Say Yes To Dissent: A Student’s Guidebook To Navigating The Rest Of 2019

Hello. If this article is being written in the first place, it’s not a good time for all of us. Instead of the current headline of this article, it should actually have read “How We Have Come A Long Way Since The Times Of Administrative And Academic Arbitrariness.” But, it’s not so, it’s too utopian.

We are here. We are better than how we were a decade earlier, definitely; but we still have a long way to go. And the distance to be covered and the time we have are indirectly proportional. Speed and time are of essence. We need the education system to be fixed, and we need to be the ones doing it. We need to drive home the change in the system we wish to see.

What Really Is (Are) The Problem(s)?

Okay, let me say two words that are really going to ease it down for you (and fire you up – quite the paradox, I know): Government. Administration. I know these ring a lot of bells; maybe enrage a lot of you; make you feel helpless; so on and so forth.

They came, they meddled, and they destroyed it. Education being a mess is as much the government’s doing as others. As a society, we have not yet learnt to give dignity to the vocation of teaching and the realm of education. Our academic culture is mediocre. Why are we constantly being put under surveillance; why is our system making our creativity crippled and shackled because of the policies it’s introducing? Why do people who do not understand the sanctity of the profession constitute the academic workforce?

A poster on a wall at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in West Bengal. (Photo: SRFTI OutLoud/Facebook)

Because Change Is Fun And Consistency Is Boring

HECI replaced UGC. They are using every possible opportunity to increase fees, privatize education, change appointment criterion and reservation policies, cut research seats; and that is a perilous sign because research and discussion form the backbone of education.

A Tale Of Sexism, Misogyny And Patriarchy Even In Campuses

An ABVP leader called female students of JU ‘shameless’ and threatened to ‘chop-off’ their legs on stepping out of campus. Another says that the bare part of a woman’s chest is like a ‘slice of melon,’ another called her virginity a ‘sealed bottle.’

Students have been fighting to be liberated from the chains of this recurrent sexist practices and comments for so long. Cases of sexual harassment in universities are rampant, and this needs to be redressed because imagine the teacher-student relationship being reduced to the four walls of the classroom, limited to discussions about assignments? The systemic failure of being unable to fix this inherent sexism in campuses would deprive our students of the meaningful (and free of fear) academic exchange they could benefit from.

Really, Get Us Some Good Teachers

As if controlling us students was not enough, they are trying to police teachers now. How could a biometric system possibly ensure quality delivery in a classroom? We need teachers who will encourage ‘problem-posing’ education” and inspire students to overcome the silence imposed on them. Our current exam system also doesn’t have a nuanced evaluation system and takes over any possible meaningful learning.

Add to that, being a teacher in today’s system is nothing less than having an identity crisis between being a researcher or a teacher. Who is bearing the brunt of all these experiments and fallacies? Yup, that’s right. You and me.

You Want To Politicize Education? Let Us Dissent Also Then!

Not only are they butchering pluralism by altering syllabi, but they have paved entry into classrooms as well. They call us anti-national and slap us with sedition charges. This pretty much translates into asking us to shut up and obey the government in power.

They are appointing Hindutva activists as visiting professors, but they have a problem if people with credentials like Ramachandra Guha’s are appointed as Vice-Chancellors. Students are told not to dissent and are sent home if they do otherwise.

Yes, You And I Need To Fix It: Here’s How

Dissent is the essence of democracy, it is the highest form of patriotism. Campuses are supposed to be battlegrounds of contrasting ideologies and different opinions, but there have been cases where protests have been prohibited on campuses. It’s upsetting how we are having to fight to retain the very soul of being educated. We need solidarity. We are stepping out, displaying enormous courage and demanding things we are entitled to and rightfully so. The youth is “translating their private troubles into public issues.’

Here’s a list of things you can do:

1) Go all out. Go all guns blazing. They will tell you things like, “we don’t have teachers, why don’t you find them on your own; we’ll hire them.” Give it back to them. Take it up with the higher authorities in the university. If that doesn’t work out, figure out ways to take it up with authorities outside the college, who the college is accountable to, for instance, the UGC.

2) If you don’t have teachers, don’t give in, don’t “try to understand their point of view.” Been there done that, it makes things miserable; they’ll only take you for granted. If you don’t have enough resources in your library, ask for them. Do not sit back. You are paying a huge amount to be studying in a college and you have the right to ask for basic resources.

3) Do not tolerate sexism and misogyny in any form. You owe it to yourself to stand up and voice the wrong happening to you. Approach the sexual harassment cells in your campuses. It’s going to be a tedious process, I know, but you only need to begin. If the fear of being in the limelight for not entirely positive reasons is engulfing you, get rid of that conditioning. If anything, it’ll only show how you have the courage to fight and come out about something so personal and violating of your dignity.

4) Support each other. Show solidarity. No one can understand our issues better than our own peers. Therefore, it’s important that we stand up for each other, because it would come from a place of understanding and support. When students of another campus or university protest about an issue pertaining to sexism, or administrative arbitrariness, support them. We are, anyway, a small fraternity – a small but an influential and empowering one. Empathize and support. Tweet, sign petitions, post statuses, spread information, do what it takes. We are in the midst of a massive systemic shift. Do your bit for your own good.

Delhi University teachers protesting ‘ad-hocism’ out the Vice Chancellor’s office in 2017.

5) Say no to mediocrity – it doesn’t get simpler than that. Do not compromise with a classroom environment that doesn’t stimulate you and doesn’t give you food for thought. Demand for classes that make you question; education is about making you question and contest, not about writing answers in exams. There needs to be a tectonic shift in our understanding of the role of a teacher. They are not information-providers, they are thought-enablers.

6) Having said that, if there’s a paucity of teachers (which is the case, most of the times), do not sit back, yes, but don’t just protest. Plan discussions with your peers, call for colloquiums, plan book-reading sessions, listen to relevant podcasts together – these are things you can do on your own. Stimulate your mind, don’t let it rot.

7) Read. Know. There’s nothing more powerful than an aware, informed mind.

8) Being apolitical is not cool, it’s only a signal of our impending doom. A country whose citizens are not politically educated will never prosper and develop. Remember, this time, you’ll not be able to blame the Prime Minister for that – it’ll be your own doing.

9) Write. You have open and judgment free spaces like Youth Ki Awaaz where you can share your experiences and ideas with the community at large. Been there, done that – it’s liberating and empowering. You have the right to feel better; you have the right for the world to know what wrong is being meted out to you.

Hold on. It really is getting better.

Here’s to educational emancipation. Here’s to a better year for campuses.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Subin Dennis/Facebook.
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