By Rahul Maganti:
Over the course of evolution of student activism in India, we have seen students engagingÂ in different struggles and movements through protests, dharnas, marches and many more creative forms of dissent. Student activism is often heralded as the consciousness of any society. This is generally prevalent across Universities where Social Sciences are opted for, and students from elite institutions in engineering stream have always shown indifference towards activism. At this juncture, the students of ISM Dhanbad have been at the forefront of a mass struggle, which will surely be a starting point for other technical institutions to follow.
Very rarely do we find these kind of novel protests which the students of ISM Dhanbad have been doing as part of their campaign to demand up-gradation of ISM Dhanbad to IIT Dhanbad. Over 2000 students from the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, went around 12 slums of Dhanbad City and distributed 1500 Education Kits to children living there. They spent around 10 minutes with every child and their families, motivating them to send their children to School. The Education Kit comprised of a basic book, a notebook, 2 pencil, 1 eraser and 1 sharpener. Innovatively, they named the programme as ‘Knowledge Packet Challenge’ concurring with the recent online trend of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and Book Bucket Challenge.
They are not really stopping with this. They have a series of similar protests taking shape in the next week, hoping to build public consensus and thereby, support for the cause, which is a long standing one, but failed to cross different political obstacles due to lack of dedication from the same people who promised it. These determined students have another programme planned on the 12th of this month where they are organizing a Cleanliness Drive, where 2000 people will clean up different localities of Dhanbad. Then, on the 14th of this month, they are organizing a mass blood donation drive wherein they would give 800 units of blood, the blood that could be stored in allÂ of Dhanbad’s blood banks.
The need for the Conversion of ISM Dhanbad into an IIT:
Indian School of Mines, though predominantly a Mining School, had later taken up other streams of Engineering like Electrical and Mechanical over the course of its evolution. The entrance to the same has been IIT-JEE, which is also the entrance examination for all the IIT’s. Varun Pandey, a final year student who has been leading the movement since July 2013, says, “ISM is viewed as a Mining school, both by academicians and the industry, when, in reality, it is not. We have huge number of students from other streams as well. They don’t get represented generally and have a negative advantage attached to them as industry fails to take notice of this fact because of the bias the name ISM offers.” To be frank, this would have actually dented a lot of careers and dreams of students where the students who belonged to, say, electrical or mechanical, had suffered due to lack of exposure to their respective core industry. “The perception of the academicians that the programmes at ISM are oriented towards Mining, Earth sciences and related areas had in fact hampered the institution, attracting a limited number of well qualified faculty. The faculty of ISM has not been able to get major funding (mega projects), like in the IITs, in areas of Mechanical, Electrical, Electronics, Computer Science & Engineering disciplines,” feels Shashank Shekhar, a final year student and another lead organizer of the movement.
Journey from 2009 to 2014 via Jantar Mantar:
The political journey of hurdles and obstacles started in 2009 when Rahul Gandhi visited the campus and promised the up-gradation of ISM into an IIT after an interactive session with the students. However, as all political promises, this took a backseat. The issue again got raked up in 2011, this time thanks to Arjun Munda, the then Chief Minister of the state of Jharkhand, who decided to request the Govt. of India for the conversion after the Jharkhand Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to that extent. And, this again got relegated amidst the myriad of proposals and promises our politicians make. Finally, in January 2013, the issue came under consideration of the HRD Ministry when it appointed a five member committee to look into the proposal of up-gradation. The committee members are professors and former directors of IIT’s. This committee, formed 20 months ago, is yet to submit a report on the same to the IIT Council, which is the governing body of all the IIT’s. The IIT Council too, hasn’t been frequent in it’s meetings as it last met in September 2013, which has set a tradition previously of meeting every six months.
As part of stepping up the pressure on the Govt., the students escalated the protest, this time right infront of the power corridors in Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, in September 2013. They stayed there for three days and three nights.Â Very soon, the model code of conduct kicked in and the same issue was again used by political parties for political benefits. Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh promised the up-gradation, which hasn’t been taken up till now. “It’s very sad that the issue hasn’t been given importance by the Govt. even after 100 days in governance, considering that they themselves promised the up-gradation. We collected signatures of all the MP’s from Jharkhand and the Governor of Jharkhand and submitted a memorandum to the HRD Ministry. Unfortunately, none of them have taken any material shape,” says Varun, who has coined the sloganÂ ‘It’s now or never’ to induce fervour into the struggle.Â “Fortunately, the authorities are not hostile as you would think they are, and have been supporting us in one form or the other”, says Shashank Shekhar, who hopes to see the movement bear fruits very soon when the IIT Council meets at the end of this month.