For over 21 months, Indian colleges and universities have been shut down. Students are on the streets to reclaim their space. While the state colleges and schools have resumed offline classes, the central universities are mute on the subject. This environment of uncertainty is causing tremendous anxiety among students who have been confined at home and face enormous challenges due to limited resources. Students have been protesting across campuses as the administration refuses to listen to them.
Students at TISS had also been strongly demanding reopening their campuses, at least for the research scholars and those students facing issues due to the digital divide. Students sent a letter with over 168 signatures demanding to reopen, raised their voices on social media, and hashtags like ‘occupy campus’ and ‘Chalo campus’. The institution has now announced that it will open in a phased manner from January onwards.
At Delhi University, things are running different.
Student groups like AISA, SFI, DSU, AIDSO are protesting for reopening campuses. After an indefinite hunger strike, student groups began an indefinite sit-in in front of Delhi University’s Arts Faculty. Online education is causing irreversible loss to students. Staying at home is not viable for students, especially from abusive households. Eli*, a final year history major student at Delhi University, says, “Campuses should reopen as it will provide students with a break from the toxic environment. Mingling with friends will give an air of refreshment.”
#THREAD: The students of DU are on a 48-hour hunger strike from 25th-26th October.
#DU #digitaldivide #opencolleges #RightToEducation
Pic courtesy: @ShreyaDU_AISA pic.twitter.com/qwheIDpw9I
— Youth Ki Awaaz (@YouthKiAwaaz) October 25, 2021
In Kashmir, where internet and mobile facilities are frequently shut down, lockdown is causing disproportionate loss to students. It is apparent that in a society as divided and unequal as ours the lockdown will have different effects on students from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
Since lockdown admissions have been taking place online in most colleges. In Delhi University, admissions for the 2020 batch took place online which clearly meant that many students without proper internet and mobile facilities were excluded from taking admission. According to the communication ministry, 25000 Indian villages do not have internet connectivity. Odisha has the highest number of those villages, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
This means a homogenous crowd of privileged students will have an undue advantage. The lockdown is furthering the pre-existing inequalities in our societies by forcing underprivileged students from accessing education.
Campuses are not only places where we study but also a safe space where we get an opportunity to be ourselves. A space to discuss, debate, meet different people, exchange ideas, and form solidarities. However, sitting in a room in front of a screen and doing classes for hours mechanically affects students’ mental health. A study published in the Journal Of Medical Internet Research shows 71% of students have reported increased stress and anxiety due to the pandemic.
Burnout and stress have alarmingly increased in the current phase of lockdown. Emma Kavanagh, a psychologist and author who is working on extreme environments in psychology, says it is where we are now in terms of unpredictability and uncertainty. We find something called psychological hibernation, which is the same as burnout. It adversely affects concentration, sleep and memory.
But burnout is not the only effect. Living in abusive households is also a critical reason students want campuses to reopen. Many reports and surveys have shown that domestic violence has increased during the lockdown.
The pandemic has destroyed support networks, making seeking help even more challenging. Apart from physical abuse, psychological and emotional abuse, which is way more difficult to prove, can cause severe damage to one’s mental health. It is hazardous for the mental and emotional health of the students to live amidst such abuse, and concentrate on studying along with that.
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Kal*, an undergraduate final year student, complained of losing memory when asked about the effects of online learning. Another student Rafi* said she finds it difficult to focus and wants the administration to reopen colleges. In addition, the classes cannot take place properly and every student does not have access to an internet connection which makes education exclusionary and a matter of privilege.
Tej*, an undergraduate student from Motilal Nehru College, says that their administration is not responding efficiently to their demands and the online mode of learning has affected her determination to study.
Zed*, another student from Delhi University, said, “Our demands are being ignored by the administration. The last two years have impacted our lives, being at home and attending online classes have become difficult.” A survey was done by DU students in which more than 3.3k students responded shows that 92.9% of students are vaccinated.
Delhi University resorted to open book examinations for its students. We need to ask, what are students learning like this? What jobs will the students who graduate will be able to get? Is the government deliberately trying to create a group of citizens who cannot think and express themselves, thereby weakening their potential in this Republic? Is debarring students of social interactions and limiting their social life to a laptop or computer screen an attempt to create a future workforce that cannot form solidarities and make their voices heard?
Is it an attempt to isolate people and make them vulnerable to state repression? After all, the campus provides students with a free space to grow into themselves. They learn to ask questions and be on their own, and by confining them to their laptops and not responding to their demands, what good can be achieved?
Students are asking that if massive political rallies can take place in the country, why can’t universities with proper measures like sanitization and physical distancing reopen? College and university students are responsible adults who can take care of themselves.
The university has been shut for over an year,and Batch of '23 has attended classes online for over an year. Now that situation has been improved.
Then Why is there a delay?
Why are we not getting update on second phase reopening?#reopendu #Kab_Khulega_Du
Survey results. pic.twitter.com/1Ue5w6jjv7
— Tashu Saini (@Tashuusainii) October 17, 2021
Students have been on hunger strikes and doing sit-ins to convey their distress to the administration, and the administration is responding by ignoring them. The VC of Delhi University had said earlier that the decision to reopen the campus would be taken after Diwali, and yet there has been no further notification in this regard.
Despite vaccinations and the cases coming down, college authorities are unwilling to consider reopening campuses. Students’ future and mental health are not a concern for the administration. By not listening to the demands raised by students and closing down campuses, the administration and the government of the day are trying to muzzle the voices of students.
*Names of students changed to maintain anonymity.
Note: The author is part of the Dec ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program.