#India- Students Suicides- Petition by University Teachers


( This writ petition is before the AP High Court.)

We are all teachers who are deeply concerned about these suicides and the crisis in the universities that they point to. Our desire is to help the Court to understand why these suicides have taken place and urge that it takes note of the contexts that seem to be pushing students to take such terminal steps. We believe that the suicides are only the tip of the iceberg of many problems the student community (especially dalits and other marginalized groups) is experiencing.

These include: failure and constant fear of failing the examinations; insult; a sense of being stigmatized, unwanted or rejected socially and academically; consequent demoralization and lack of self belief; having failed not knowing how to face families who have struggled to educate them; not being able to fulfill the responsibility of supporting parents and siblings; sexual harassment; not having the economic resources to survive outside the university campuses–just to mention a few examples. University administrations have generally attributed these deaths to personal psychology instead of attempting to seriously study the problem and initiate broad systemic and attitudinal reforms.

  1. Analysis of Context

Social profiles of students who died are as follows. Across Hyderabad an overwhelming proportion of student suicides are of those belonging to marginalized social backgrounds. This marginalization may relate to caste, region, language, minority status and sexual orientation. The following examples demonstrate this trend:

    • Pulaya Raju committed suicide in March 2013. Aged 21 years, he was a student of 8th semester of the Integrated MA Linguistics at UoH, belonging to Scheduled Caste. He was from Warangal district and his father was a mine worker. Raju was the first to enter university in his family. After he cleared the courses in six semesters successfully(elsewhere this would have earned him a BA degree, but not in UoH), he got detained in four courses in the seventh semester. At the time of his death, he was uncertain and anxious about his next semester registration.
    • Mudasir Kamran, a Kashmiri student of EFL-U committed suicide in 2013. At the time of his death, he was writing his Ph.D thesis in the Department of English Language Teaching. He was distraught about being taken to the police station over a quarrel with a fellow student.
    • Rajitha, committed suicide in 2011. She was a 1st year student of MAPolitical Science in Osmania University. She came from a Scheduled Caste agricultural family. Her ambition was to join the Police Department. She could not face harassment from a male classmate.
    • Senthil Kumar died in the year 2008. Senthil Kumar, pursuing Ph.D in Physics at HCU was from a Panniandi (pig-rearing caste) family in Tamil Nadu. His parents were agricultural workers. He was worried about failing in the exams, finding a supervisor at the end of first year and about his scholarship (part of which he sent home regularly) being discontinued.
    • Malleshwari aged 21 years committed suicide in the year 2007. She was studying B.Tech in the College of Technology, Osmania Unviersity. She was from a poor backward caste family in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. After getting detained in her first and second semesters with 50% backlogs, she committed suicide.

While it is impossible to establish a single “explanation”  for any of these suicides, each of them have raised a number of structural problems that relate to the crisis that the universities are facing today.

Failure has a specific meaning for these students. Due to many reasons, ‘discontinuing’ and going back home is not a viable option for poor, rural students, who may chose death over a future in which they must stare at their inability to provide for miserably poor families that have staked everything to educate them. In many cases they were also the academic “toppers” in a village or a community and the ignominy of returning as failures would also be unbearable.

There has been a demographic shift in the student population of the universities. From 1990s onwards, the number of students from marginalized groups reaching universities has steadily increased. Expansion in the scope of reservation to include backward castes has succeeded in bringing new groups into the universities. Increased vigilance has ensured that the SC-ST quotas are better filled. As such, this increase in the diversity of students is surely a welcome change and of signal importance in national life.

The suicides, we believe, point to the exclusionary mindset operative within the universities. This is usually also endorsed in the articulation of student anger following such events. While the acts and attitudes that emerge from this mindset may not always be willful or conscious, the mindset surfaces consistently in entrance procedures and norms, administrative arrangements, rules, curricula, teaching practices, testing and examination practices, various institutional procedures, faculty-student relations, indeed the entire culture of the university and its everyday life.  We feel that the university and we, as members of it, have not taken the challenge of addressing and dismantling this mindset seriously enough.   In other words, the multidimensional intellectual and institutional effort that is essential if this mindset is to be changed so that new students made part of the larger community has not been actively fostered. This may be done through institutional mandate (as for example in the noting of failure or dropout rates; focus on curricular change designed to “leave no student behind”; profiling of faculty and departments with a history of failed students) or through broad-based cultural initiatives.  On the contrary student anguish or anger has all too often been taken as depression or rowdyism and medicalized or criminalized.

All these problems raise many administrative challenges in terms of faculty-student ratio, hostel facilities, admissions, examinations, adequate number of administrative staff etc. which nevertheless do not receive adequate attention. Across the universities students report facing innumerable problems related to crowding, inadequacy and poor hygiene of toilets and other hostel facilities, shortage of food and drinking water (queues may be so long that students have to leave for class without lunch/breakfast). Lack of facilities and arrangements (more so for girls) for games and recreation is another factor impeding a healthy social life.

Students from marginalized groups also are troubled by lack of clarity and sometimes contradictions in examination and administrative procedures (a faculty member may not have declared the results of his/her course, but a registration cut-off date is enforced), rules that do not take into account their difficulties, and discretionary and biased treatment from the administration. For example, ‘don’t waste my time’, ‘go away’, ‘come tomorrow’, ‘I am busy now’, ‘your presence irritates me’ (the last spoken by a deputy registrar sitting in an air conditioned room) have become routine! They feel unwelcome –and experience a lack of mooring, support, and abandonment. In spite of the goodwill shown by a few individual faculty members, they experience the university to be ‘hostile’ towards them.

Universities, in our opinion, are also yet to acknowledge the need to change the prevailing academic culture of the university. We have been slow to engage with and adapt to new student needs, let alone challenge already established knowledge structures. The extraordinary merit of these students reaching the portals of the university despite all adversity is unrecognized and we continue to see them as a backward burden on the university system. We need to ask ourselves why far too many of the students who have made their way into the “big” universities through reservations and supported by national fellowships, drop out. Why are they, as a group, failing? Why do they begin, often for the first time in their lives to do badly in class, feel unwanted and unfairly treated, harassed by norms and regulations? A simple example of unfriendly regulations is the UoH system of registering every semester, which poses a lot of problems to these students who have to obtain ‘no dues’ certificates from six different people, including the library. Anyone who delays this procedure by a few days has to pay a penalty for identity cards and other administrative essentials. The lack of coordination between the Centre for Integrated Studies which runs the IMA programme, Departments at the post-graduate level, and examination branches is resulting in confusion regarding backlog/supplementary exams and eligibility of students for appearing in the next semester exams.

  1. Agenda for Change

It is submitted that serious curricular changes need to be made to ensure that the students from these groups will successfully complete their courses and acquire the required skills (for jobs). We continue to teach subjects, without thoughtfully rethinking and reorganizing the material and for the actual students in the classroom. Students are left feeling that the courses are designed to show up their inadequacy, not to help them learn. Curricula and pedagogy remains oriented to students from elite backgrounds.

The flexibility and openness to innovation of the semester system offers some avenues for adapting courses to suit new populations of students entering the university. This has not been fully exploited. Substantial work has to go into designing new curricula taking into account students’ strength, addressing their interests and gaps in abilities, and mediating between them and the possibilities of employment. There has been some acknowledgement of the necessary structural changes such as the establishment of Centres for Women’s Studies, Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy and introduction of a few courses in Gender/Dalit studies; but their contribution is isolated and academic. These issues do not become a serious concern of the university as a whole.

The Public Culture of the University needs to be actively changed. This can be done through rules, procedures of accountability, academic discussions, and, not least, cultural initiatives. The administration should visibly demonstrate that it is taking seriously its responsibility to what is, after all, the majority of people in this country. While these problems may be somewhat difficult, they are not insurmountable. Similar problems have been institutionally addressed with success in other countries, and adaptation is possible. For example, administrative fairness and justice for marginalized populations is a well-known fact about educational institutions in the US.

The University should be a location that facilitates the shaping of egalitarian and universal knowledge, the interaction of castes, classes, religions, regions and genders, the building of friendships and the development of mutual respect. This is not happening.  The loss is economic – that of the investment of a desperately poor family, sometimes and extended family and maybe an entire village; also that of the tax payer and the country. The loss to national culture is inestimable: failure of a critical forerunner sends a bad message to many children looking up to those who have gone ahead of them.  Universities in general, and we teachers in particular, need to be more accountable to the high failure rate, anxiety, disturbance that students are experiencing.

It is a matter of very deep concern that all too often police are called into the university.  Individual students involved in a quarrel and protesting students (who all too often are calling attention to these structural problems) are being taken to the police (and cases filed against them) for small issues that should have been addressed within the university or problems that have such deep structural roots. The University should by now be aware that problems that are complex and structural cannot be addressed as ones of law and order.  Students are threatened and humiliated by this and the results can be tragic. The most recent example is the suicide of Mudassir Kamran at English and Foreign Languages University.

Grievance Redressal Mechanims such as disciplinary committees, grievance cells at the department and university level, sexual harassment committees, SC/ST grievance cells etc. are neither fully functional nor accessible to the students. We would suggest that the revival of these several committees, rather than establishing one general grievance cell, will enable the culture of hearings and redressal to grow. Some universities have some of them in place. In some universities such as Osmania University, a Sexual Harassment Committee is yet to be established. In another example, in the aftermath of the suicide of Senthil Kumar, PhD student, in 2008, a Fact Finding Committee was constituted by the University of Hyderabad. One of the important findings of this Report was the need for Grievance Redressal mechanisms for every School/Department in the University where students can go with their problems.  The Report also emphasizes the need to nurture and take care of those students who come from marginalized backgrounds especially in a context where the watch words for contemporary university are that of access and equity. Reviving and strengthening the operation of these committees would go a long way towards establishing administrative fairness.

Towards this objective – of redefining the public culture of the universities, we have to radically rethink indicators of the formal educational system such as failure, drop out, forced discontinuation, irrational decline in the performance of entry level students (e.g. school or district toppers doing badly in university), even student anger against rules and procedures. The rethinking is all the more necessary as these indicators continue to be interpreted as student failure, and not as institutional inadequacy.

Provision needs to be made for an adequate number of counselors who are also aware of and trained to respond to the kinds of tensions and pressures individual students may be experiencing.  Women or dalit and other marginalized students facing harassment or demoralization, minority students ever in danger of being labeled as terrorist or scoffed at for wearing the hijab, those wrestling with issues of their sexuality and/or sexual orientation, also need help to confront these issues.  Though many of these problems are structural, it is individuals who suffer their effects. They need help to recognize the problems and deal with them productively and not destroy themselves through shame or self blame.

We have taken this opportunity of submitting a set of recommendations drawn from our experiences to make University education more inclusive and accessible. Such an exercise requires a wide range of issues to be addressed which include new set of curricula, administrative systems, teaching methods, policy initiatives, and general cultural orientation keeping in mind the fact that the university is one of the most important transformative institutions in India today.

Our plea is that an Inquiry Committee be constituted to study the whole wide range of issues that bear on student suicides. The Committee may also hold well publicized Open Hearings in the different universities, and receive written submissions from the public.  We the undersigned teachers are willing to assist this Court in laying down substantial ground rules for revisualising / revitalizing the university system as it exists today.

Signatories

Prof. G Haragopal, Rt Professor from Department of Political Science, HCU

Prof. Rama Melkote, Retd Professor, Department of Political Science, OU

Prof. Jacob Tharu, Retd Professor of Educational Evaluation, EFL-U

Prof. D.Narasimha Reddy, Sankaran Chair, NIRD, Hyderabad

Prof. Susie Tharu, Department of Cultural Studies, EFL-U

Prof. Padmini Swaminathan, Centre for Livelihoods Research, TISS, Hyderabad

Prof. PL Vishweshwar Rao, Head, Department of Journalism, MANUU

Prof Mariappan Periasamy, School of Chemistry, University of Hyderabad

Dr R Akhileshwari, Associate Professor, Dept of Journalism, OU

Dr. P Madhavi, Retired Associate Professor in Commerce, OU

Prof. T Nageswara Rao, Department of Commonwealth Literary Studies, EFL-U

Prof. D Vasanta, Department of Linguistics, OU

Prof. U Vindhya, Chairman, Academic Programmes, TISS, Hyderabad

Prof. P.Muthaiah, Department of Political Science, OU

Prof. Madhava Prasad, Department of Cultural Studies, EFL-U

Prof. Madabhushi Sridhar, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad

Prof. K.Srinivasulu, Department of Political Science, OU

Prof. Sasheej Hegde, Department of Sociology, HCU

Dr. K.Lakshminarayana, Associate Professor, Dept. of Economics, HCU

Prof. Vinod Pavarala, Sarojini Naidu School of Arts and Communication, HCU

Prof. Gaddam Krishna Reddy, Department of Political Science, OU

Dr. P Thirumal, Associate Professor, SN School, HCU

Prof. R.V Ramana Murthy, Department of Economics, HCU

Dr.S. Durga Bhavani, Associate Professor, School of Computer and Information Sciences, HCU

Dr. Rekha Pappu, Associate Professor, Centre for Education, TISS, Hyderabad

Dr. K. Satyanarayana, Associate Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, EFL-U

Prof. M.T.Ansari, Director, Centre for Comparative Literature, HCU

Dr. Bhangya Bhukya, Associate Professor, Dept of Social Exclusion Studies, EFL -U

 

Hate speech: Owaisi seeks 4 more days to surrender before police


 Posted on Jan 07, 2013 at 11:23am IST

Hyderabad: Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi, in a row over a hate speech, returned early on Monday morning from London to a rousing reception by his supporters at the airport. A hospital ambulance was at his residence for a reported check up on Monday morning.

He was likely to surrender to the police on Monday after being booked for delivering a hate speech, but Owaisi has approached the investigating officer in Adilabad seeking four days extension for appearance. Prohibitory orders, however, remain in force in Nirmal town of the district till 6 pm on Monday in anticipation of his meeting with police.

He was directed by the court to appear before the police in Adilabad district on Monday and in Nizamabad town on January 8. When asked if the police anticipated any trouble due to his appearance, the police officer said, “Everything will be taken care of”. On Saturday, Andhra Pradesh DGP V Dinesh Reddy said Owaisi informed police that he was undergoing treatment in London and would appear before it shortly.

Another notice was served to the MIM legislator by Osmania police asking him to appear before it on January 10. While two FIRs were registered suo motu at Adilabad and Nizamabad districts, a third case was registered by Osmania University police, following a court directive after Owaisi allegedly used inflammatory language against a particular community last month.

Fresh complaints continued to pour in against Owaisi from Malkangiri and Vanasthalipuram, though no cases have been registered, police said.

Owaisi, who represents Chandrayangutta Assembly constituency, has been booked under Sec 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion) and Sec 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) of IPC.

The MIM legislator has also been booked under Sec 121 (waging or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India) of IPC.

Meanwhile, TDP and BJP leaders held protests at various places in the state, demanding action against Owaisi. TDP MLA Revant Reddy demanded that Owaisi be disqualified for his comments.

Speaking at a protest, state BJP president G Kishan Reddy said that steps should be taken to ensure that Owaisi returns to India to face the law.

(With additional information from PTI) 

 

A Cowed-Down Nation


ILLUSTRATION BY SORIT
OPINION
A Cowed-Down Nation
Why kill over a people’s dietary preference for beef?
MEENA KANDASAMY in The Outlook
 “The university and all teaching systems that appear simply to disseminate knowledge are made to maintain a certain social class in power, and to exclude the instruments of power of another social class…. The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.”

Michel Foucault, debate with Noam Chomsky, 1971

It looks like Foucault’s “real political task” is what the organisers of the recent beef-eating festival at Osmania University set out to do: they fought the “food fascism” that kept beef out of the menu, reminded the secular state that a university hostel mess was not Sankara math, and criticised the imposition of caste-Hindu dietary diktats on Dalits from within the confines of a seemingly neutral educational institution. When they rapped “Beef is the secret of my energy” with all the soul of an outlaw anthem, it sounded like the secret heartbeat of an anti-caste cultural revolution.

But the stone-pelting, vehicle-torching ABVP hooliganism and the OU vice-chancellor S. Satyanarayana’s statement that beef would not be served in hostels unmasked a pattern of political violence. Tucking into beef biriyani behind the smokescreen of the teargas firing at OU, one could imagine the rage of a caste-Hindu mob that lynched five Dalits in Jhajjar, Haryana, in 2002 for skinning a dead cow. A week earlier, Hindu extremists had triggered communal disturbances in Hyderabad’s Old City area by hurling beef in the Hanuman temple at Kurmaguda. Both these incidents highlight the ideological framework of Hindutva mobilisation using a certain female quadruped political player who is capable of igniting riots, whose dead flesh could cause a city to disintegrate into communal violence.

Instead of acknowledging the beef-fest as an act of Dalit assertion, right-wing commentators said it was a ploy to dent the Telangana struggle. They propped up pork to silence other minorities and cast this as a Hindu-Muslim stand-off when it was actually about untouchability. Dr Ambedkar had theorised that broken men (and women) rebelling against caste became untouchables because they were Buddhists and beef-eaters. Beef, being a Dalit food, was kept away from caste-Hindus and stigmatised. To enforce the strict regimentation of caste codes, beef-eating was prohibited for Hindus. And not just in the Manusmriti.

Because India is a Hindu state at heart despite all apparitions to the contrary, Article 48 of the Constitution requires the State to take steps to prohibit the slaughter of cows. Anti-cow slaughter laws in most states promise prison terms. In implementing Hindutva, nobody outdoes Narendra Modi. He sparked off the state-aided slaughter of Muslims a decade ago, but now tries to balance his karma by conducting dental and cataract surgeries for cows. Note: Hinduism only asks of a ruler to protect cows from slaughter. While Muslim victims of the Gujarat riots still languish in relief camps, Modi gloats that no cow has to travel more than three kilometres to reach a health camp. In this animal farm, Her Holiness Mother Cow is a first-class citizen with health insurance and a pension plan. Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and Christians, being beef-eating minorities, cannot press for similar privileges.

She hasn’t always been treated with motherly respect, though: D.N. Jha’s book The Myth of the Holy Cow documented the problematic (and under-appreciated) history of Brahmin/Hindu beef-eating in ancient India, before the taboos evolved, while Manish Jha’s film Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women depicted the sexual abuse of a cow by sex-starved men. Perhaps that’s why when the BJP was in power, the National Cow Commission (2002) suggested forming a Central Cattle Protection Rapid Task Police Force and wanted amendments to pota to enable detention of those smuggling cows.

There is no point getting offended if someone enjoys beef in all its juicy glory. Since nobody is being force-fed, tolerance means digesting the idea that just as cows are meant to be milked, cows are also meant to be meat. There cannot be a shred of doubt that in a racist nation which advertises vaginal skin-lightening creams, the large, naive eyes and flawless complexion make the cow an attractive mother. Men take pride in being mummy’s boys, but it is high time Hindutva organisations and secular, state-run universities stop being swayed by bovine sex appeal, step out of their Oedipus complex and remind themselves that cows, at least the fertile ones, are only mothers of calves. Why kill for a cow, when you aren’t born of one?

Immediate Release- NWMI Condemns violent abuse of Meena Kandasamy on Twitter


NWMI CONDEMNS VIOLENT ABUSE OF MEENA KANDASAMY

The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), strongly condemns the violent and sexist abuse unleashed on poet, writer, activist and translator Meena Kandasamy, presumably in response to her posts on Twitter about the beef-eating festival at Osmania University, Hyderabad, on 15 April 2012 and the ensuing clashes between groups of students.

After her comments on Twitter, she was threatened with various forms of violence, including gang rape and acid attacks. Some placed a price on her head. Others threatened her freedom of speech, saying that she would not be allowed to speak anywhere, and called for her prosecution for allegedly outraging religious feelings under Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code. In over a hundred tweets, she was called a whore, characterless, a terrorist and a bitch. One of the most objectionable comments was that she should be raped on live television, this barbaric idea was put out by one Siddharth Shankar who followed it up with more vicious filth.

Meena Kandasamy has become the target of a vicious abuse campaign on twitter and other sites for her support to the festival during which she and other students had to be escorted to a safe place under police escort. Protestors even stoned the van they were travelling in. It is highly condemnable that her support of a food festival should lead to demands for her prosecution and a bounty on her head.

As a professional network of women journalists, the NWMI is firmly committed to freedom of expression and, indeed, supports ongoing efforts to ensure that the Internet remains a free space and is not subjected to censorship. However, freedom comes with responsibility and all those who
value free speech must, at the very least, censure hate speech.

Everyone in a democracy has a right to hold and express their opinions on current events and issues. Similarly, everyone has a right to disagree with and argue against the opinions of others. Debate – not abuse and threats – is the democratic means to deal with conflicting views on contentious topics: in this case, the right to choose what to eat and not eat.

It appears that Meena Kandasamy has been singled out for abuse at least partly because she is a bold and outspoken woman who expresses her opinions freely in the public sphere. The fact that she is a Dalit, especially one whose work focuses on caste annihilation, linguistic identity and feminism, clearly makes her even more of a target.

We call upon all those who value freedom of expression to join us in condemning the online attack on Meena Kandasamy and to explore ways to ensure that everyone has a right to express their opinion – on the Internet as well as elsewhere – without being subjected to hateful abuse.

The Network of Women in Media, India
www.nwmindia.org

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