AIB's Rohan recently tweeted about how he dropped out of college because of a malicious professor.

Psychological harassment by teachers People narrate personal storiesPTI
Features Wednesday, August 17, 2016 - 20:02

Rohan of All India Bakchod (AIB) recently tweeted about his harrowing experience at college when he was harassed by a professor.

“I start shaking even today, just thinking about it. The humiliation, the helplessness. And the rage that follows,” Rohan, who later dropped out of the college, said.
 
The tweets came after Sushant Rohilla, a student of Amity Law School, Delhi, committed suicide after being debarred from giving his end semester exams. His family has alleged that “mental harassment” from the college administration led him to take the extreme measure. 

These stories, however, are not stray incidents.

While most students remember their college life with fondness, Kavya S*, who went to an Arts college in Chennai, describes it as a “bad period”. A professor’s dislike for her transformed Kavya’s pursuit for a Master’s degree into a long episode of psychological and mental harassment.

Kavya speculates that the professor may have found her arrogant and rebellious. However, it still didn’t justify her preventing Kavya from writing her papers or dismissing her work in front of external evaluators. She also said nasty, unprofessional things about Kavya in the staff room as the latter found out.

“I felt helpless and mostly depressed. And there was pressure from my family to complete my formal education,” she now recollects.

Complaints to the principal bore no results and the harassment continued. One and a half years later, she quit her two-year Master’s course.

While corporal punishment in schools is an oft debated subject, an issue that often goes unnoticed is the harassment that older students face in higher institutes of education.

This type of abuse and even bullying is perpetrated not by fellow students, but by teachers.

Most students do not protest because teachers wield significant power over them - the power to grade them.

A. Mangai, theatre personality and academician, says that live teaching is a profession that gives enormous power to the teacher. And it takes long for teachers to understand how to use the power in a way which does not adversely affect the students.  

College-going students, she explains, are in their late teens or early twenties, those who have just made the transition from school to college. And they expect to be treated like adults with respect. Their minds are still evolving and teaching plays with the minds of students. 

“There's a desperate need for teachers to be sensitive. We work in a rocket era and follow a lifestyle which gives no time to empathise with fellow human beings. Students should certainly let their teachers know when they are hurt. They should speak to the teacher concerned and this culture needs to be brought in,” she states.

23-year-old Pallavi Dewan recalls how while pursuing her bachelor’s course from Delhi University, one of her teachers took a dislike to her and tampered with her grades. After failing her twice in her internals and humiliating her in front of the class, she said she would ensure that she did not pass her external exams.

"I got so scared and really thought I won’t be able to make it. I studied very hard and almost topped the externals. It was then that I realised that what I had done in my internals wasn't all wrong and that she just didn't pass me," says Pallavi. (External papers are marked centrally at Delhi University and not necessarily by internal college teachers.)

While such incidents do occur, Dr Jayanthini, a Chennai-based psychiatrist, is cautious about painting the entire teaching community with the same brush.

Teachers need to have some control over students to maintain discipline, she says, but at times they can become biased for a number of reasons.

Dr Jayanthini says that sometimes, the issue can be cordially solved by effective communication between parents and teachers. However, at other times, the only solution is to remove the person from the “emotionally abusive situation”. She gives the example of two students who had to discontinue their course because of harassment from their guide. 

Incidents such as these occur across the country.

Studying in a reputed school in Chandigarh, Ayush recalls, “"My teacher said that I talk so much that I was like a girl. I didn't know then that she meant this as an insult. The whole class started laughing. That day I went to the balcony outside class and cried.”

 But the teacher did not stop there. She called him “Ayushi” when she was distributing test papers and notebooks a few times, much to the amusement of the class.

"When a teacher, who's supposed to protect you from this sort of harassment, does it herself, what do you do? I felt like I had no one to turn to," Ayush says.

Some students have no other option than to bear such harassment, others are forced to give up. Quitting, however, does not always mean failing.

It has been a few years since Kavya quit college. She has been working all this while and is once again planning to get her Master's degree. Only this time, she will pursue it from another college. “In fact, not in India at all,” she says.

(*name changed)

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