news Saturday, February 07, 2015 - 05:30
By Sudha Ramalingam  The recent Madras High Court order banning all beauty contests in educational institutions looks like draconian and unnecessary judicial interference. It adds to the criticism of moral policing by the judiciary as well into the activities of educational institutions. Right to freedom of speech and expression, would include artistic exhibition too. What is beauty, what is decent or otherwise is of course in the eyes of the beholder. Educational institutions are primarily for imparting academic knowledge and to inculcate values. What is value education cannot be defined strictly. But the mushrooming educational institutions as economically viable ventures have brought in multiple facets of competing exposure to show case talents of its students. In this competition, Culturals / Fests, which started off as extra-curricular / co-curricular activities have now become big corporate business initiatives? It is in this context that one has to view beauty and other contests being held in educational institutions attracting phenomenal sums as prize monies. Even as a section may say beauty is subjective; exposure is obscene / vulgar etc. it is a fact of life that a thing of beauty is a joy for ever. The question now is not whether beauty contests are good or bad, where to hold it or not. Is it to be part of educational institutions’ activity? The Court has rightly found it disturbing when a writ is moved to claim Rs.25 lakhs as prize money against the prestigious Anna University. Educational campuses are getting to become everything except places of academic excellence. Intrusions of Consumer Corporates into educational institutions are shifting priorities of even academic contents. Tailor made courses to suit the philosophy and requirements of Corporates are on the rise.  It is mind boggling to read about the crores of rupees being spent on cultural / fests of various educational institutions. Just google ‘cultural fest in colleges’ and it takes you to innumerable pages Wikipedia gives list of cultural festivals in Indian colleges at here. Have a look at this website's list of upcoming culturals. Even a very casual perusal of these sites shows that most of the fests are business minded, it has even specialized teams in colleges for Sales and Sponsorship for the fests. I am afraid that this is a very opportunistic, unhealthy cut-throat competitive commercial atmosphere to which students are being exposed.  This interim order of ban has opened a Pandora’s Box and gives an opportunity to all stake holders to debate and get their thoughts and heads together to put educational institutions on track without Consumer Corporate intrusions. In 2013, Times of India says “Unmaad, Indian Institute of Management Bangalore's (IIMB) biggest cultural fest, cost the premier B school a whopping Rs 80 lakh. This is apart from their technical fest 'Vista', on the same magnitude. Together, the two cultural fests at IIMB cost an unimaginable Rs 1.60 crore”. Imagine what would be the present budget.  It is not just money, students’ precious time for studies are lost. One report says that these fests take six months planning and execution. This would mean that one semester could be lost. So it is high time the larger issues of educational / academic institutions foray into such commercial ‘fest’ in the garb of cultural exposition of students are looked at and norms be framed – after all freedom of speech and expression cannot be bereft of reasonable restrictions as our Constitution rightly guarantees. Sudha Ramalingam is a senior lawyer Read Is the Madras HC's order against college fashion shows a necessary intervention?

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