By Amrita Singh:
Indian Express recently published a report on a notice issued by Miranda House which was meant for the students of School of Open Learning, Delhi University, who attend classes in the college on Sundays. According to the report, the notice read, “Many women have been seen taking selfies, combing their hair and modelling in the gallery. This is misutilisation of time. The college does not give permission for this. If any student is found misutilising their time, they will be suspended from the classes held on that particular day, and will be made to leave the college premises.” The unsigned notice was put up at the college main gate in Hindi, under the name of the coordinator of the SOL centre.
Dr Pratibha Jolly, the principal of Miranda House, reportedly said that the notice was merely “suggestive“, even though the notice threatened to suspend students. She further clarified, “Students perch dangerously on parapet walls to take selfies. They were gently advised by staff to focus on attending classes. The college has been working towards empowering SOL students and is keen to provide them the best learning and skill enhancement opportunities.” However, in the excerpt from the notice in the report, the dangers of perching on parapet walls are not mentioned anywhere. Moreover, there’s no clarification as to why students of SOL were singled out in this notice.
“This notice smacks of elitism and caste, class bias, seeking to control the ways in which SOL women students occupy the college space. Most of the women students enrolled with SOL work through the week and travel quite a distance to college to attend classes and continue education, some fund their own education and some fight many a battle at home to do so, some support their families as well. Such a notice demeans their struggle,” read a Facebook post by Pinjra Tod: Break the Hostel Locks.
To understand the motive behind this notice and the environment of the college better, we spoke to people from the college itself.
We asked a faculty member what she thought about the explanation given by the Principal and she said, “It makes no sense that Mirandians can do something and SOL students can’t. The notice was totally uncalled for. I don’t think any faculty member even knew about it- we all read it in the media reports.” When asked if she felt that SOL students are discriminated against by the Miranda House administration, she said, “I don’t think so but if SOL students have felt that they have been discriminated against, they have the whole right to talk about it. Something must have happened and we definitely need to introspect.”
A former student from the college, who did not wish to disclose her identity, said, “There’s a certain area where all classes for SOL students are conducted. The number of SOL students slated to sit in a class is much more than what a classroom can accommodate. If so many people are there in a single gallery, perching of parapet walls is actually quite dangerous. Maybe that’s why the notice is just directed to them. This has always been an issue, but I don’t see a solution to it- except that DU needs to have more number of classrooms for SOL students.”
The School of Open Learning, Delhi University, facilitates distance learning wherein study material is sent to the students. It also has a Personal Contact Programme wherein students have classes once or twice a week. The classes are conducted over the weekend in a few colleges of DU and Miranda House is one of them. There was a PIL filed by Fight For Human Rights in 2013. The PIL said, “The students are treated as second-class citizens, which discourage the students to take admission for studies with SOL and this results in defeat of the very purpose of imparting education to maximum number of citizens.” The problem doesn’t seem like the most recent phenomenon.
A second-year student from the college thinks that this is another instance of the gross discrimination SOL students face, “Sounds to me like they just want to prevent SOL students from treating MH as their college. Their problem is that if these students put selfies with MH in the background, people will think they’re from MH when they’re not.”
Preeti Mehra, an alumna of the institute and a senior journalist with The Hindu Business Line, said, “The job of teachers is to gently nudge students towards the desired direction, not this. My advice to the MH administration would be to leave the kids alone.”
Students staged a protest against the notice on January 11 at Miranda House. Some of the protesting students also brought combs to the venue. After the issue blew over, the principal reportedly said, “Banning selfies and combing of hair is not something which is the policy of Miranda House. They are just suggestions for students to not risk their life by sitting on the corridors pillars and clicking or posing for pictures.” Students from the organisation Krantikari Yuva Sangathan, which describes its aim as “revolutionary transformation of society, eradication of capitalist society and founding a society of equality and free of social injustice,” met with the college principal who expressed her regret on behalf of the college administration and assured them that no such notice will be issued again.