareness about the activities of PSU and also to improve literary works, an organ of PSU was introduced in the form of monthly newsletter named as ‘Udent’. It was regularly published from 1981 till 1985. One may question as to why form another group when AGSU was very active? The very first issue of Udent answered these questions. The opportunistic and unprincipled leadership of the AGSU was trying to use this for personal gains and moreover was towards making it a tail of ruling political parties. This was a wrong trend and still it is. This was not tolerated and a breakaway group thus was formed named PSU. This indeed was a step in the right direction.

A distinctive quality of students is that they do timely introspection to check what is wrong and move ahead with appropriate steps taken. Further the PSU introduced themselves as “ we are a growing group of students who have felt the need of showing concern for moral values, concern for freedom from poverty, hunger and employment, freedom to live a nice and decent life, a life without fear”. These words clearly showed that the PSU was ready to take on issues which went beyond the scope of students’ problems but extended to general ‘social problems’. The newsletter Udent was a brainchild of 8 member team who represented colleges from Panjim, Vasco and Margao. The newsletter/magazine was very helpful in creating awareness about important issues pertaining to Goa.

PSU was involved in various agitations. The AGSU played a key role in unmasking scandal issue wherein favoritism was clearly seen towards the niece of a politician to ensure her a seat in the Goa Medical College by increasing her marks. The AGSU had spearheaded this protest. Protests and police lathi-charges were a common occurrence of the movement. The success story of this agitation had built a strong base in favour of the credibility of the students’ movement in Goa. The PSU later took up many cases especially in the rural areas where students were without teachers for long periods. One such case was solved in the Canacona Higher Secondary School. Methods like gheraoing, morchas, closure of institution with the cooperation of students, rasta roko (road blockage) etc. were used to solve the issues whenever needed. Thus after these protests the lecturers were appointed on priority basis after the authorities from the education department visited the higher secondary. This highlighted the fact that the backward areas were given step-motherly treatment. Only an uncompromising struggle could awaken the authorities. This also depicted the spirit with which the students took up and addressed the issue and did not leave it until the solution was achieved.

Another agitation was undertaken at Sanguem, as a toilet –cum-bathroom was converted into a classroom for the students in a Government High School in a village. The school building was incomplete for years and the government had not taken the contractor into account for the same. Thus the PSU and villagers along with the sarpanch gathered and took up the issue together. A delegation met the education minister and the director of education. The impact was such that the building was completed within 6 months. This effort was very important in many ways. Firstly it directly affected the education of young kids and more importantly the approach towards solving this issue was very inclusive. It involved the villagers, local leadership along with students. This facilitated interaction between 2 age groups which often is very fruitful.

The PSU not only took up educational issues but was also interested in taking up every social issue as their scope went beyond student’s issues. Be it exposing the nexus between contractors and politicians, or be it helping any trust for financial needs, the students of PSU were always there to lead. One may look at it as unnecessary to get involved in non-student issues, but their definition of student was very unique and different from the conventional one. The PSU lived the fact that students should not be self-centred; they should have concerns for the society and should strive to get their solutions. Only then one becomes a true student and a true citizen of any society.

The PSU also championed the cause for educational institutions to have elected councils of student representatives. Signature drives were conducted to persuade the managements to deeply examine the issue from a fresh perspective. As a result of their efforts all higher secondary today go through the process of elections in order to elect the representatives. The PSU realised that students should have the right to choose whom they want to represent them. Their voices should be heard in the campuses and students should be looked upon as important elements contributing to the development of the society and nation at large.

The PSU also realised the importance of personality development for the young guns. Thus it sought to a holistic approach towards education, which according to them should exist even outside the classroom. Thus they organised various camps in different villages and stayed therein. This gave them the opportunity to experience the village life and more importantly to solve the issues which the locals faced. Camps were organised in various places such as Thane, Velguem, Porvorim, Pernem etc. All these camps benefitted the villagers and the students as well.

The PSU comprised of human beings similar to all, but what made them different were their thought process and the way they approached things. They were a perfect set of concerned students of the society who pulled up their socks to bring about a change. Though few in numbers, but the vision they had and the conviction towards the cause united them and they looked greater than a mountain. They are exemplary to the present generation as they did not make distinction between education and social work. What they did outside the classroom perfectly depicted in their academic performance when they took off with flying colours. They may not be the most popular individuals today, but they indeed are the most satisfied individuals. They are the true champions who won against ignorance, lethargy and could come out of the conceptual prison and think independently.

Regaining the struggle

Today, a sad scenario awaits us in the Goa campuses. Student Unions today are merely event companies, who get elected and by the time the term gets over, have a grand event in their name. Unions today have assumed the role of political parties, who visit their voters during elections only. Each and every group although calls itself independent, yet their activities and thinking is far away from independent and rather replicates that of the political parties. The last two years have been of huge importance as far as students issues and politics are concerned. Issues like Rohit Vemula suicide, JNU sedition row, Allahabad University issue, Ramjas college row, UGC NET issue, Najeeb’s disappearance, BHU controversy and so on. All these issues created debate in the society and deliberations were held. But sadly for Goa campuses, none of these issues were even addressed by the Student Unions, be it of colleges or of the Goa University. While the whole students fraternity was utterly shocked the Goa students were busy in events and celebrations.

This is where we need to relate to the rest of the nation and stand strong against the injustice in the society. The history of Students Union in Goa has been inspirational. We need to learn lessons from the past and give a proper direction to our present endeavours to bring about a drastic change in the state and nation at large. Lets regain our lost struggle to whet up the spirits of standing firm and resolute in times of campus jingoism and Hindutva academic terror.

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