University Despots: Are portals of higher education in India now turning into a law in itself?

A perceived injustice, then protests followed by short-lived media rage, ominous silence, back to square one.
University Despots: Are portals of higher education in India now turning into a law in itself?
University Despots: Are portals of higher education in India now turning into a law in itself?
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Once considered revered grounds of learning, even the most prestigious universities in India now resemble some sort of an autocratic dystopia, where dissent is blasphemy.

More than government-run institutions, private colleges and deemed universities are the worst offenders. 

Consider the senseless death of Rohith Vemula from the University of Hyderabad, JNU’s infamous tussle with one of its own -Kanhaiya Kumar, Bengaluru’s Christ University and Chennai’s Sai Ram Engineering College with its strict dress codes, Kerala’s Nehru Group of Institutions with a draconian code of conduct in place…the list seems to mutate, as the days go by.

Things have taken on an even uglier hue after the latest suicide of a first-year Computer Science student after reported harassment over alleged cheating in a college semester examination in Kerala.

But what makes it all the more terrifying is the repetitive pattern that seems to be emerging from such seemingly one-off incidents.

There is first a perceived injustice that simmers in the hallowed portals of higher learning. A spark then sets off a whole blaze of protests, followed by frenzied media-coverage.

After a few days, an ominous silence sets in. And we are back to square one. It seems almost impossible to break out of this cyclical maze.

After all the mandatory hullaballoo that the masses diligently make after each episode of despotism by college/university authorities, it is always the latter that seems to have the last laugh.

Status quo is back in place with alarming regularity. It is almost as if they have become a law unto themselves.

Be it gender segregation on college campuses, or the way a student is supposed to dress, voicing of political leanings and the like, independence of thought and action is severely muzzled in the name of so-called enforcement of discipline and order in universities.

A senior journalist who did not wish to be named opines that in the earlier times, portals of higher learning were looked up to with awe and respect, for all that they epitomized, namely wisdom, knowledge and the sheer bliss of partaking of the best in the varied fields of specialization:

“There is an oft-repeated tale of how the late EMS Namboothiripaad (the first Chief Minister of Kerala) while in power, sought an appointment to meet John Mathai who was the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Kerala. It goes to show just how revered an academic position the latter held.

These days, such appointments are mostly political, and many who occupy the post often unfortunately act as mere stooges of their political masters.”

MB Rajesh -Palakkad MP- believes that the state government should appoint an ombudsman for all the private colleges in Kerala, to address the grievances of students and staff:

“This would ensure that any dissatisfaction with the laid-down procedures is aired in the proper forum and is speedily dealt with, rather than let dissatisfaction build up into a crescendo with unpleasant after-shocks.”

Cutting across political affiliations, almost all student unions believe that bringing back politics into the campus is the only solution to the problem.

JS Akhil -former Kerala Students Union (KSU) state secretary and ex-syndicate member of Kerala University- says:

"Campus politics ensures that issues such as fee-structure, examination-schedule and other issues faced by students are addressed. This is exactly what private college managements want to curtail. If students, with the support of political parties are allowed to voice their opinion, the authorities would then find it impossible not to address the same.”

A conscious lumping of moral and behavioural codes down the throats of unsuspecting students only guarantees the churning out of machine-made clones who know no better than to submit to authority and choose the easy way out.

Our future generations are supposed to question the familiar, so as to be able to usher in the unfamiliar, create an alternative, or even reinvent the known, in order to make the world a better place to live in.

If that is not so, is India headed in the right direction is the worrisome thought that lurks somewhere in the back of our minds….so when exactly is the right time to stand up and give voice to dissent?

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