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Baramulla Degree College Has A Glorious Past, But The Present Is Far From It

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By Abid Rashid Baba:

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Image credit: Ubaid Aziz.

Saint Joseph’s School was officially inaugurated on the 9th of May 1909 by the then Governor of Kashmir Pandit Manmohan Nath. The story dates back 111 years. Started in a humble way in 1905 in a hut with a group of eight students the college is said to have been founded by Mill Hill Missionaries and was named after Saint Joseph. The school was upgraded to a High School in 1913.

In 1938, it was upgraded to the status of Intermediate College and eventually to a Degree College in 1943. Government College Baramulla was affiliated to Punjab University, Lahore when it was closed on 27th October 1947 since the Indian Army had landed at Srinagar Airport but it was re-opened on 28th June 1954, as Intermediate College, affiliated to the then University of Jammu and Kashmir and upgraded to a degree college in 1956. The College was subsequently taken over by the state government on April 01, 1963 and is now affiliated to the University of Kashmir.

In 1964, the state government segregated this college from Saint Joseph’s School and took it under its control. The foundation stone of the present building located at Khwajabagh was laid by then Prime Minister of Kashmir Ghulam Muhammad Sadiq on 20th of November 1964.

I graduated from said college eleven months back. While leafing through the glorious past associated with the college, I along with my dear friend Ubaid Aziz – who is pursuing his post-graduation from Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi – began deliberating about its present status. During our hour-long deliberation, we talked about various issues concerning the college.

Ubaid burst into laughter before he could even begin.

“Hey, what happened dude?” I enquired.

“Do you know the fate of the (yellow coloured) bus which is lying in front of the health centre for many years now (static like a statue)?”

Then we shifted to the recent ‘controversial news item’ surrounding the college. It was ‘social interaction between boys and girls’ which some people in the college need to stop objecting to. They need to stop looking at boys and girls sitting together as something obscene. I am sure college going students are mature enough to decide when, where and whom to be with.

Ubaid asked me that if it is a co-ed college, then what is the fun if there are such “inbuilt” barriers. I believe we are not so volatile a society as we are made to believe we are. A second-semester student phoned me last fall and regretted joining the college, “corridor men ruk k baat b nahi karne dete thay (they wouldn’t even let us stop and talk in the corridor).” For a long time, girl students were not allowed to sit in the only canteen in the college! When I went to the college recently, I was told that only one table is reserved for girl students now.

If a student can’t discuss a lecture with her fellow students, where would she go then? It will hamper their performance in their profession in future! We get to know the wider perspective of things in college. It grooms intellectuals. Therefore, adopting a scripted orthodox yardstick won’t help. Irrespective of gender, students should be allowed to share their ideas properly. If you talk to a boy or a girl doesn’t necessarily mean you are in a relationship with him/her.

Hearing of gender bias in the 21st century sounds weird. Don’t cage these budding blooms. Let them think. Let them grow.

When I asked a friend to narrate the “most memorable moment of her stay” in the college, she said, “It was a mixed bag of love-hate relationships but one incident I can’t forget which I believe should be highlighted.” A brief pause was followed by this:

“It was 2013 fall. I was talking to my classmate in a corridor on the second floor when this bossy professor stopped in front of us and ridiculed me for talking to a boy. I cried the whole day. Tell me, for heaven’s sake, is talking to your mate about upcoming internal exams a crime?”

The issue of moral policing is not just about interfering in the personal lives of students. It is an infringement of their right to freedom. The recent incidences of moral policing have caused more dissatisfaction and stirred more discontent among the students than perhaps anything had done before.

Image credit: Ubaid Aziz.

Another problem is about the entry and exit gates. Only the staff and girl students are allowed to enter and leave through the ‘sophisticated’ main gate. The boys are an underprivileged lot. They enter through the iron grills which are chained at the top. No proper gate-keeping is done there while the main gate is watched over by 3-4 peons.

Male students have to jump from a narrow path to exit the college. There is a possibility that your pants could get torn. This is what a student told me while jumping from the narrow exit, “I don’t understand why they chain it and make boys suffer?” Timings are another issue. Boys can arrive and leave the college anytime. But in the case of girl students, you can’t leave the campus before 2 p.m.

This professor, who heads one of the departments tells me, “I can’t say the college is up to the mark but as compared to the rest of the colleges, it is better.” But how? “Ambience in classrooms is conducive and satisfactory.”

Can a 1:80 teacher-student ratio (in many of the subjects) be called satisfactory? Come on!

He says that the teacher-student ratio is not the criteria to determine the status of the college. Then what is?

It is situated on the roadside where the noise of traffic can distract a student. When Rabindranath Tagore, the first Indian to get a Nobel Prize for literature in 1913 for his work ‘Gitanjali’, established Shantinekitan, now Vishva Bharti University, he selected a calm patch of land in a far off place away from the buzz. The main motive was to get an ambient mood, calm and serene surroundings.

During my three years of stay in the college, the staff and female students were allowed to park their vehicles in front of the main building but boys could not do so. They would keep their vehicles outside the ‘Boys gate’. Thanks to an NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) inspection, now, a small patch of land has been identified for this purpose.

For hostel boarders of 2016, there is always a life threat looming large, courtesy armed police encroaching the hostel land each year. The boys hostel looks like a concentration camp, a stark sign of occupation.

Hostel boarders tell me that the noise of the camp irks them beyond bearing. Students at the hostel shared with me that the noise and the foul smell of alcohol disturbs and irks them. They get distracted and can’t concentrate on studies properly. A former hostel boarder told me, “the noise from their generators would disturb us. The yelling they do during the parade annoys a lot. Having barbed wire on the one side and studying in the same setting is contradictory. You need a peaceful environment to study.”

College authorities have written to them a couple of times to vacate the land but they have ignored the plea. College is helpless. What else could be called occupation?

Whenever we had to attend nature’s call, we had to face embarrassment while we relieved ourselves, near a small gate, facing the college ground. There is an acute shortage of washrooms. The process of setting up 62 new toilet blocks has been initiated. Since this project has huge financial implications, it will take around 2-3 years to complete it.

The college got grade ‘A’ in the recent NAAC inspection. Pertinently, out of 76 institutions of higher education assessed across the country, only 10 scored grade ‘A’.

It is a matter of pride for all of us. Isn’t it? But the shocker is that the college has not got its own identity yet. Even after six decades of its separation from its parent institution, it still has not been registered! Surprisingly, successive heads of the institute have failed to take up this important issue with the higher-ups.

The land under Professor Showkat Ali stadium is a property owned by the college but it has almost lost authority over it. Students are compelled to play cricket on a cemented turf which was earlier meant to play handball. While the outside agencies (not associated with college in any way) use the ground to promote their welfare programmes and sports activities. So, the main thing is that the right to play on their own ground is being snatched away, sometimes by the Army but often by other elements. This is a grave issue concerning the college.

If the Army has to promote their goodwill agenda, why are they making a mockery of our education system by taking the college for a ride? Why does the college have to shut and turn into a stinky garrison during Parliamentary and Assembly elections?

The college has been introducing some add-on-courses from time-to-time, with the objective of equipping the students with useful skills. I submitted INR 1000 for a ‘Still Photography’ course in 2012 but due to a shortage of staff, this particular department could not conduct even a single class for us. I still wonder why we were asked to pay the fee when they had no manpower to run the course.

Along with examination fees, every student is asked to pay an extra 50 INR for heating charges but the sad part of the story is that students can be seen shivering in examination halls due to the bone-chilling cold. One heating appliance is kept in front of the examiners who monitor the students in the hall. It does not serve the desired purpose. Special arrangements, so that students may feel comfortable, are rarely made.

In which educational institute do you witness teachers asking students to collect money so that they can construct a Mosque in their localities? But this college is different. How?

Tamannna Shokeen (not his real name) who graduated from the same college last March, explained with an example:

“One professor gave me a receipt book and asked to collect the total sum, how could I go to every household in my village and ask them to donate for a mosque. I could not. Then I saved my pocket money and gave him INR 700.”

Library is a place of study and research. It demands a clean and tranquil atmosphere, but it always irked me that whenever I entered the college library only a handful of students tried to maintain decorum in the library. Chattering is the order of the day in the reading hall. Despite being monitored by closed-circuit cameras, the administration never bothers to make them accountable by taking notice of what happens in the reading room or taking any action to solve this problem.

The British wanted poor kids to study and excel in the field of education so that we could prosper. To persuade students to come to the school, they would provide milk, bread and clothing to kids and other incentives to make school more attractive. Now, when this institute has been recognised at the national level, it should feel like a second home. A home away from home. A student should have a feeling of oneness with it. They should not feel alienated.

Back in my first year in 2012, our English lecturer categorically refused to teach us the grammar portion saying he did not know grammar. “I don’t know it. Let us focus on textbook. You even do not know how to read. Grammar can wait. Who cares about grammar?” And then he ridiculed this fellow who had forgotten to bring his textbook along.

This dude was so fluent in English that the whole class would envy him. But this particular teacher would shut him up. There was no scope for questioning in his class. Curious minds were silenced. The question that arose was why should we attend his class when there was nothing to learn.

“Of course, you got it right, for the sake of attendance. We might fall in the net of the ‘shortage’ list.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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