Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) had launched the bachelor’s degree programme in Social Sciences from the academic year 2012 in three of its off-campuses, namely Guwahati, Tuljapur and Hyderabad and has been offering it ever since. The news of shutting down of the B.A course in the Hyderabad campus reached the students, teachers and the alumni very discreetly on the morning of 31st October when somebody checked the B.A. admissions portal of TISS which reads “No B.A. Programmes are offered from Hyderabad.”
Moreover, there is no mention of Hyderabad campus in the newspaper advertisement calling for admissions in BA courses, and it has suddenly been labelled as a ‘non-residential campus’. This took everyone by surprise as both students and teachers, who are home for the semester break were unaware of such a development. According to a teacher, the academic council had met almost a month back, and this decision could have been taken back then. However, there was no intimation about the same, and as of now, students in the B.A. and M.A. courses are yet to receive any official information.
TISS, Mumbai was granted autonomy under the category of Institution Deemed to be Universities (Category I) on 20th March 2018, after getting a NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) score of 3.89. This ‘autonomy’, as per the press release gives the universities ‘freedom to start new courses, off-campus centres, skill development courses, research parks and other academic programs’ – without contacting the UGC for approval. They can set their admission procedures, fees structures and curriculum. This, as per the government is a move towards developing more independent and self-sustaining universities. However, what this ‘greater academic freedom’ signifies, is a lesser involvement of the government in the education sector and by using this vaguely defined ‘autonomy’, the government is clearly making a move towards increased privatisation which results in the exclusion of socially and economically disadvantaged sections of the society from the university spaces.
The above policy is important while discussing the removal of the B.A. course from TISS as it lays the foundation for a University to directly effect alterations in a course without any authorisation from the UGC. The roles/terms and conditions of an autonomous college section of the revised Guidelines for Autonomous Colleges, 2018 states that the college can “review existing courses/ programmes and restructure, redesign and prescribe its own courses/ programmes of study and syllabi”. However, no clause mentions any such authority being granted for the removal of a particular course, especially without prior communication. This arbitrary action has not only resulted in uncertainty over the employment of faculty who for the most part teach B.A. but also has put the entire TISS Hyderabad academic environment in jeopardy.
While there have been questions raised regarding why there has been no student representation during the discussion on this issue within the academic council, a glance through the guidelines would suggest that the committee need not necessarily involve the student body in decision-making processes. This is extremely problematic as it gives free and unchecked reign to the authorities to take decisions as per their whims and fancies. What one needs to question here is the legitimacy of such a move and whether a University can actually do so within the newly revised regulatory framework for autonomous universities.
TISS, Hyderabad functions within a two-storied building inside the Telangana State Institute of Rural Development Campus (TSIRD). Hence, the hostels which are managed by private bidders are situated around 5-6 kms away from the campus, inside the city. However, the due process of hostel tender selection, overlooking of the hostel management and well-being of the students falls under the purview of the administrative roles of TISS, Hyderabad.
Now with the discreet mention of the term “non-residential campus” in the newspaper advertisement, students are left to imagine for themselves – what the term signifies. Does it mean that the administration no longer has any role to play in the hostel management process? Does it mean there would be no hostel facilities, not even private for the upcoming batches? Does it mean that maybe we will have the private hostels, but like the usual process, they won’t be within the campus and in the city? The confusion persists as of now. Hostel wardens were not informed of any such decision as well.
Being a 3rd Year student of B.A. in TISS, Hyderabad, I am well aware of the circumstances, at least the physical ones which would have likely led to the scrapping off of the course. TISS, Hyderabad has had its own history of problems, ranging from sexual harassment cases near hostels, poor infrastructure, sky-rocketing hostel fees, low quality mess food and placement issues, to name a few. All of this mostly arose from a lack of own campus space and by virtue of it being an “off-campus”; which means that the Hyderabad administration cannot act upon any issue without getting the permission from the Mumbai administration.
We suffered and continue to suffer, from fund cuts which resulted in the rollback of financial aid for students from marginalised backgrounds. This had led to a call for protest by the TISS, Mumbai Student’s Union 8 months ago. We at TISS, Hyderabad, boycotted classes and protested against every form of injustice done to us, over the past 5-6 years.
We were somewhat successful in getting our demands met, at least for the previous academic year. However, the space constraints and the issue of fund-cuts have continued to persist. TISS, Hyderabad has undoubtedly faced its unfair share of problems. However, this does not justify why a 3-year course was shut down, instead of attempting to expand the infrastructure and working towards tackling the issues head-on.
There has been a lot of discussion going around on our campus regarding the future of social sciences in India, given the current political environment and its Neo-liberal agenda. Some of us would not hesitate to say that we had foreseen a shutting down of this programme or worse, the campus itself owing to the plethora of problems we faced and continue to face. Moreover, given the political regime with its unwarranted advances in the academia and its relentless curbing of dissent, especially with social research and thoughts that do not suit them, the fear of being hit with such sledgehammer tactics was ever present. However, the manner in which it has come now, both from the government (with fund cuts) and now from the institution (with shutting down of the Social Science course), is extremely infuriating and uncalled for.
Keeping aside the physical and even monetary constraints, one is forced to think, why Social Sciences? It is in this context that one is also forced to think of the newly introduced M.A. Organisation Development Change and Leadership (ODCL) course, which began for the first time in TISS, Hyderabad, this academic year. Somehow the administration did not feel the restrictions of a small, faulty campus (TISS, Hyderabad is basically a 2-storied building inside the Telangana State Institute of Rural Development Campus) while setting up the course, whose course structure and fee- structure (it is self-sustained) speaks volumes about the shift in the ‘ideals’ that TISS stands for.
So what made Social Science in Hyderabad seem like a threat to them?
Joan, an alumnus, elaborates on this her Facebook post, “Given the strong dissenting and politically active student crowd of TISS Hyderabad, it would have seemed convenient to shut it down. What has been shut down is not just a mere course. What has been shut down today is the source of education which instils you to question. An education which makes you unlearn your conventional understanding of Gender, Politics, History, Mathematics, Economics etc. An education which teaches you to prioritise human rights. An above all an education which teaches you the importance of dissent and collective action. It attempted to produce thinking individuals with a strong social inclination; individuals who would question and break oppressive regimes. Perhaps, that’s why it’s shut down.”
Ishma, an alumnus speaks, “It was a beautifully structured programme that allowed us to think and question unabashedly. This course enabled us to talk about things that others don’t fearlessly; it taught us to integrate, listen to, and accept the existence of multiple viewpoints within our social system. It made me realise my privileges, it made me fall in love with Social Sciences. Most importantly, it gave me a platform to work together with theory and practice, allowed me to interact with some of the finest minds amongst my peers, senior and junior batches. The BA programme gave the exposure that any impressionable teenager in this country needs to have. I have always been very proud of the course”.
I have personally seen how my classmates, junior and seniors evolved into free-thinking, strongly-opinionated, empathetic and aware citizens, who recognise and challenge oppressive beliefs and structures, which society has otherwise come to normalise. This process was gradual and not immediate. It took its own time. Some 3-4 semesters of discussions later, we began to realise what we stood for and fought against these structures in whatever capacity we can. TISS is one of the few institutions remaining which teaches one to fight for what is just. Here I made friends with people who I would never have socialised with in my life, given how one’s social location regulate one’s life.
Shreya, a student of B.A.(III) says “There are many things lacking in this college and we have always been very vocal about it. But none of us ever regretted our decision to join this college, and that is purely because of the things we have learned over the past two and a half years in this college. And the kind of teachers we’ve had who taught us those things. This college, despite all its shortcomings, gave all of us the platform and the courage to talk about issues that would have otherwise been swept under the carpet. It personally expanded my horizons to unimaginable extents, and I will forever be grateful to my professors and my fellow TISSians for that.”
Ishita, a B.A.(III) students talked about her journey of unlearning, “ I underwent a long journey in my five semesters at TISS, Hyderabad. From unlearning my socialisation to being questioned and questioning. The students and the faculty taught me to follow what I believe in and stand for what is right. It is a journey that I wish many students have an opportunity to undertake.”
Moving away from these common narratives, Ashok, a GOI-PMS Scholar from B.A. (III) has a different take on how feels about the institute. He says, “Social sciences made me aware about the issues of the marginalised sections. It opened my eyes towards the caste inequality embedded in our society, though we consider it as so-called ‘modern society’. Before joining TISS, I only knew that there is something called caste, patriarchy etc. but I never understood it in its true sense. I am grateful that I joined the programme which gave me an opportunity to take part in different talks on farmers suicide, farmer’s rights, Dalit rights or human rights in general. Also being actively involved in student protest and activism gave me the chance to understand these issues in a more practical way. Education is empowering. But sometimes education can also make people more rigid. Though some students are well educated, they are not open to SC-ST students; they prefer to be in their privileged circles which makes the SC-ST students more insecure. Though all of the TISS campuses seems liberal in a sense that they give equal space to all students irrespective of caste and gender, for students like me who do not satisfy or go with the dominant environment, we feel we have less space to share our ideas. We were forced to think that we are not like students from the privileged background who can speak fluently in English, learn and understand topics quickly. Students like us struggle to understand every line in the articles. But still, I feel TISS is better than other educational institutions in India.”
How does one de-construct such diverse narratives? For one, the need to make educational spaces more inclusive and change the mindsets of people still goes on. But how does one achieve and continue this conversation when one is forced to do away with courses which teach one to actually engage with such ‘uneasy’ and ‘uncomfortable’ topics. This is a life I want for another 60 students from various socio-economic backgrounds, year after year (even more if possible). The TISS, Hyderabad life is far from perfect, but worth it at the end of the day.
Hyderabad campus has been labelled as a ‘troublesome campus’ for its dissenting voice. It is time we stayed true to that label and adopt whatever ‘notorious’ characteristics they associate us with and stand up for our rights. We cannot let a course like B.A (Social Science) be shut down without any form of dissent. There should be outrage from all ends – from the alumni, the student council, the teachers and the society at large – to hold up a mirror once again, blazing with the hypocrisy of the administration and the institute which teaches Social Sciences and still cuts down on students rights and education. The demand should be to reinstate the B.A course, while simultaneously looking into the legal action which could be taken, seek clarifications and make the administration realise the power of students’ struggle once again.