The students movement in India has slowly but surely raised its head through decades of struggle with the overarching call of education for every child against socio-economic discrimination, against the casteist and patriarchal hegemonies and the exclusion of the marginalized from political decision making.The whole-hearted participation of students’ in the freedom struggle enriched students organizations with an indefatigable zeal and the guts to take clear political stands against previously unquestionable socio-political hierarchies. When the initial euphoria of independence had passed and disillusionment with the national government set in, recognizing the lack of commitment of the erstwhile leaders of the nation to effectively combat inequality and ensure the basics of food, shelter, education and health to all, their failure to keep the promise that independence had held, the students movement began to build up and expand.
The Students’ Federation of India inherited the legacy and the struggles of the several organizations that came before, which had each attempted to forge a nationwide unity among campuses. Since its inception it has fought on the basic tenets of universal and free education as well as every socio-economic and political barrier to achieving it. One of the oldest demands has been to increase government expenditure on education to 6% of the GDP and 10% of the Central Budget. The redistribution of state-centre relations and the protection of the federal and democratic principles of education by bringing it to the state list has also been on the agenda. Since the 1986 new education policy, followed by the signing of the GATS agreement which opened the education sector to the free market economy and the economic reforms of 1991, SFI has had to wage a constant war on the commodification and commercialization of education. Side by side the organization has dealt deftly the onslaught of communalization and its distortion of the structure and content of education which has far-reaching consequences in the communal polarization of society.
As the attack on students in particular and the “common” people, the workers, farmers and the other marginalized sections, intensifies, so does the need to strengthen the resistance to it. Our first duty in times like these is to consolidate our ranks, to ensure that the entire organization can act as a single mind and body. While there are students of every diversity in our midst, and it is only natural that there are many different opinions being formed, which must be nourished, debated, developed, and concretised, there is however general agreement on the principal ‘evils’ facing the students’ of the nation, and on the basis of this consensus we must forge a united striking force.
While SFI is one of the largest student organizations in the country and globally, there is a felt need of expanding the scope of the organization to ensure that it is more representative of the entire student community. The organization is focusing on including and politically empowering students from the marginalized sections, girls, minorities and backward classes and castes. Simultaneously the new issues that are coming up with the expansion of professional and private education need to be raised and students studying in professional courses, and private institutions need to be adequately represented in the organization.
As the 15th All India Conference of the SFI convenes in Sikar from the 22nd to the 25th, students from all over the country, elected delegates, are going to assemble. The call of the conference includes the call to strengthen and expand the organisation. The conference will decide the way forward from this juncture keeping this objective in view.