The Instagram account of UTSC’s Indian Students Association (ISA) posted a celebratory message for India’s Republic Day on January 26. This was not well received by some of its followers, who saw this as an act of ignorance toward the ongoing farmers’ protests in India. The association should have provided awareness and information on the ongoing protests before making this post to avoid alienating those it is meant to represent. 

The protests are a result of a set of new agriculture laws passed by the Indian Parliament, which could potentially do more harm than good to the farmers’ incomes, and could prove detrimental for about 60 per cent of the country, which is involved in the agriculture sector. Farmers make up a majority of the Indian population, and many people were disappointed over the fact that the ISA did not play a part in raising awareness. 

Following the outcry, the ISA turned comments off on the Instagram post, citing “bullying and harassment,” and later issued another statement. The second statement recognized the protests and expressed the importance of the matter. 

Ethnic and cultural clubs play a vital role in creating awareness amongst their members about certain issues. With a large and active follower count, should these clubs be more involved in social commentary and advocacy?

Last year The Varsity published an opinion piece criticizing Indian student societies for not playing an active role against the anti-Muslim violence in India. This came after a similar situation like the ISA finds itself in right now, where the organization at UTSG did not post about a pertinent issue while continuing to promote the club’s events. The opposition received by the associations in both scenarios was completely valid. 

It is not an expectation from the ISA to post in support of a side involved in the protests, but what is expected by its members is a statement that addresses the issue. There might be the presence of certain students on campus who hold opposing views about a specific issue, and thus an organization like the ISA should not pick a side in an ongoing conflict. However, merely posting about the protests and acknowledging the situation in India with a neutral standpoint from the ISA would have been well received.

Associations on campus need to tread carefully when dealing with issues of political and religious origin. Their members might be from different demographics and are not expected to hold a unilateral point of view while looking at matters of said origins. That being said, the world finds itself in turmoil right now, plagued with social, political, and religious matters. 

The clubs on campus owe it to their members and teams to spread information about these issues and discuss why they are of importance. Catering to a large demographic, they need to ensure that their comments are coming from an unbiased outlook. On the original Republic Day post, the ISA commented “Jai Hind” — though it appears to have since been removed from the post — which can be translated to “Victory to India.” This was interpreted by some people as displaying the association’s support for the current right-wing government ruling the country.   

To avoid instances like these and also ensure that they are doing good by the people that they are supposed to represent, clubs and associations should definitely move toward being more vocal about issues in their communities. However, this vocality should come from an impartial point of view without any hints toward partisanship or blatant opposition for a specific religion, ethnicity, or community. 

Through its events, the ISA has been making efforts to represent the Indian students at UTSC and cater to the cultural and social expectations of the community. Its public statement did its part in letting the audience know about the political situation of the nation, by highlighting that the issue is urgent and noting that India right now is a divided country. By not picking a side, it maintained neutrality, thus continuing to represent India and Indian students without being biased in its approach. 

However, it was too little too late. It is important for these organizations to not wait until the backlash to address political tensions. Being silent until the issue no longer remains urgent is not the right strategy as is evident by the community backlash.

Therefore, student organizations such as the ISA must recognize the sensitive and significant positions they occupy and must utilize this to shed light on critical political issues. As representative bodies, they must acknowledge the lows if they celebrate the highs. This is not the time to pretend to be asleep, for the protests may stop but the wake-up calls won’t.

Nidhil Vohra is a first-year social sciences student at St. Michael’s College. They are a social media director at the Indian Students’ Society at UTSG.