The policy updated by the NIFT states that information shared by any student of NIFT that speaks against the institution could be detrimental to their studies and future profession. I have seen dictators in movies make less obvious statements but we’ll examine in depth what’s wrong with this policy.
Notice that the policy not only forbids sharing of opinion but also information – facts.
Because that is what students were doing through social media campaigns – stating the fact that NIFT is refusing to reduce the fees the students should logically not be paying for including the fees for hostel, electricity and water charges, wifi, library, medical cover. The institution even declined to give a breakup of fees as that could verify the students’ claim that they are in fact right. Stating facts – a constitutional right – a fundamental right – that the Union of India is sworn to protect was challenged by a premier government institution and there was no repercussion.
Secondly, free media is the fourth pillar of democracy. With the circulation of print media being stopped in several places and broadcast media focused on insensitive coverage of topics (read coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death), social media has become the most viable form of media. These are citizen journalists – the most powerful journalists there are. And when they speak against established institutions, they are told to say Bela Ciao for the consequences will be severe.
Educate our people, so that they may be able to solve their own problems. Until that is done, all these ideal reforms will remain ideals only – said perhaps the greatest intellectual philosopher this country saw, Swami Vivekananda. And the present system not only creates a hostile soil for the birth of solutions, but it also suppresses the very idea of them.
Thirdly, the policy not only warns against the disadvantage the student could face while in the institution but also gives a clear indication bordering on the line of a threat – that they could very well be facing harm in terms of future professions. If only there was a clearer show of abuse of power, authority and influence. Put in context a country of 1.6 billion with unemployment rates spiking the records and the threat of unemployment scares a student more than his lack of rights. And that is exactly what the institution aims at.
This is not the first time, it won’t be the last. NIFT is not the first college in India to have put censorship on the free exchange of media, it won’t be the last. Private institutions have done it more boldly more extensively for a much longer time. This is just one case that came in the radar. During the NRC and CAA protests, many institutions put out a clear notice warning severe consequences if any of their students were found to be associated with protests.
Many institutions insisted on conducting end semester examinations during the ongoing pandemic because apparently terms like mental health are media terms that make no sense. They went against the direct orders of the state government and the guidelines of UGC to conduct the examinations the students had polled against in majority in a poll the institution had created itself. Because it was just a PR move that went wrong, who actually said about giving a damn about what the students want.
Fourthly there are students who are genuinely unable to pay the fees. With businesses shut around the world, millions of jobs came to an immediate end. With households struggling to make ends meet, fees for education is the last thing they can afford. This is the time for empathy and generosity because history will remember everything. There will be peace soon and then there will be generations to whom you’ll find it difficult to explain why you clamped down on the public in the times where solidarity was needed.
Understanding and mutual respect is the way forward. Abuse of power may win you some allusions of glory but if history has taught us anything, it is that those moments are but numbered.