THE 16th all India conference of the Students’ Federation of India has successfully concluded at Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. It decided to enroll 50 lakh membership by the 50th anniversary of the organisation. SFI completes 50 years in 2020. It made plans to add around 10 lakh more members in the organisation to achieve this. The most important aim is to reach out to the areas where the presence of the organisation is weak.
For the first time, Shimla has become the host of the SFI all India conference. And for the second time in a row, SFI’s highest conference has happened in Hindi states/northern states. Among the three all India conferences held in north India, two were held during this period of time. This can be seen as the sign of influence and development of the organisation in these areas. The conference reviewed that after the 15th all India conference held in Sikar, Rajasthan, SFI could strengthen its presence and influence in new places. Apart from being elected to the union leadership in central universities such as JNU, Pondicherry, and HCU, the activities of the organisation have extended to the Central University of Gujarat and Karnataka. Rebuilding the organizational activities in Gujarat after 14 years, formation of the union in Jammu University and the emergence of SFI as the single largest organisation in the first election conducted in Ambedkar University Delhi are achievements worth mentioning. Apart from the sweeping victories in the union elections in Kerala and Tripura, SFI could win the students union elections in Rajasthan, Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The conference called for expanding the organisational activities in north eastern areas – which are now largely limited to Tripura and Assam – to all the states. It has also decided to galvanise the activities in Jammu. Formation of state committees in Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Manipur, Chhattisgarh and Odisha are one of the major goals. It is pertinent to enter into the private educational institutions which strategically keep the student politics at bay. These institutions are the fertile ground for widespread loot and rampant violation of democratic rights and ethos. The government is not yet ready to come up with necessary legal measures to limit such moves.
The conference has given a resounding mandate to fight the increasing case of sexual harassments occurring inside the campuses. The conference pointed out that, lack of democratic spaces and lack of sensitisation against gendered crimes and the existing power structures inside the campuses apart from many other factors create a hostile situation for women students. To address this, there is a need for institutional mechanism such as GSCASH inside the campuses. The conference condemned the attacks against such institutions, for instance replacing well functioning GSCASH with ICC in JNU.
An integral part of democratisation of campus is ensuring gender justice in all the spheres and to break the patriarchal hegemony which is normalised in such spaces. The conference decided to have a transparent and democratic internal mechanism to address these kind of issues within the organisation. SFI hence becomes the first student organisation to take such a historic decision.
From October 30-November 2, the 16th all India conference of SFI, formulated the political and organisational tasks lying ahead. The conference passed 15 resolutions on various issues including the ones mentioned above. The conference discussed various issues such as the challenges faced by school education and the danger in forming higher education commission by sabotaging the UGC and many others.
The conference welcomed the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala and pledged to strengthen the fight against the brahmanical-patriarchal Sangh Parivar forces which are desperately trying to destroy the secular social fabric of Kerala. The conference extended solidarity to the efforts of Left forces in Kerala to uphold the values of Kerala renaissance. This conference also mandated to build a broad spectrum resistance against the increasing mob frenzy and communal violence. It underlined the role of students in the struggle for ensuring equal rights, a life with dignity and social justice. It expressed deep concern over the increasing number of suicides in IIT’s and other professional institutions and demanded laws to be formulated in order to check physical and mental harassment faced by students particularly of those who are coming from marginalised backgrounds and gender. This is also important to make sure of a healthy campus atmosphere, where a vibrant political and cultural activism increases the inner democracy of campus life.
The student community expressed its solidarity to Left-wing governments across the world fighting continuous imperialistic interventions, blockades and attempts to create internal disturbances, through anti-capitalist policies and tenets in their home countries. The struggles in Palestine, Syria and against the persecution of Rohingyan refugees in Myanmar were taken up for discussion at the conference.
The amendment to have national conferences every three years was agreed upon. It has also been decided to have state conferences every two years and other conferences every year. The conference put forth demands for the extension of research scholarships and their timely distribution. Increased scholarships should be awarded to students from economically and socially weak backgrounds in general and women in particular. Transgender-rights and the rights of other sexual minorities should be protected.
Another crucial demand for a widespread political alliance of the country’s Left-leaning students’ organisations was also put forth, at a separate session with the national leaders of organisations like the All India Students’ Federation (AISF), All India Students’ Association (AISA), All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO) etc. In order to resist privatisation and communalisation of Indian education, it was reiterated that there is a pressing need for a regional-level strengthening of this political alliance along with venturing into a concerted national-level fight with the larger student community of the country.
The all India conference was inaugurated by P Sainath and Prof R Ram Kumar. While Sainath spoke of the unprecedented rise of Indian inequality and how India was on the path to become one of the most unequal societies in the world, Ram Kumar briefed us about the historical process of privatisation of education in capitalist societies around the world. Seminars on communalism and higher education were inaugurated by Prof Ram Puniyani and C N Bharati, general secretary, School Teachers Federation of India (STFI) respectively.
Former leaders Nilotpal Basu, KN Balagopal and V Sivadasan shared their experience of leading the organisation. Former all India president MA Baby also greeted the conference later. Former leaders released the book published by the central executive committee on the history of SFI. MA Baby released the conference special issue of the monthly magazine, Student Struggle. Ashok Dhawale (president, AIKS), Suneet Chopra (joint secretary, AIAWU), Abhoy Mukherjee (general secretary, DYFI), Kashmir Singh (secretary, CITU) greeted the conference with warm words filled with hope and confidence on the student movement.
647 delegates from 24 states participated in the conference which was held at the manch named after martyr Abhimanyu Maharajas. Parijith, brother of SFI leader Abhimanyu who was killed by Islamist fundamentalists in Kerala also attended the inaugural session of the conference. Unlike the earlier conference, there were delegates from Manipur, Sikkim and Gujarat this time. Vikram Singh presented the draft political-organisational report before the delegates. 58 delegates spoke in the seven hour long discussion session, representing 24 states, four sub-committees and Tribal students union.
Conference elected a 93 member central executive committee with nine vacancies. There are 24 girls in the committee. The all India secretariat Consists of 19 members with two vacancies for Bengal and Kerala. VP Sanu has been re-elected as the president of the committee and Mayukh Biswas has been elected as the general secretary.
A vibrant student rally through the valley of Shimla took place after the conclusion of the delegation session, and culminated in a public meeting attended by a massive crowd. Both the rally and the public meeting turned into a show of strength of student movement in the valley. The rally was addressed by Nilotpal Basu, Rakesh Singha, Mayukh Biswas, Vikram Singh, VP Sanu and Dipsita Dhar. The Shimla conference has provided a further push to the politically conscious students to spread across to new areas with a stronger organisation.