In the midst of a pandemic, as NIFT students grappled with anxiety regarding the future, their tensions were a compounded with a fee hike notice. When some of them tried to protest against this seemingly unjust decision, they could not, courtesy the draconian social media policy published on July 16.
“Any content maligning NIFT, its policies and employees will be viewed adversely, inviting disciplinary action and inter alia, penalties, debarment from sitting in the examination, campus placements, etc.”, the social media policy read.
That the students weren’t given a say in the institute in which they are stakeholders, isn’t just a travesty of natural justice but also that of freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 19 of the Indian constitution. Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. Criticism of institutions and their policies, method of functioning and grievance redressal mechanism should ideally be under the scanner, to ensure accountability and transparency.
It is undeniable that social media has come to play an instrumental role in our collective lives today. More so, during a global pandemic, when everything from academic classes to jobs have shifted online. Indeed, a rampant and unchecked misuse of social media exposes the consumers to a host of troubles including but not limited to hacking of personal accounts, phishing, etc.
However, the apprehensions of the risks of misusing social media shouldn’t turn into an excuse for the authorities of an educational institution to regulate and curb legitimate criticism by the students. Shutting down official channels of expressing dissatisfaction only leads dissent to be driven underground, and not eradicated. According to the students, the social media policy prevents them from airing their concerns about the placement mechanism, issues with faculties and anything else that they might get affected by.
“The new social media policy is a restriction imposed on students to keep them from speaking up against ‘dirty truths’ of NIFT. There have been indirect indications as well to counter posts made by others that malign the image of NIFT”, a final year student pursuing MFT at NIFT, Delhi told Youth Ki Awaaz anonymously. This reflects that the culture is more about capping dissent about grievances than alleviating the said grievances.
In a democratic system like that of India, a system of checks and balances has been constitutionally envisioned to prevent the accumulation of power in a single place. However, the authorities in NIFT seem to have thrown this out of the window and become the judge, jury and executioner themselves.
Social media gag, to some extent, is prevalent among the officers of the Civil Services. While that provision too has been criticized for some time now, the reason stated there is to prevent embitterment of ties between states and India and the foreign nations due to adverse posts. The rationale, though not completely justifiable, has its underpinnings in international bureaucratic conventions. But, in the case of NIFT, all the policy does, is to ensure no cracks in its wall of functioning ever gets exposed and tries to shield itself from accountability.
This is not the first time that higher education institutes in India are imposing untenable and arbitrary rules on the students and unfortunately, it might not be the last. The trend shows a spike amongst the institutes in the private sector where student unions are de facto dysfunctional. As the world’s largest democracy, the least we can do is further a culture of transparency and accountability. The social media policy being rolled back with immediate effect could be a starter of sorts. Furthermore, the government must make sure that educational institutes, especially private ones do not overstep their boundaries.
The road to achieving a healthy culture of constructive criticism and dissent is long. However, we need to make a start and we need to do it now.