The time following September this year has been rather ironic and paradoxical for the students of VIT, Vellore. Mainly for two reasons – a convocation address by the Hon’ble Defence Minister, Dr. Nirmala Sitharaman; and the ‘Democracy Wall’, or ‘Free Campus Initiative’ by The Print which invited veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta and Bollywood diva Dia Mirza who spoke on the trending #MeToo.
Too bad they didn’t know that their presence in the VIT, Vellore Campus was like Saudi Arabia’s presence in the UNHRC. It really meant nothing, and might as well have been a rather blatant exercise in PR.
At first, VIT seems to be one of the few private institutions in India which has made a name for itself and attracts considerable government and private research funding, and is currently ranked the best private engineering college in India. However, only once you step in do you realise the sinister design inside – a cover up of student suicides, sexist and discriminatory rules for girls, a deep sense of distrust of the management towards it’s students, PDA guards, etc.
The top brass consists of politician turned academic Dr. G. Vishwanathan who yields considerable clout over the Dravidian heartland as well as the police and bureaucracy of Vellore. Instead of academicians, the posts surrounding the chancellor are filled by his sons, and mere yes-men.
There isn’t any need to go back very long as far as this is concerned. Just last month, a suicide took place in the men’s hostel on campus. Before the police even arrived, the wardens and higher authorities quickly cleared up the site, blood and the body. The guards told the students to ‘mind their business,’ and brushed it off as a ‘routine affair.’
No one knows what happened to the case. National media never picked up the issue, maybe because we are so far. The local media probably fears for itself, or the cover up was so brilliant that no one paid notice.
This however, wasn’t the first case. The situation is such that the current pre-final and final students have seen more than five suicides during their stay at VIT.
At a superficial level, VIT has a team of counselors, with posters all over campus, and emails sent out asking students to ‘reach out’ in case of emotional turmoil. However, the entire system fails us, considering the general sense of distrust in the campus.
It is highly possible that a poor student making his way to the counselor would be whistled at by numerous security personnel for no apparent reason, or shoved here and there by them, or be condescendingly shouted at; should he/she walk too close to a fellow student of the opposite sex, the especially creepy and sickening ‘Red Tag Annas’ (PDA guards) would turn up to hassle and harangue the students. With such an environment entrenched in mistrust, the counselors serve no purpose.
It’s an open secret that VIT discriminates against it’s female students. The rules extend from moral policing to openly sexist behavior. The worst part? Even female faculty members find it ridiculous but choose to keep mum.
The sexism begins from the first semester itself. Girls aren’t allowed to go outside the campus for much of the first semester, after which strict but regressive rules fall into place where even a basic outing requires countless encounters with the bureaucracy and a final approval by a lady warden who acts a bigger stooge of blatant sexism than anyone else.
Further, these rules include directives on what to wear and what not to, an in-time which is an hour earlier than their male counterparts in the men’s hostel, and of course, the discriminatory behavior by security and PDA personnel.
The Vellore Campus has several outlets for food. This includes lassi and juice outlets, Nescafe, etc. Even when girls are well within their curfew, they are whistled at by the security guards and the PDA guards for simply sitting at the Nescafe and/or lassi and juice corners – not just when they sit with their male friends, but even when they sit with their female friends!
This extends even to hostel rooms, as wardens and professors feel entitled to unnecessarily question a student’s personal life, irrespective of good or bad academic performance. With such an atmosphere and culture full of sexism, it’s ironic how regressive modern India’s educational institutions are. It is worrying what kind of a future VIT wishes to draw for it’s female students, and the country in general.
Classes teaching the liberal arts bring regressive ideas to the forefront. These include blaming cancer on ‘unfriendly behavior,’ labelling premarital sex as ‘taboo,’ citing western culture as ‘morally corrupt’ and so on.
Every student in VIT is given an email ID which facilitates all notifications and assignments from the university. However, the catch is, once you use this email on your phone, the university may track it.
In another example, the legal drinking age in Tamil Nadu is 21. Even if you happen to be above 21, and drink and return sober inside the hostels, you are bound by documents signed during admission housing a non-disclosure clause, to submit your blood and urine samples.
The clause further says that the VIT administration may barge into rooms and restrict your movement outside the campus as well, should they feel the need to.
Also, criticism of the Chancellor and his yes-men (or the rules) publicly, offline or online is deemed a strong enough cause for suspension.
The question arises now as to why hasn’t there been any major protest? Truth is, whenever it has been tried, all muscle available and legal harassment have been used to silence the students. The slightest of dissent has invited debarment and suspensions.
In 2013, two female students and a professor who couldn’t find any rationale in the regressive atmosphere were suspended for simply organising a survey among students. The son of the chancellor who without any appropriate experience and qualification has taken the job of the Vice-President issued the following statement, “The students started a campaign based on the misplaced notion that the university discriminates against women, which is not true. They were taken home by their parents.”
If the university had to send the students back home, and leave it to the Chancellor’s son to decide whether the reasons for the survey are legitimate, it clearly isn’t a vivid example of freedom of expression.
Earlier this year, student protests rocked another engineering institution of India – BITS, Pilani. However, unlike BITS, VIT students aren’t allowed to form any student union or group.
While campus politics and political affiliation is excluded in most engineering institutes, it is this lack of an apolitical, independent student union that allows the students to easily be harassed by the management.
Dr. Nirmala Sitharaman who has broken the glass ceiling and taken upon a job which was so far de-facto reserved for male politicians, was almost a satiric presence during the convocation. While she represented the fact that women irrespective of political circles are gradually asserting themselves and proving themselves competent, she was present in a campus that reduces female students to objects without minds and without the right of consent.
‘Democracy Wall’ was held in a campus where no democracy whatsoever exists. ‘Free speech’ is restricted both in, and outside the campus. Perhaps, the Chancellor and his sons do not wish to make it’s students champions for a cause or leaders of the future. As per existing norms, they seem to be aiming to make yes-men and dignified clerks exactly like those who occupy the higher positions in the university.
Note: We contacted VIT Vellore for a comment on the above realities and have received no response. This post will be updated once we receive a response.