Engineering, better known as the subject that our society has been obsessed with, since the advent of the IITs, probably succeeded in manufacturing more machines than the entire industrial revolution. With over 1.2 million teenagers taking the joint entrance exam (JEE) in 2016, the entire educational infrastructure of our country tries to sweep a large portion of the best minds towards robotic joints and the numerous lines of code. As a result, the opportunity of taking up humanities, or even commerce after high school has been painted as a ‘failure’s’ last resort in today’s India. Consequently and quite common sensically, this has further caused a dip in the percentage of young voices that take up positions of power in our country’s framework of policy-making.
I, as an engineering student, can still hear Uncle Ben’s voice echo in my ears when he tells Peter about the correlation between power and responsibility. We might not have power in its usual meaning, my expected-to-settle-successfully friends, but what we have is a golden opportunity to be heard. Our democracy sees about more than a million engineers graduate every year and that is a clear sign of what our young blood holds the power to do.
Firstly, the extent of socio-economic issues that India continues to struggle with varies across an ever-expanding spectrum of scenarios. The kind of sentiments these issues tend to touch on, according to me, come out to be quite synonymous with the life of an engineering student, right from the inception of the idea in high school. With our country stuck in a headlock with issues like gender, class and caste disparities, it is basic to assume that someone who has been a first-hand witness to such problems would be a better choice to solve them.
Apart from this, the experiences of studying in a classroom that’s insensitive and homophobic, one can’t overlook the fact that even in the 21st century, the world’s largest democracy can’t seem to get over discrimination on the basis of gender. Adding to this is the problem of poor governance where corruption acts as an effective fuel to the already failing public policies. In all, my opinion in this entire article relies on the extent of problems faced by engineering students and their ability to bring about a change.
To drive my point home, let me begin by explicitly citing how the issues mentioned above play out with engineering students in particular, and how their awareness towards these issues is something to think about. Majority of the students who take the highly competitive engineering exams are products of educational enterprises that profit from the fear that permeates middle-class parents of a high school kid. They sell their services by creating a sense of enmity among the students by pitting them against one another, who otherwise could’ve done wonders if given a chance to work together. As a result, some students give in to the pressure. Along with all this, we as a student base, get to face one of the biggest problems our country’s politics faces today, the question of reservation. What I mean to say via these few instances is that an engineering student gets to see the darkest sides of our mentality. One gets to see two of the most sickening social evils of today, the messed up education system cuffed with the perils of the caste system.
Taking another step forward, let me point out that it is only us, the engineering students, who can aptly describe the skewed gender ratios in our own colleges. With the best colleges counting 1 woman for around every 10 men, we, as the emphatic thoughtful students of the institute are forced to ask ourselves how our society affects individual choices. We get to see what happens when you mix a highly male-dominated administration with a female-scarce student base, and consequently, it is us alone that can call the disparity and its consequences out.
Further, coming to an issue that’s in dire need of attention, the structure of governance. With a complicated path to effective policy-making, it seems almost intuitive to have someone trained to have dealt with problems on a regular basis. It is no coincidence that about half the students who clear the exam for civil services in our country are engineers. With problems like inaccessibility for people with disabilities plaguing almost every corner of India’s framework, if only more talented engineers chose to work on solving these issues once they become a part of the system, they could strategically aim at the heart of the problem and work to dismantle it.
Now, as far as the claim of talent and calibre of an engineering student goes, we have, over the years, succeeded in building a mentor base that varies through various electives. This gives us a higher chance to experience numerous aspects of the cultural makeup of the country and implement vastly encompassing policies or techniques to problems of both the sciences and the society. For example, usage of statistics or other engineering/mathematical tools for socio-political issues is a highly accepted phenomenon these days. Building on this point, what better background for a social justice activist/enthusiast than to expand one’s mind into the realms of both, the society and the sciences coupled with the knowledge from studying engineering.
In conclusion, I strongly feel that engineering students of the country fit the description of a social justice warrior, as cliched as that term may sound. They have seen the pressure first hand, the bias first-hand, both caste and gender-based, and they have the strong social capital needed to make an impact on the minds of this country of 1.32 billion. We tend to keep arguing how our country has become very engineering-centric, but I can see this fact itself being used for bringing a change that holds the power to send tremors of progress through the failing structure the Indian society has come to be.