20th Delhi State Conference of SFI Upholds the banner of Social Justice: Pritish Menon
The 20th Delhi State Conference of SFI, which was held on 12th October has proved to be phenomenal in upholding the banner of social justice. The critiques of left organizations in general and the left-led student organizations in particular, have for quite some time been stating the lack of representation of the activists from the socio-economically marginalized sections in the leadership positions, as an “evidence” for their charge of branding the left organizations as ones which “only do lip-service to the struggle for social justice”. While most of these accounts are often exaggerated and tend to ignore the cases when the finest of activists from the socio-economically oppressed sections and the working classes rise to leadership positions; the argument does indeed hold some weight. Left in general and the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) is aware of the historic task in this regard and it sees the representation in the leadership positions & the concrete struggles on the issues of the oppressed sections- not as mutually exclusive processes, but ones which shape each other and gets shaped by each other. The dialectical relationship between the two forms the bedrock of left approach to the question of social justice. It is this outlook which makes its presence felt in the fact that as SFI moves towards its All India Conference, both the General Secretary and President of the organization belong to the socio-economically oppressed sections and have risen to the leadership position through consistently excellent activism.
Now, let us come to the Delhi State Conference, which was held a few days back. The conference has elected a 25-member state committee (with 2 vacancies for women comrades), which in turn has elected a 9 member secretariat (with 1 vacancy). The salient feature of the new secretariat is that 60% of its members belong to socio-economically oppressed sections: 3 dalits, 1 tribal and 1 kashmiri Muslim. The positive development can be seen better if we situate the figure relative to that of the secretariat elected in the 19th Delhi State Conference, where the corresponding figure was 22%. Similarly, at the level of the state committee too the overall representation of the activists from the socio-economically oppressed sections has been positive.
We see this aspect as a central area of focus with regard to the task of building a broad and united democratic student’s movement. The neo-liberal policies and the ruthless commodification & privatization accompanied with them is leading to a situation where those from the working class and oppressed sections are facing the brunt of the situation. No serious resistance against the current regime is possible if we are not able to take up the issues of these sections and build confidence among them.
So, how do we theoretically situate the whole approach? First, Numerous social reformers of our country continue to hold relevance for all democratic forces which “strive to eradicate…all forms of social oppression and fight for the abolition of caste system”. Personalities like Karl Marx, Bhagat Singh, Ambedkar and Periyar continue to hold relevance even today because of the deep and penetrative analysis which they made of the inequalities existing during their times. This deep sense of angst against the inequality is what unites these historical personalities, in spite of the differences in their views, conclusions and approach. Secondly, aspect is the centrality of the caste based discrimination and inequalities in our higher educational institutions. The real task in front of us is to make concrete interventions and mobilise students from these socio-economically deprived sections behind the united banner of democratic students’ movement. Thirdly, our higher educational institutions and university centres are not isolated from the phenomena of rise in identity based groups, which seek to divide the people’s struggles on the basis of myriad forms of identities. These groups in general have been showing antipathy towards the Left-led democratic students’ movement. They often behave as if fighting for the oppressed castes and groups is their monopoly. At a time when we are witnessing an escalated neo-liberal offensive at all levels and in all spheres of education which are going to further restrict the access to education and employment, the challenge becomes even bigger. The task of building effective resistance to these offensives will also require unity among the student community. This necessitates raising the specific issues of the students from socio-economically deprived backgrounds on one hand and the ideological struggle against the sectarian, identity groups on the other.
The Delhi State Committee has taken positive interventions on issues such as the UGC gazette notification. This notification has led to drastic reduction in the number of seats for the research courses in the public universities and students from the marginalized sections are the ones who have been affected the most. The legal intervention by SFI has led to a positive outcome. We must ensure that such steps continue in the future vigorously.
Further, it needs to be kept in mind that translating the correct left perspective on ‘social justice’ essentially also involves intensified ideological struggle at all levels- both inside the organization and outside. It has been the historical experience that the ideas of the ruling class can also permeate inside the individuals who are in the organization which is fighting the ruling class. Any slackened attitude towards this ideological struggle would mean reducing the fighting capacity of the organization. We are confident that the 20th Delhi State Conference of SFI will arm us to take the future challenges with much more preparedness and vigour.
The author is a Secretariat member of SFI Delhi State Committee.