They may not have won the elections, but the two-year-old Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) has announced its arrival as a contender within the campus politics of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). With its presidential candidate, Rahul Sonpimple, giving an impressive performance in the students’ union elections, the group believes its here to stay and change the discourse.
BAPSA was formed in November 2014 on Birsa Munda Jayanti by some members of the United Dalit Students’ Forum (UDSF) — a socio-cultural group of Dalit students — who felt there was a need for Ambedkarite politics in the campus. “We come from a Dalit forum but our politics is Ambedkarite – which means that we believe that the society is stratified on the basis of caste, gender and religion. The oppressed sections from each of these sections, along with people from the North East and Kashmir need to come together to emancipate themselves,” says Sonpimple.
Members of the organisation say it was after deliberations of over a year that the organisation was formed to break the “hegemony of both the Left and Right”. “We felt we needed to bring the Ambedkarite discourse forward and represent our issues ourselves. It’s like Marx said – the working class has to emancipate itself. Similarly, the oppressed also have to fight their own battle,” says Sonpimple.
He says BAPSA members are “not against Marx or upper-castes” but if either wanted to be part of the group, “they’d have to stand at the end of queue and let the oppressed lead from the front”. While accepting that they didn’t explicitly state workers and peasants as being part of the oppressed, Sunaina from BAPSA said, “For us the definition of the oppressed includes socially, culturally and economically oppressed sections.”
The organisation, which started with roughly 30 members, now has a larger activist circle and 30 core committee members. “For us, elections are another way of creating a socio-political consciousness of our politics, and a strategy to mobilise oppressed communities. We, therefore, fielded two candidates last year who secured about 300 votes each,” says Jitendra, a member of the organisation.
In the last one year, the group says it has worked constantly to expand its base — whether it’s organising protests, holding lecture series on ‘a nation without social justice’ or making interventions on important university matters regarding reservations and deprivation points. “The first thing on our list now would to be start an official membership system since many people have expressed their desire to join BAPSA,” says Jitendra.