BITS Pilani Admin Refuses To Act On Fee Hike, Students Revive Peaceful Protests

As I begin writing this, I realise it has been a few years since I stepped into a place that was known to produce talent. I still remember coming to the campus gates with my dad and realizing the sense of prestige this place held. I still remember seeing that tricolored logo for the first time and the inscription that supposedly defined the institution: ‘Knowledge is power’.

On May 6, the VC who talked about his ‘ethical standards and integrity’ while resigning from Jadavpur University in 2013 after student protests, stepped up to the podium in the auditorium in Pilani and asked the students present to disband the very peaceful protest. Following this, the directors of the three campuses agreed to a common meeting between Mr. Bhattacharya and ten elected representatives from each campus. Owing to the degradation in his health the next day leading to a cancellation of the proposed meeting, the students in Goa stepped forward and decided on a peaceful protest, asking the authorities to continue the meeting with the individual next in power.

Posters were circulated, arguments were made and around 7 pm, the campus witnessed a march that went on for a couple of hours, finally ending in front of the academic block. I keep referring to the protesters as students because you must understand the environment everyone was protesting in. With the end semester exams lurking over everybody’s heads, everyone decided to pull the night off in front of the academic block, still sticking to their studies. This sentiment reverberated across the three campuses where despite having exams the next day, the students decided to sit outside and protest.

This exemplary show of non cooperation was followed with the directors agreeing to the above-mentioned meeting, with the exception of them replacing the VC’s position, and in agreement with the demand that the session would be live streamed in all the three campuses. All the representatives worked hard to frame their cases, collecting data and coming up with arguments to counter the set of diplomatic and false instructions put forward by the administration. This was followed by another meeting on May 9, wherein the 30 representatives were invited to a closed room discussion and were given the same diplomatic answers and questions were dodged again.

As much as the representatives continued to present relevant data and the required information to make a decision, they were put down by the use of continuous repetition and a clear denial of the listed facts by the team of directors. The session ended with the representatives putting forward a set of demands. This piece of paper acknowledged the lengthy process of meetings and discussion with the administration for the change in fee structure and requested for the authorities to put a hold on the hike until a decision is made. Along with this, the student body also requested to be kept in the loop as the end of the semester approached and very clearly expressed the fear that the administration would sweep all the positive discussion under the carpet once the break began. The authorities acknowledged this fear and promised to keep the students in the loop throughout the summer.

As the day of May 12 dawned, students started to go back to their hometowns, placing their trust in the administration and hoping for their promises after the meeting to be put into effect as soon as possible. Well, lo and behold, 12 days into the break and the students were greeted with an email from our now, very healthy, Vice Chancellor sir. The email, addressed to our parents, greeted them as important stakeholders of the issue at hand. It further went on to peddle nothing more than mere lies about the protests at hand, with an aim to create fear among parents and ended with requesting them to ask their wards to refrain from activities that are tantamount to indiscipline. What followed this incident of threatening and fear-mongering was the coming together of parents, wherein the VC was battered with emails from across the country. These responses argued how equating peaceful protests and demands for an open discussion with indiscipline was a weak move and how it portrayed the stifling nature of the authority in question that looks to choke the dissent out of its students. What upset the parents more was the administration’s decision to choose to intimidate the student body over their obligation to keep them in the loop, as promised.

As the entire BITS ‘family’ continued to respond to the aforementioned email by our respected Vice-Chancellor sir, the situation worsened with the authorities denying any other word of communication with the students, especially regarding the promised meetings on the issue of the fee hike. This situation of regress by the authorities simply added to the student body’s frustration and it worsened as the students were hit by yet another piece of one-sided conversation on June 19.

This email by the VC, titled ‘communication to students’, talked about the inherent legacy of the BITS institution and its private nature that put a demand of ‘no fee hike’ out of question. Adding to this, the document concluded with a list of reassurances by the administration towards evaluating the current model for future batches. It must be noted by the reader how the document does not talk of any fixed timeline or a set of steps that the administration would take to counter this issue. It simply keeps the other end of their promises open, like they always have been, and this gives little, if any, confidence to the student body about their words. The twisted phrases and the blank promises are clear signs of the administration’s lack of interest towards solving the bigger problem.

As the student body braced for impact with the same old, soaring numbers, the news broke about that the administration was releasing the details for the next semester. Here is where one can find them. As the administration still resorted to a hike in fees, we were once again, reassured of the double-faced nature of the authorities involved. Adding to this, once the students currently present in Goa for their internships tried to rally against this notice, they were threatened yet again by those in power. They were bullied with a fear of cancellation of their internships, which by the way, the students pay for, but that is a debate for another day. They were warned of their accommodations being revoked and as to how the college would be liable to take an action against their very peaceful march and gathering.

So, as of now, here is where we, the real stakeholders stand. We have been denied for an equal say in the issue. We have been ignored, threatened and continuously silenced out of the debate which will, in the end, affect us. We, the student body, have been at this for too long now. We resisted during our exams. We resisted during storms, during rains and we have been nothing but respectful of the administration. We have held off coming to the media, to only keep the institute’s name out of the mud.

As a student of this ‘prestigious’ institution, I pose this question to the authorities, have you no sense of basic decency towards your own students? Have you no respect towards those people who define you? Have you no obligation to be answerable to your own pupils that’ll go ahead and prove the stature of the institution one day?

As I end this piece, I have nothing but utter disappointment towards the institution I so excitedly joined a couple years ago. Maybe it is the same knowledge I gained in this place that has today pitched me against it, and the people that continue to lead it. I applaud my fellow protesters in our struggle against these insensitive pawns of authority who have succumbed to the lure of power and in return, have resorted to exactly what they don’t stand for. It is very ironic as to how an institute that equates knowledge with power continues to stay afraid of the knowledge of its own occupants. With a motto of ‘Innovate, Achieve, Lead’ plastered on its logos throughout the world, maybe the dictatorial administration would like to introspect and add a word in there, ‘Listen’, because who knows, they just might follow what they so honorably stand for.

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