When he stood in queue,papers in hand,at the nominations window,everyone thought he was filling in for someone else. When he sat outside the students union office in Jawaharlal Nehru University,awaiting his turn to meet the press,everyone presumed he was one of the token foreign members in the Election Committee (EC).
Only when the EC chairperson apologised to him for not being able to pronounce his name,did people notice that Akhmetbekov Zhassulan was in the room as a presidential nominee for the upcoming JNU Students Union elections. Dressed in a shirt tucked into his trousers,24-year-old Zhassulan,who hails from Kazakhstan,stood out from the kurta-clad crowd. He is the youngest and also the first foreign student running for the post of JNUSU president.
He served a year in the Kazakh army before his older brother convinced him to pursue higher studies in India. My brother had heard of JNU and he wanted me to study here, Zhassulan,an MA Economics student at JNU,said.
Back home in Astana,Kazakhstans capital,Zhassulan lived with his brother and his mother who is a homemaker. He pursued his Bachelors in Economics at the Kazakh Economic University in Almaty.
I want to contest for the post of JNUSU president to highlight the problems of foreign students in this university, Zhassulan said.
He recalled a student from Belarus who came to JNU to study Sanskrit and could not get over the language barrier in classrooms. He ended up going back to Belarus as he did not understand a single word being taught, Zhassulan said.
He said foreign students had trouble getting hostel accommodation in time and promised to work for the welfare of the student community if elected president.
So how did Zhassulan overcome the language barrier? He points to Naveen,a fellow student at the Department of Economics in JNU. Naveen translates for Zhassulan,line by line. He will be taking centrestage with Zhassulan on September 11 when all presidential nominees are expected to address students during the presidential debate. Naveen,who has no political ambitions for himself,will become Zhassulans voice there.
Zhassulan is well aware that his counterparts do not count him as an opponent but he feels that foreign students on campus need a voice and hes ready to take his chances.
I have experienced first hand the problems that new students face. That is what prompted me to take up issues that matter to students, he said.