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The Forum interviewed the newly elected President of the Students’ Union Society, Konda Sai Aashirvad on 13th September, 2017. The interview was administered by the First Year SF team consisting of Rajat Chandra Mishra, Adreeta Chakraborty, Pranay Krishna, Nitya Chopra, and Sunish Bansal. The team was headed by our Core Team Editor, Ayushi Jha. Read on to know what to expect from the Union this academic year.
1. Before we talk about your plans in the future as President of the Student Union, tell us what you think made you stand out during the election campaign. What do you think contributed most to your majority victory?
I didn’t expect that I would win by such a majority because the competition was tough. The margin of 188 votes was huge. And when I come to think of what made this possible, I realize that it is my team that has mainly contributed to my victory. It consists of mostly Second and Third Years who have been in the Union for the past two years, have been a part of many other societies and have represented the college in various forms. I was also apprehensive if practicality in the manifesto will work, but it did turn out to do so in our favour. We planned it really well and our experience did work out for us.
2. Many first years are curious about the powers of the SUS. Do you think the college gives a significant amount of power to the SUS? A lot of people say that it’s just an event organizing committee.
The SUS doesn’t really have many powers, to be honest. It’s just like any other society, but with elected representation. In matters that require attention, you write to the Principal as President of the Student Union. The answer might be yes or no, but you have the right to approach. How you take it up is a different case. At the same time you’re backed by the Staff Adviser. In that sense, we don’t have many powers unless and until we decide to mobilize the entire student body to come and promote a particular cause. Last year, we did see that happening.
3. The Common Freshers is something you’ve started this year. How will you finance it?
Last year there was a Resident’s Freshers and a movie screening. We wanted to continue with the idea, and decided to expand it for Day Scholars as well. It’ll be a get together of sorts. There will be performances by some enthusiastic first years. We have some money in the Fund which will be utilized to get refreshments, if at all.
4. There was a point in your manifesto which was greatly appreciated by the residents owing to the Delhi Heat. You proposed that Rooms A, B and C be kept open till 10 PM. The college isn’t willing to extend the library timings by an hour. The extra hours of operation will certainly add to the bill. Do you think the Bursar will be in favor of this proposition?
The library timings are not being extended because of staff members. According to UGC guidelines, staff members can stay in college only till a specific time i.e. 5 pm. If they stay later than that, the college has to pay. Moreover, the staff members are not willing to stay in college after that. So opening either of the rooms- A, B, and C is an alternative to this. As far as the AC bill is concerned, it will not really add substantially to the current expenses as some rooms are already open for Evening Classes. It should be manageable. The staff adviser has already approved of this proposition. We are still waiting for the Principal’s approval.
5. The manifestos of the other two candidates were seen as largely similar since everyone was striving to promote the greater good of Stephania. Do you plan to incorporate their suggestions as well? How?
Yes, definitely. I read both their manifestos. In fact, I asked the other two candidates if they’d like to be a part of the Union. Apparently, one of them refused. The other candidate did say that people from his camp are interested, but refused so at a later date. I was ready to work with them, but they didn’t show any interest. I did my part by asking them. But it’s great to see that Second Years from different camps have applied to be a part of our Union. This is something that didn’t happen last year.
6. Last year the elected Student Council had two meetings throughout the year, indicating the minimal role that they play in the college. Why do you think this is so?
The Constitution says that the Union should have regular meetings, but it does not specify how many. It gets difficult for Staff Advisers and all the Executive Council members to come together due to differences in their schedules. So, we usually meet once in the odd semester, and maybe twice in the even semester, before and after Harmony to present the budget. This is not good practice, of course. This year we plan to consult the Executive Council before taking all major decisions- opening the SUS link, holding major events, etc. It might take some more time, but this is the approach we want to adopt. In the past, there has been a lack of communication between the Executive Council and the Student Union. Better coordination will help both of us. As our teams are diversified, we have a right to inform and be informed. It’s also important that the first years get to know how things are done because they’ll have to handle such tasks in the future.
7. Your manifesto promised creation of many committees- for the Mess, Cafe, Academic Cell, etc. How will the members of such committees be chosen?
Committees usually constitute of students from the Second and Third Year. So we have been circulating google forms for interested students to volunteer. Many people have done so, and the committees will be formed as per their preference. We do not have a recruitment criteria as such. Whoever is willing to work and has volunteered, will be given the opportunity to work for the college. That’s the plan. After that is done, we will gather suggestions and ideas from all students, again via Google forms, and the same will be put forward to the administration by the concerned committees. As discussion follows, we put forward our points, the administration states its concerns and we try to reach a conclusion as to what is feasible. Take for example, the café menu. Students suggest that they want all kinds of juices, shakes, noodles, but this is not feasible. Moreover, the college does not want privatization of the café, which is understandable. So we can ask for a greater but limited variety of options, something which is do-able. We’ll be circulating the forms soon so that each student has the opportunity to send in their preferences.
8. You proposed an elected representative for the Ladies Common Room. What will the election process for that look like? And what will the representative’s powers be?
We had elections for the Junior Common Room Representative. For the LCR Representative, it will happen along the same lines. Voters will be lady day-scholars, and the nominations will be accepted only from Third Year lady day-scholars. The representative will ensure that she is in touch with the person sitting in the LCR and the Estate Office, so that they can work together to resolve any issues that arise. Someone from the Union could have also done the job but if we have one person who is specifically enthusiastic about the position and wants to take it up, it makes more sense. We want to get more things in the LCR. Right now, I won’t spell out all that we plan to do. If things go well, we will be able to provide a sanitary napkin dispenser as promised.
9. One of the winning points of your Manifesto was the E-library. What is going to be your plan of action to initiate this?
A system to facilitate this already exists but the student community is unaware. We will give each CR a form which needs to be filled by all students. The form will include some basic details. The librarian will mail everyone their account IDs and passwords. With that account you’ll be able to access e-libraries of universities like Cambridge, Stanford, etc. which are free of cost, and you can download PDF versions. You can access the Delhi University library and check catalogue numbers for our college library as well.
10. Are you comfortable sharing your stance on the Autonomy issue?
Yes, I am quite comfortable talking about the issue. The students did not say whether seeking the autonomy status was right or wrong, or whether they were against it. All they wanted was a democratic process of debate and deliberation. As a student of Political Science myself, I too feel that discussions should’ve taken place. I have read a couple of
articles about the same and tried to understand the extent to which it will affect everyone. If Autonomy comes in a way that it does not affect the finances of the college, the karamcharis, etc then it’s a good thing. Moreover, if the government is imposing it, there is little we can do. I had this discussion with the Bursar, who said that there is a new notification which specifies that the existing staff, the recruiting staff, the present batch of students and the next new batch coming in won’t be affected until and unless the college decides to introduce a new course. So, if the college were to introduce a new department, say Political Science, then they have complete discretion to decide the fees for that particular course only. But as of now, our college doesn’t plan to do anything along those lines. The new notification also says that the University Grants Commission will continue to fund the college for all existing courses, as it has till date.
11. Currently our college’s Union is formed by electing the President and the rest of the team is formed at the President’s discretion. What is your view on a single individual holding such power?
When we say that the Union doesn’t have power, we can’t say that the President has all the power. Even the constitution supports this statement. There is one elected member, the President, who can select his own cabinet. It’s a huge responsibility for me, and will be throughout the year. But at the end of the day, it’s ‘Students’ Union Society’. So we have to follow the guidelines as other societies do. Each society has a President, a Vice President and Vertical Heads, all selected on basis of merit. The same goes with the Union. It has different committees. All third years and second years work at the same level.
12. On the day of Open Court, someone raised an allegation regarding promotion of regionalism in college by your camp. What do you have to say to that?
The debate about regionalism is going on since last year. I really don’t know why they think that I promoted regionalism. One of my best friends was stopped by a person from another camp while he was walking, and asked who he would vote for. When he replied with my name, they asked him why he was voting for a South Indian, being from North India. During Open Court, they started accusing me of regionalism and showed some messages. Those messages were related to “mallu ragging” and had no connection to my campaign at all. I could actually show that I have a more diversified team than the other two camps but I did not want to use the regionalism card on the day of Open Court.
13. You have worked under two different presidents. Do you feel the need to differentiate yourself from them?
Elections in my First Year were quite funny because there was only one candidate standing for elections. Later she resigned, and a person from the Executive Council took charge. I mostly worked with my Second Years then which was a really good experience. Coming to last year’s President, he took up some initiatives but those did not sustain. I really have a great team that has my back. That is always been my strength. When results were announced, I was shocked to see such a huge majority. I feel more responsible after seeing such support for me. We might not end up doing great things but we hope to end up doing small things, which the next batch can take up. We never take any one as our ideal president or ideal team. This year we want to be that ideal team which can really work for the welfare of students and the college. These small things which we start now will definitely sustain when they are taken up by batches to come.
14. Are you a feminist? What do you have to say about the debates that sparked off over feminism after Open Court?
I am a feminist. I don’t know much about the formal feminist theory but I believe in equality. There were many things that happened this year after open court. People from other camps started making memes about a lot of things which was meaningless.
15. You mention the Sexual Harassment Committee in the same breath as LCR, making it a gender specific requirement in some ways. What will the constitution and the mechanism look like? How soon we can expect it to be functional?
On the day of open court, I had to cover many things under 5 minutes. I mentioned the Sexual Harassment Committee after LCR but I realize that these two are separate bodies. I had a meeting with Joan recently, who is involved in the Pinjra Tod movement. She would help me in further developments about the Committee since she particularly knows when to have elections as mandated by the University. She said it would be prudent to have an election at the end of the month so as to coincide with Pinjra Tod movement. They will send a mail to each college representative to make sure that elections happened. There will be one elected representative from the students and two staff members. The Principal will not be on the Committee. So you can bring up an issue against anyone, even the Principal. The present faculty member of the Committee is not active. This year we will have elections so that the Committee is more pro-active and the elected representatives have a sense of responsibility. Apart from this, we are planning to have a student counselling cell. We hope this will give mental support to the students.
16. Do you have plans to reintroduce the Principal’s Tree?
I am really not up for it considering how it backfired last year, but it depends. There were many issues that were raised on that day last year. The curfew issue was raised and the Principal asked us to make plans for an open campus. We made the plans but all our work was in vain.
17.What is your take on open campus and curfew situations in campus now?
10 PM is very restrictive. We can make it an open campus and restrict the entry of outsiders to ensure safety. We can also propose to extend the curfew. I know for the boys, curfew is not strict. We can take up this issue, make a plan and put it before Principal. It’s up to him to accept it or not but the plan should be clear and convincing. I don’t know if everyone is fine with open campus or extending the curfew timings. I don’t think we are not safe after 10. If you are safe till 10, you will be safe after 10 also. I also know there are many other issues faced by residence students like application for night outs. Also different blocks have different rules so these are things that need to be changed.
18. So the elections were held on 30th August. Not a significant amount of time for you to start working on your promises, but how has it been so far?
In order to declare my Cabinet and second-year Council, the Executive Council results have to be out because some people from my camp also contested for Executive Council positions. Apart from that, some dengue cases were reported, so I have spoken to the college administration regarding fumigation of the campus. We sent a notice to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi for the same. Hopefully they’ll be coming in next week. In another week we should be able to start the Mess and Cafe menu. We have had discussions with the Dean as well, and the Estate Office regarding the concern of cleanliness in washrooms. We have also planned a Common Freshers.