“Divide and Rule” — The colonial hangover in modern Engineering education.
Over the last few days I have been hearing constant news on the state of affairs at MIT. Being my alma mater, I have been following the developments there with keen interest.
From whatever I have gathered, the students there are out on a strike, the reason being the suspension of 4 students on charges of ragging.
Ragging – a very convenient term for victimization. Much like eve-teasing or dowry. No questions asked, no explanations sought. If you are a senior and they charge you with ragging, then there is nothing much you can do about it.
But thank god, the college I left still retains the sense of unity which so endeared it to me. The whole college is now up in protest, and so are the alumni, who in spite of being in different corners of the world have been quick to unite and extend their support.
Before going in, the seriousness of the charge has to be examined. From accounts coming in from both the students and the authorities, the suspended students had called over a few first years to their classroom and held a talk with them in the lunch interval. In the words of the Vice-Chancellor, “It was not really ragging. As faculty members have been doing the rounds in the hostels in the nights, the senior students had asked the juniors to assemble in the classroom and had an unnecessary talk.”
Now what is meant by unnecessary talk? Is it grave enough a mistake to elicit a punishment like suspension which can spoil a student’s whole life? What problems are the authorities out to avoid, and what are the ones they are creating in the process?
The popular rule in MIT in the last few years has been to isolate the first years from the rest of the college. For the first few months the freshers have completely different class timings, have different mess timings and have zero opportunities of contact with the rest of the college. And anyone from either camp, who tries to get in touch with the other, is severely punished and abused by the authorities. Seems Taliban is getting a stronghold in TN colleges far away from America’s scrutiny. Seems the college authorities just took over all the rights of ragging from the students, by choosing to indulge in it themselves.
The colleges here have seen a drastic fall in tolerance levels, unlike most other places where things have been getting liberal with time. First they decided to impose a dress code, then decided to ban all electronic gadgets, and now they decide to implement a new law of untouchability, which if broken invites the kind of punishment which even the kangaroo courts of rural Haryana are incapable of. Maybe they could start calling it “Honour suspension”, in line with all the arbitrary honour killings that happen everywhere else, just to rub in the point that two camps which weren’t supposed to mingle committed the crime of doing so.
In a totalitarian regime, every new ruler, just to impose his authority on the system, and emphasise his contribution to the already existing set of draconian laws, comes up with new ones which even put the old ones to shame. Considering that the scenario in TN engineering colleges isn’t too different, I am just dreading the kind of new innovative rules they may come up with. Maybe the next dress code would be a uniform Purdah for all, just so that the students don’t get distracted by having the necessity to look at each other. Or maybe they would just fit blinders on their eyes, like they do to a horse, just so that they are focussed. Aren’t students just another form of cattle, to be constantly herded, to be punished severely for every wrong step, and reared for the single purpose of ruminating on well-worn lecture notes and coming out with shit-loads of answers in exams. Who cares if they learn human interaction during the course of their education? Who cares if they actually gain the courage to meet new people and face new situations? Why teach them to tolerate each other, to behave with others in a human way. Isn’t it more convenient to lock them all up separately so that they just don’t meet? Makes your job much easier, doesn’t it Ms.Dean.
I have studied in two awesome colleges which made me what I am in life. I studied in MIT before any of this tyranny had taken over. And then I went over for my PG to a place where any sort of administrative interference was completely unheard of. Students were treated like adults who could decide what to do with their time and how to behave with each other. The admin was left with the sole job of fixing leaking taps and seeing to it that the lawns get mowed. The faculty actually concentrated on teaching rather than indulging in red tape and raids. The students, free from the distraction of thinking up ways of breaking rules, because none actually existed, rather decided to focus their brains on studies and career planning. The TN engineering colleges on the other hand, in the manner in which they employ flying-squads and conduct raids, could indeed come to some manpower sharing agreement with the police force. Would just help in making the latter more effective.
The protesters are now demanding the ouster of the Dean. Can’t blame them. But had I been in their place, I would rather demand the removal of such draconian laws, not only in MIT but rather in all engineering colleges in the state. The colleges should remember that the autonomy they are provided is solely educational and doesn’t give them the authority to rewrite the Fundamental Rights of the constitution when applied within their campus. Any rule which prevents people from mingling is unconstitutional. So is any rule which prevents you from speaking out, or denies you the right to spend your free time the way you want. The sad part is that even the most remote of tribes and villagers have NGOs to fight for their denial of rights, while rights infringements like this, right in the middle of the city go unnoticed. If the Jeppiar group of institutions is still able to run a profitable business with all their talibanesque rules intact, it’s just a testimony to the primitive and degraded mindset which politicians, parents and educators are still harbouring when it comes to graduate education. Had the same set of institutions with similar rules been in the USA, I would have taken admission voluntarily, just so that I could sue them for a million dollars later. And now sadly even open-minded institutions like MIT are going that way, rather than leading by example on the fronts of student’s freedom and rights.
I just hope the protest is able to fulfil its purpose. I hope it’s able to bring back focus on how our colleges are run, so that a systemic change could occur. I hope none of the students who had the guts to take up the banner of the protest are victimised later for their actions, even if they don’t get appreciated for their courage. And on a more selfish note, I hope my MIT returns back to the serene and peaceful state in which I last left it.