By Tania Kar:
My university is in the news. In the last couple of weeks, it has got more attention than ever and for all the wrong reasons. After my admission, EFLU became not only my university but also my home. Everything that happens on the campus both concerns and affects me directly, and no, I cannot just attend classes and concentrate on academics, simply because my Vice Chancellor (VC) thinks that’s what I am here for (‘the students are here to study, not to get into administration’ according to her.)
Our VC along with her colleagues in the apex body of higher education in India envisages a new kind of University. This new conception of higher education looks at students as beings who are essentially juvenile hence in need of disciplining, with the university as a space where such training can be imparted. To facilitate such training one has to ensure that no voice of dissent, disagreement or acts of resistance emerge out of the body of students. University managements go all the way to ensure that their desired academic climate is maintained and guide students who essentially do not understand their own ‘good’. If any aberration or exception arises in the process, necessary disciplinary steps are taken to set an example and uphold the desired value system.
I am a resident of the Mahalaqua Bai Chanda hostel for women, whose mess secretary was issued a show cause recently for serving chicken on 2nd October, celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti. This was a Friday, usually a non-veg day in the mess. Now as much as we all are aware of Gandhi’s propagation of ahimsa, we are also aware that it is not ‘illegal’ to consume any form of meat on this day. The Indian Constitution too has not imposed any ‘ban’ on the same. If Gandhi talked about ahimsa, he also spoke of tolerance. However, my university administration thought it prudent to quickly react to an imprudent, unresearched news article which mentioned this incident, by asking the mess secretaries why disciplinary action should not be taken against them in twin show cause letters issued to mess secretaries of the women’s and the men’s hostel, who happen to be fellow students. Moreover, the head cook was also made to pay for the entire amount of chicken bought on this day.
Both of the students escaped ‘further action’ through apology letters to the competent authority, the general atmosphere of apprehension and threat made prevalent by the administration kept them from coming out in open or even talking to their fellow students about the issue. Our VC has an eye on all of us (literally, as the campus is littered with CCTV cameras that can catch you off guard; though, there are no signboards stating that you are under surveillance; this makes the authorities nothing short of paranoid voyeurs).
The next show cause was served to Arjab Sarkar, a fellow student, for voicing his opinion on the ‘Clean EFLU’ campaign (which is part of the Swachh Bharat campaign) on Facebook. The status update which invited the show cause read as follows:
“Obscenities in EFLU! The ugly kitsch of our national government. Note the absence of such strongly highlighted commandments to take up the burden of cleanliness on ourselves, in the corridors and bathrooms of our hostels. Because that space is reserved exclusively for our sweepers. Let them clean up the real filth while we do the simple job of tossing a cup in the bin and feel proud as citizens of this country.”
The protests that naturally followed these unacceptable show causes were dealt with more notices. Twelve students, including bachelors, masters and research scholars were handed out notices for leading the protests.
A very common way to look at young people, be it inside a university/college space or outside, has been that of suspicion as potential troublemakers. Coupled with this is the (often unwelcome) desire to lead us in the right direction, guide us, take care of us, protect us and tell us what is to be done. This comes from a Hobbes-ian presumption about the nature of man- that if left to himself, man cannot manage himself and his life. Thus, intervention is a must. Rules and regulations must be formulated, and strict codes are to be followed. Once the codes are formulated, and conducts are prescribed, a paranoia emerges, a pathological fear of sedition, of breaching of rules grips the authority and as a reaction emerges the intense desire of surveillance which in turn renders life paralytic.
Problematizing the field of freedom of speech and questioning its legitimacy in the modern world, Ronald Dworkin in his essay wrote:
“fair democracy requires what we might call a democratic background… it requires that each citizen have not just a vote but a voice: a majority decision is not fair unless everyone has had a fair opportunity to express his or her attitudes or opinions or fears or tastes or presuppositions or prejudices or ideals, not just in the hope of influencing others, though that hope is crucially important, but also just to confirm his or her standing as a responsible agent in, rather than a passive victim of, collective action.”
When will we be considered grown up? It is essential to never deny an individual his status of individuality and agency, age being a factor that should not matter. To reflect on what my VC has to say, about most of the current student community, not only of EFLU, but nationwide, “they will be leading the nation for the next 20, 30, 40 years” so “we should train them well, teach them…”. This is a ridiculous statement coming from a vice chancellor who refuses to meet her students, grant audience to any of their issues. She arrives on campus under tight security (we are yet to figure out what or whom she is afraid of) and the whole administrative block comes under a lock down when she is in office. Now the question is if they want us to be responsible, why try to tell us what to do at every step? If they want us to be righteous in all circumstances, why threaten us with disciplinary action at every step?
Take campus conversations to the next level. Become a YKA Campus Correspondent today! Sign up here.
You can also subscribe to the Campus Watch Newsletter, here.