Time to change
May 6, 2014-
Shubekshya Dongol is a 21 year old BA second year student at Ratna Rajya Campus in central Kathmandu. Most mornings, she has to leave her classes midway just to use the toilet at her home in Tokha, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Her classmates suffer from a similar ordeal. While the male students go to the Kathmandu Model Hospital or hotels nearby to answer nature’s call, female students skip classes altogether during their monthly periods.
Around 5,000 students attend Ratna Rajya Campus, which is located in the heart of Kathmandu at Pradarshani Marg. Yet, the institution only has 10 toilets for all its pupils and 190 teachers. Of them, only two have running water and are exclusively used by teachers. The floors of the rest are littered with pieces of paper and a powerful stench of ammonia emanates. Things are, however, different during student union elections. The toilets are clean; there is running water as if the problem never existed in the first place. The rest of the year, this basic need of the students is conveniently forgotten.
In theory, students unions exist to ensure the well-being of students in colleges and universities. They are supposed to negotiate with authorities and work in the interest of the students. In Nepal, however, student unions seldom seem to be concerned about student welfare or educational reform. To their credit, student unions have always remained at the forefront of rebellions against undemocratic regimes ever since the Rana regime and have helped raise political consciousness. Many current leaders climbed up the political ladder through active participation in student unions. But that does not amount to student welfare. Of late, unions burn desks and benches and padlock colleges and universities when examination results are not as expected. Last year, student unions took the Ratna Rajya campus chief hostage for a night demanding the enrolment of students past the date for admissions. Such activities are aimed at asserting the dominance of the political parties that the unions are affiliated to, rather than making things better for students.
Reforms at student unions have been long overdue. To begin with, unions should reorient themselves to work for students first and then political parties. Ensuring basic minimum facilities in educational institutions should be accorded top priority, such as the dysfunctional toilets. The student unions need to understand that if they want a prominent role in politics, they need to show their work first by pushing for institutional and educational reforms. As difficult and uninteresting as this might be, compared to mass mobilisations and organising protests, it is their duty to do so.
Published: 07-05-2014 08:25