Of the times of Losing Faith and the need of Breaking the Silence
A candid conversation with the SUS President (2019-20), Raman Mohora
The interview was conducted on September 3, 2019, by Siddharth Abraham (II Economics), Nidhi Priya (II Economics), Priyankush Adhikary (I History), Parth Seth (I History), Bhavna Dahiya (I BA Programme) and Ashwin Kandath (I Maths).
As freshers we have no clue about your vision for the college, so could you elaborate more on what you plan on doing? Tell us about your cabinet members and why you chose them in particular.
Every year when freshers come and even when I joined this college as a fresher we didn’t really know there existed a students‘ union society and that there is a representative body of the students. There was this lack of communication and lack of information, so I want to congratulate you on taking this initiative to create this sort of awareness among the first years and the greater college community that there exists a Students’ Union Society. Every year the different candidates come up with a manifesto before elections but this time as you know there were no elections so we didn’t have to release a manifesto as such but instead we released a Plan of Action a few days ago that encapsulates all the changes we want to bring in college and the work we want to do. The SUS has always been seen as an event organizing society; we were reduced to that status. It was all about Harmony, Common Freshers’ and the issue of student grievances always got compromised at the cost of event organization.
This time our focus is to address the students’ grievances with regard to washrooms, gender related reforms, residence, etc.
As far as my cabinet is concerned, it’s pretty diverse and it’s a really strong team which represents different voices of students throughout the college community. If you look geographically, it represents people from different regions in the country. Our college is basically a mini India, so in order to represent that diversity I have chosen each and every cabinet member and it wasn’t an arbitrary decision but a collective decision as far as my core team was concerned.
As you know elections didn’t hold this year, some people say that the motive of the entire campaign was lost, so how do you instill that trust that you stand for our wishes and rights?
That’s a very good question. The first reason we didn’t have that much nominations is that the students have lost faith in the democratic institution that there is. So our biggest challenge as a Union is to reinstill that belief in the students that there exists an SUS which is vested with powers to deal with issues. Our first step towards instilling this belief would be to involve them and this year our approach is to install Action Committees at the lower levels which will constitute students from the student council, the cabinet and the normal students who are willing to bring the change. In this way, we will not only succeed in getting back their faith but we will also truly live up to the fact that the Student’s Union represents the entire college community.
Do you feel it would have been better to have the entire election (open court, class campaigns,etc.), rather than having simply been elected because you were the only one?
I always invited competition and I even went out of my way to encourage other people to stand for elections. I approached two other possible candidates, one of them stepped up to contest but her nomination was not accepted and the other had her personal reasons due to which she couldn’t stand. So I went out of my way to reach out and invite not only an opposition but also an opinion.
Mental health issues like unbridled stress, anxiety, depression etc. have become a part of nearly every student’s life. How do you plan to address these issues in college as an office-holder of the SUS?
Mental health is an issue that has been plaguing us, our college and other spaces as well like schools, universities, etc. It has not been adequately addressed by anyone. So, last year under our union, a step was taken in this direction. A lot of concerned people from the Mental Health Initiative organised an event called the Mental Health Week and they did a really commendable job. They are not a society but a group of concerned people who are working for mental health. So what I intend to do is to collaborate with them in organising workshops, seminars, therapy sessions and also to make the people aware that help is available.
What and how would you bring a wave of change in the college which you think hasn’t been brought by the other presidents elected so far?
Through consultation. A lot of times why past presidents haven’t been successful in bringing change is that we just point out the problem. We go to the admin and say, this is the problem. But we do not provide solutions to the problems. So, our approach this year would be to try to make this system of consultative democracy wherein we consult the students for every small issue. We invite more discussions; we’ll have more General Body Meetings, more charchas in which we really take up the students’ issues, and also work on providing solutions because at the end of the day, we want to be a part of the solution process also.
How do you plan to bring together different stakeholders of the college to initiate collective change?
Who constitutes the college? The faculty, the students, the non-teaching staff, and the karamcharis. The biggest strength of our college is that student-teacher relationship is great. We want to capitalize on that. As far as karmacharis are concerned, we want to involve them by making an action committee to address their concerns. In a nutshell, we want to involve all stakeholders in this process by consultations, discussions, and deliberations.
In your action plan, you talked of the dormancy of the Students’ Council. What reasons do you attribute to this dormancy?
More than the dormancy of the union, I would like to talk about the dormancy of the Students’ Council. The Students’ Council is actually the elected body. They don’t involve themselves in the process. And the Union did not take an initiative to involve them so it becomes dormant. This time we will be making them Heads to various action committees so they’ll be forced to work.
How would you reinvent the upcoming important events which you and your Cabinet would plan?
I don’t think that there is any reinvention required because we are a fantastic event organizing society as we do it every year and we are known for it. But my focus is more on students’ grievances this time.
What would be your three biggest priorities for the betterment of the college and its students?
First, definitely washrooms. Second, is to create a system of accountability for those in power, also from us. And third would be to make a system of consultative democracy in college. Our College is very unique, it’s not like any other college. The politics here is not like DUSU politics because in those colleges students are representative of parties (political). But here since we have no parties, we can discuss issues, try a new brand of student politics.
How do you plan to increase formal interactions and contacts between the students of St. Stephen’s College and other colleges of DU?
We have one plan up sleeve. Introducing a Literary Festival, somewhere around January. For two days or so, we will be collaborating with English LitSoc, or similar society, to have an open event where we will be inviting people from other colleges. We will invite authors, publishers and have lots of discussions on a wide range of topics related to politics, social issues, science and technology.
What are your concerns on the current state of politics in the country?
I am very concerned. It is a very dangerous state, to be frank. There is a lot of silence and this silence is worrying. There is a lot of increasing hate, bigotry, intolerance; and we need to stand up against this. I think it is the duty of the Stephanians to become more well-informed citizens and bring about this change in the country. We need to speak up.
What do you think is the reason for the lack of participation and fervour in this year’s Students’ Union elections?
As I said, people have lost faith in the democratic institution of the College. This culture has died down to be honest due to lack of communication between the Union and the Students. This year, we plan on having monthly GBMs (General Body Meetings) where we talk to the student body as this is very necessary.
What encouraged you to contest for SUS?
It was only in my second year that I got to know that there is an SUS which works. So I contested for Students’ Council and got elected. There wasn’t much to do. I worked closely with Jeffin, the previous SUS President and he really got us involved. I saw that there is immense possibility that the union can bring some change which had not been realized till now. And SUS is the only society that works for the entire college community, then I got motivated to stand for it.
A lot of the first year students feel left out and alone in the sense that they are not able to interact with others and are not able to find their voice. What do you intend to do to help such students?
Firstly, through the Mental Health Initiative we want to let them know that there is help available. Secondly, we have the common fresher’s coming up so they can participate and get to know each other. Thirdly, if they are in residence, what we are planning to do this year is to revive residence life. People don’t really engage or participate. What we are introducing this year is that we will have some fun like tea, movie screenings, discussions after dinner, etc. to encourage more participation in residence life. Through this hopefully we will try to bring people together.
What we observe is resident members now are restricted to themselves only. Do you think this is because of the less number of first years in residence?
It is only the trend this year. From what I can remember is that in my first year, my seniors always told me that after dinner there used to be lively discussions on various topics in the mess lawns, Rudra lawns and people would be singing around. The only time when the residence comes alive is during the Resmataz (fest where residence blocks compete against each other).
What are the final words which do you want the people in the college should know about your agenda with respect to the upcoming year?
I want to create a new brand of politics, a healthy brand of politics in college which is more democratic and more collective.
Also, given the state of the affairs of our country right now, we as a Union should be able to make students aware of what is happening outside the country. We should make the most of our college life here. We should use this space for discussion and deliberation.
We have released the Plan of Action. This is one step towards creating a system of accountability. I want The Stephanian Forum, to conduct frequent interviews with us so that the college can get to know about the status of work being done so that the students can hold us accountable. We invite feedback and believe in constructive criticism.