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

Posted on March 14, 2016 in Campus Watch, Society

By Abid Rashid Baba:

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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