‘Key Issues’ of the 2021 SG Elections
By Arya Shukla and Nishtha Khunteta
This year, all the parties and independents announced the key issues that they wish to raise during their campaign. The Edict looked at what their manifestos had to offer on their self-declared priorities.
Prakrit The party was the first one to send a mass email after the campaigning period began on 11th January, and this debutant message to the student body was about their five key issue:
1. Workers’ Welfare Their primary focus is on ensuring workers’ representation in the Workers’ Welfare Committee and in policy decisions that affect them. They want to push for increased transparency of the contractual system if only to do away with it in the “long-term”. They also intend to create a formal process for student representation on the Workers’ Welfare Committee, to allow students who are not in the House to also be a part of the committee. Finally, they plan on working for standard protocols, when it comes to salary increments and promotions. The manifesto is notably silent on consultations with the workers on their representation, except for when it comes to creating a proposal on direct hiring.
2. Engagement with National Politics Through the House Committee for National Engagement, the party aims to collectivise and mobilise the Ashokan student body to engage with national politics. They want to extend support beyond statements of solidarity and increase the role played by the students in democratic movements in the country. Specifically, they plan on starting a journal on national politics, which publishes work by students, faculty and experts on the various subjects of national interest. Further, they propose creating an independent fund dedicated to issues of national and local interest.
There is also a point in the manifesto about increasing engagement with Asawarpur, by collaborating with various student organisations already working in the community. This includes initiating conversations with the Panchayat of Asawarpur about local issues. As mentioned by the Environment Minister, Anjali Dalmia, in her email to the student body, there is no mention of consultation with local communities regarding such interventions.
3. Grievance Redressal They claim that some of the admin and faculty has breached students’ privacy and abused their power to exploit students. They propose a grievance redressal mechanism since the previously existing committee for it had been arbitrarily disbanded. They aim to do so either by expanding the mandates of already existing committees like CASH, CADI, ARC or by lobbying for the reinstatement of the GRC. Moreover, they want to push for the mandate of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee to be made public, and for including students on this committee.
4. Grade Appeal Policy The party emphasises the importance of a campus-wide Grade Appeal policy, claiming that students can face discrimination in classes, due to their identity and lack of transparency in relative grading. Thus, they propose the functioning of three independent committees: Anti-Plagiarism Committee (pre-existing), Grade Appeal Committee, and Grievance Redressal Committee to look into occurrences of discrimination and harassment by Professors and Teaching Fellows. The proposed Grade Appeal Committee will “look into cases of grade disparity that are objectively apparent (for example, allocation of different grades to students who have the exact marks break up)”.
5. STEM To ensure that the STEM subjects “become imbibed in the academic culture at Ashoka,” the party aims to create formal and informal spaces to facilitate dialogue and address concerns raised by the STEM students. They also want to look at ways of increasing representation of STEM in the Ministry of Academic Affairs, Career Development Office, and the Internship Cell. Further, they plan on increasing access to STEM textbooks in both physical and electronic forms to ensure students don’t have difficulties accessing course materials. They wish to improve the database for STEM Internships, in terms of both number and quality.
Tarz The next email on 14th January with election talking points was from the newest party, Tarz, which called it four key solutions, to underscore their “solution-oriented approach”:
1. Improving Student-Administration Relations The party is determined to raise feasible demands and propose achievable solutions. The issues they want to address with this method are:
Workers’ Welfare: The administration must negotiate the vendor contracts such that work conditions for workers adhere to the ethical labour standards. Apart from direct hiring, they propose making information about workers’ rights more accessible to them. They wish to push for publishing the guiding principles of the WWC, and for the representation of workers’ in the WWC. They want to expand the Employee Welfare Committee’s mandate to include a student-run toll-free number for the workers’ to share and have their grievances addressed.
Academic Accommodations: They want a more comprehensive system of midterm and other feedback and will negotiate for these mechanisms to be inclusive of STEM courses. They advocate mandating a STEM rep in the institutions concerned with academic affairs and encourage greater cross-listing of STEM courses with social sciences and humanities. They want to make changes in the 9 FC structure for the UG23 batch and reinstate the bucket system.
Trans Housing: They will collaborate with campus organizations and committees working on this issue and reinitiate negotiations with the administration to uphold the right of students to reside in their preferred hostels. (Note: this issue was later removed from their final manifesto.)
2. Collaboration and Re-channeling Resources They aim to work collaboratively with relevant stakeholders and organisations with expertise to provide sustainable solutions:
External Politics and Empowerment: The party intends to participate in movements representative of secularism, civil liberties and democracy. They propose creating an executive department that informs the HOR about issues of local and national politics and engages with Asawarpur to spread greater information about pre-existing beneficial and empowering policies by collaborating with pre-existing clubs on campus that do the same.
Mental Health: They intend to work on sustainable solutions within the reach of the ACWB. They aim to allow for better mental health accommodations in academic spaces. They want to work with the ACWB to hire more psychiatrists on a part-time basis and to ensure that the third-party mental health institutions and services are trustworthy and LGBTQ+ friendly and follow the established rules of privacy. They also want to ensure that during safety drills, differently-abled students have access to safety protocols that account for the emergency with visual, auditory and sensory aids.
3. Promoting and Expanding Existing Policies The party recognises an information vacuum with regard to policies at Ashoka. They want to expand the scope of policies and work towards making them more transparent:
CASH/CADI/ARC/SHB/AIVC policies: Tarz aims to address the student grievances with these campus bodies by negotiating for necessary reforms.
Infirmary and Insurance: The party aims to address the complaints about inconsistency and inadequacy of the infirmary’s services by conducting an in-depth inquiry to understand and solve the root causes of the issue. They also aim to include mental health and self-harm issues faced by the student body in the insurance policy provided by Ashoka. They will push the OLS to include neurotypical and neurodivergent conditions while providing appropriate academic accommodations.
4. Party’s Values
Transparency: The party will promote and enforce transparency to ensure that the admin is held accountable for promises and statements made by them. They claim that the SG will play a key role in accessibly providing details to the student body.
Structure and Ideology: The party structure consists of three tiers to create a chain of ascension that depends on their willingness to rise up along with the endorsement of their colleagues. This aims to create a culture of inter-party accountability and initiative.
Dhamma Last among the party to put forward it signature poll platform for the year was the oldest party, Dhamma. They laid these seven key issues:
1. Academics The party aims for a reduction of Foundation Courses from 9 to 7. In case the FC reduction proposal is not accepted, they also aim to come up with multiple alternative solutions, including the proposed auditing of 2 FCs. The party prioritises mental, physical and emotional health concerns with regards to the academics and course load, aiminf for a universal policy that allows for the use of medico-legal documents to avail deadline extensions, extra assistance etc.
They aim to lobby for an increase in the number of faculty members that offer courses of a certain major/minor/concentration, a prime example of which they claim is STEM, in proportion to the increasing demand for the stream. They also mention that they will work towards ensuring that introductory courses are offered throughout the academic year or during a summer semester to compensate for tight course caps and that that students can explore different disciplines
2. Mental Health The party intends to urge the ACWB to extend the basic training to faculty as well as the student body in order to deal with mental health emergencies, and wants to make more counsellors available within the ACWB by partially shifting to online modes of communication even after the student body is back on campus. They promise to work towards mandating the prescription from personal or ACWB’s psychiatrists and counsellors to be given the same consideration as medico-legal documents in making academic accommodations.
3. Workers’ Welfare The party wants to ensure job and financial security by including contingency clauses in agreements with third party contractors to account for emergencies that would otherwise leave the workers stranded without any form of remuneration. These clauses would range from compensation in events where workers are furloughed. They also want workers to have access to infrastructure like ACWB and statutory bodies like CADI. They will work towards
workers’ representation in the Workers’ Welfare Committee.
4. Information and Transparency They party promises to update the student body through email as well as social media regarding the issues that the SG undertakes. These will cover every step of the process right from ideation to implementation. They intend to implement a Centralised Marketing System to make all SG-related info more accessible and transparent via the digital handles of the parliamentary affairs ministry. They promise to publish all SG-related information “lucidly” through infographics via all social media channels.
5. Inclusivity and representation They wish to carry forward and finalise the implementation of the trans friendly housing policy. (Note: this promise was later removed from their manifesto.) They will ensure that the statements of solidarity released by the SG are not presented as representative of the entire student body, but rather emphasising on the signatory aspect of the statement. They also want bi-annual seminars to be conducted for the entire student body to promote sensitisation towards key topics including but not limited to gender and sexuality, health issues (mental, physical and emotional) and sexual harassment on and outside campus.
6. National Engagement The party will organise monthly baithaks on behalf of the SG to have open and productive debates about the events of national importance. While this point now reflects under Parliamentary Affairs in their manifesto, Dhamma intends to organise debates on national and international issues with the caveat that dialogue should not become hegemonic and must give space for all voices to be heard equally.
7. Student-Admin Relations They will focus on mending the strained student-admin relations and make a shift towards efficient and effective negotiation. However they claim to be mindful of the fact that certain causes require immediate action and hence recognise student mobilisation as an effective instrument in negotiation which will be used to protect the interests of the student body.
Kshitija Chavan (Independent)
1. Inclusivity The candidate’s primary focus is on increasing inclusivity of students from marginalized backgrounds in university spaces. They want to introduce a point-based reservation system for admissions to the university. They also want to focus on increasing sensitisation workshops held during the O-Week, to inform students about various socio-economic and political factors that affect how people live. They also want to push for similar mandatory workshops for the faculty and staff, that discuss how these factors shape power dynamics. With regards to the ABP, they want to push for “more transparency in selection criteria and aim” and to include seniors and alumni in the role of mentors for the programme. They also want to push for the creation of a committee, with representatives from undergraduate, graduate and faculty members, to penalise harassment against marginalised communities on campus.
2. Academic Policies They wish to work on improving the grading policy, and ensuring it is considerate of the mental health of students, while not violating their privacy by instating a provision that allows for retrospective verification in the cases of missed exams, assignments and absences. They also want to push for creating formal contracts for TAs, across departments, with clear payment and credit structure. They also plan on pushing for clear and explicit DS policies for TAs that differentiate their roles from TFs.
3. Workers’ Welfare The candidate supports direct hiring of staff and the elimination of third party contractors in the hiring process with a contract that is formulated by university administrators in coordination with the workers’ representatives. The documentation of the workers’ representatives’ meetings should be made accessible to the workers’ by documenting them in vernacular languages. Workers’ should be allowed to anonymously report harassment and have the ability to track these complaints in an online system. They also want there to be a number of workers’ representatives in the Workers’ Welfare Community that is “equivalent” to the number of admin members on the committee.
4. Sexual Harassment They plan on pushing for rewriting the confidentiality clause in the CASH policy, to ensure it cannot be used to punish or target survivors, when they discuss their experiences before or after CASH proceedings begin. They want to work to include trained student representatives in CASH Support to ensure diversity and inclusion. They also want to ensure revision of CASH policies to ensure that survivors are clearly informed before the defendant is allowed to make an appeal; decisions are run by complainants before being finalised; and the clause that gives the complainant the right to weigh in on the decision of the appeal is better enforced.
1. Community Well-Being By creating a portal that integrates Infirmary and ACWB and creating a larger network of first responders, the candidate wants to focus on increasing access to ACWB. He wants yearly surveys of the ACWB’s services to be conducted, to gauge effectiveness of the services provided. Further, keeping in mind students’ mental health, he wants to push for a blanket policy regarding flexible attendance with the Board of Management. Finally, the candidate aims at expanding the scope of OLS to provide support for neurotypical illnesses.
2. Academic Bridge Program Building on his earlier work, the candidate aims to revamp the Academic Bridge Programme. By expanding the scope of the program to include non-academic activities, the candidate wants to ensure “cultural and social integration of these students with other students in the batch and student body.” He intends to increase transparency of the criteria for selection for the program, and collect information regarding its effectiveness. Further, he wants to push for assigning two “buddies” or mentors to each student, one of whom should be a non-ABP student & the other an ex-ABP student mentor. The candidate also wants to push for a well-structured curriculum for the ABP before its start, and including ex-ABP students and student government representatives in its preparation.
3. Financial Aid Continuing his work on Financial Aid from the Sixth House, the candidate wants to push for allowing revisions to financial aid under exceptional circumstances, to be considered throughout the year. He also wants to push for including socio-economic factors in the consideration for financial aid.
4. Demographic Survey With the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, the candidate wants to push for a door-to-door Demographic Survey to understand the diversity at Ashoka. He also wants to push for student representation on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Contingent on the results of this demographic survey, the candidate wishes to push for an Affirmative Action Policy in admission. He also wants to work on increasing sensitisation workshops under expert supervision for students in their first semester.
5. Students in BOM To ensure students have more authority in the decision-making process, the candidate also wants to push for Student Representation in the Board of Management, “as and when decisions related to the student body are taken.
6. Accountability and Outreach The candidate wants to increase accountability of the SG, by ensuring that the representatives hold weekly ‘Meet the Representatives’ meetings. He also wants to increase the publicity of the work done by the Ministries and non-partisan members of the SG, separate from the House. To “decrease information asymmetry between the Student Government and the student body”, he also wants to ensure that short summaries of all the meetings of the SG are sent out, through various channels, including social media and other informal modes. The candidate hopes to create help desks with representatives from the Student Government, for aspiring students. He also wants to push for SG directory with PoCs to be included in the main Ashoka Admission Website. Further, he aims to increase channels of communications between current students and incoming students, to make the process of transition easier.
7. Workers’ Welfare He aims to push for direct hiring, and for formal representation of workers in House Committees and the Workers’ Department of the Ministry of Community Well-Being, to directly take their suggestions and make them an active part of negotiations. Again, it is worth noting that there is no mention of consultation with the workers regarding their representation on these committees.