Sex: Unspecified

Name: X
Age: 22
Sex:

Twice they asked me,
Mr/Ms X?
Startled, confused, I looked back.

Never been asked before
But it was there always
Right from the birth
The Do’s and the Don’ts.

Hold your tongue
Stay calm
Be charming, be lovely
Be the mother Earth.

Cry not
You are XY.
Hold your breath
Be brave.

I was a seed
Beginning to sprout
Undergoing mitosis
They branded me
Before I had a say.

My cocoon was stiff and
strong.
I was too fragile
to sprout my wings.

You are a girl, they shouted.
A girl!
Dress up
Be quiet.

Crushed, shattered, wounded
I decided
To plunge into boyishness.
I began to walk like, talk like them
I thought I would be accepted
Nothing but a vain dream.

I questioned my sex
They mocked at my gender

YES, I’M A GIRL.
So what?
Judge me not for what you think
But for what I’m.

YES, I’M A BOY.

So what?

Neither a girl nor a boy

I’m what I’m.

Name: X
Age: 22
Sex: Unspecified
Rejected

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Let them learn!

It is the time to break the shackles that undermine our educational institutions


The educational sector in India is seemed to be far more an elitist domain as the recent clamour on equality in education is brought into the spotlight. Though the constitution ensures the fundamental right to education for each and every one of its Indian citizens, caste-based discrimination that grips the society at the grass roots denies equal access owing to the hierarchic order undercurrent in the community. Even the primer institutes of the country which claim to have broken the caste barriers tend to adopt an anti-Dalit approach in the façade of lifting the lesser privileged.    

 “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made up of stardust. In every field, in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living…All the while, some people, for them, life itself is the curse. My birth is my fatal accident…” The terminal words of Rohit Vemula, a Ph.D. scholar at the University of Hyderabad who committed suicide following his suspension over the quarrel with the student wing of the elite ruling party points to the casteism that grabs India’s finest Central University. Further, the death of five Dalit students who killed themselves between the period of 2005 and 2015 at the same institute tell yet another tale of oppression. This is not the case of Hyderabad University alone. The suicide of two Dalit students at the Osmania University and the silencing of students associated with Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle at IIT Madras reminds the fact that the age-old Chaturvarna system still exists in our society.    

Nothing has changed much since independence in the matter of mindset regarding Indians. Though appears to be liberal and tolerant, the caste system is engraved in our mind in such a way that we still have temples where Dalits are not permitted to enter. The whole notion of “purity”, pollution and the practices of “untouchability” that began centuries ago based on the caste system still finds a place in modern India. The inability of so-called “upper class” to acknowledge and respect people of other classes has resulted in a series of issues ranging from their denial of basic rights to ill-treatment at the hands of “feudal” lords.

Education is meant for social revival. It is always through the light of the wisdom that darkness evaporates. The educational institutions which are supposed to be the centres of impartial, unbiased learning turn out to be prejudiced and one-sided in its approach, through the alliance with elitism. As a result, Dalits who are downtrodden in the society are plunged further into an abyss as the system which upholds social equality itself paves the way for alienation and social exclusion.      

The discrimination against Dalits has led to the increased number of dropouts in schools and colleges. A survey conducted by the local newspaper shows that about 44.27% of Dalit students leaves school at the primary level. The reasons for this farthermost step include corporal punishment, denial of access to school water and segregation in classrooms. The prejudiced attitude of teachers coupled with their dual mentality towards haves and have-nots aggravates the scenario causing depression and sense of insecurity among Dalit students and thus leading to irregular attendance in the classroom, less concentration in studies, lower performance and ultimately become drop outs!

  The plight of Dalit students at a remote village on the Madurai-Virundhunagar border is tragic as the government school had “systematically” kept the Dalit students away. A. Kathir, founder of Evidence, an NGO working against caste discrimination says that “We found through the RTI act that segregation has been going on for decades though the state administration had failed to identify it. The Dalit students of the village study at a missionary-run school”. Monisha, a final year commerce student of a local city college recounts her school days where she was forced to use the outside lavatory meant for workers and was also pulled up when something was stolen in her class.

The number of Dalit students opt for higher education is remarkably less compared to students belonging to other communities. The recent survey by Times of India shows that northern parts of India have frugal Dalit representation in the matter of higher education compared to the higher castes. Though a number of reasons can be point out including extreme poverty and migratory labour, the “ostracisation” of students belonging to marginalised sections can be regarded a central issue in dragging the students out of the college. As Stalin Rajangam, Dalit writer points out, “explicit untouchability does not exist on campuses these days. But caste has evolved and exhibits itself in subtle ways in terms of access to facilities and equality among students”. Apart from these, there are many social and physical factors which contribute to the lesser number of Dalits in higher education centres.

Many times, a Dalit student was considered the “other” in the institution. Anpumani, a third-year engineering student at a local college in Chennai thinks that people always looked down whenever he told his caste. Even though he got admission through merit, fellow students have a feeling that he was “lucky enough” to get a reservation. Further, he was teased for his “Tanglish” and he was compelled to write senior’s records.

V. Krishna, a Dalit faculty member at the University of Hyderabad, speaks about the “type of ghettoization” he and his fellow Dalit students went through while he was a student there; “There was no choice, but to be in the company of each other”. Quite often, institutional bias towards Dalits led students to kill themselves. Venkesh, a Dalit research scholar committed suicide as the university refused to provide a research supervisor or guide for him despite his repeated requests. Another Dalit student P. Raja took his life as the faculty denied to publish his mark. Mr Krishna confirms the unfriendly environment in primer institutes as he says; “Dalit students find it difficult to get past the biases that surface in all modern academic spaces as teachers, staffs and administrators are not concerned about this”. Moreover, the recent resignation of fourteen Dalit faculty members at the Central University also shows the gravity of the matter. The ill-crafted cut down of budget allocated for the scholarship of Dalit students along with the erratic decisions of the government further pours oil to the fire.

The economic condition of Dalits often acts as a curb to the dreams and aspirations of students. Though the parents wish to provide education to their children, financial position compels them to encourage their children to take up odd jobs. The inadequate basic amenities coupled with the lack of proper guidance hinder Dalit students to carve a path for themselves. Though the reservation system offers better representation in primer institutes, it isn’t sufficient to bring forth deserved people. Further, reservation itself creates a feeling of incapability as the “general category” tends to look them as “less qualified”. Satish Deshpande, a professor at Delhi school of Economics, thinks that admission to educational institution makes “reserved category a de facto identity for lower caste students, where the upper caste identity is subdued and referred to in secular terms as “general category””.

Activist Anoop Kumar notes that majority of students who commits suicide has strong academic achievements and he believes that it is their claim to equal treatment that which upsets the academic establishments. Though claims to be the space for open and liberal discussion, it is the hard time we need to realise the hostility lurking behind smiley faces in our educational institutions.

(With inputs from The Hindu, Times of India)

All is not Well!

A true story behind every engineering student

On March 13, 2016, Sonali Mansi, an eighteen-year-old engineering student from Bihar killed herself as she was failed in two subjects.

On March 11, 2016, T. Abhinath, a first-year student of a local engineering college in Chennai committed suicide.

On January 25, 2016, Puvala Prem Kumar, a fourth-year student in Electrical and Electronics engineering from Andra Pradesh succumb to death after he attempted to take his life owing to backlogs from previous semesters.

On December 27, 2015, a twenty-year-old engineering student from West Delhi took the extreme step as he was depressed by his performance in a particular subject.

This halfway list is nothing but a grave reminder regarding the plight of engineering students in India. The lucrative engineering degree that once dominated the professional market nevertheless continues to grip students and their parents as they think only engineering can retain their status in the society. But in the long run, the so-called “respectable” degree has turned out to be unrespectable paradigm as the majority of engineering graduates either end up doing odd jobs or remain jobless. Further, the alarming rate of suicides among engineering students proves that something is wrong somewhere. So, what has happened to our graduates? Aren’t they competitive enough to beat the market?
All is not well with our engineering colleges and students.

Why engineering?

More than 90 percent of students who took up engineering in private colleges did it for the sake of parents and for a remunerative job. Many times, parents fail to understand the capabilities of their children forcing them to study engineering though they weren’t particularly interested in it. Nithin John, a third-year Mechanical engineering student in a reputed college in Kerala is passionate about Criminology but was compelled to take up engineering as his parents thought it suits him better. It took some time for him to come to terms with the course and also realised that his classmates weren’t different from him; “Majority of them also just joined the crowd”. Jeevan George, a final year Civil engineering student in a government college also has a similar story to tell as he was interested in pursuing a degree in Mathematics but ended up in engineering.

There are also a few faces that tell a different story. Arun John, a final year engineering student is “crazy” about cars that motivated him to take up engineering. Jerin Jose, a post graduate student In IIT Bombay is a hardcore technology fan who is interested in new innovations and ideas. But this is not the case with the majority of the students.

What happens in engineering colleges?

The quality education provided by the colleges defines the future of an engineering student. If a college doesn’t have proper infrastructure, qualified faculty it may invariably affect student’s placements and career prospects. Moreover, adequate exposure is required for nurturing creativity, spontaneity, competitive spirit among students. However, most of the colleges don’t have sufficient environment to provide basic necessities for students. Vignesh, a final year Electrical engineering student feels that his college failed to meet his expectations that he had when he joined the college.

In almost all engineering colleges, the stress level is high compared to arts and science colleges. Due to this, students feel over anxious about their marks and they are often pressurised to meet an unrealistic expectation of their colleges and parents. The curriculum which includes three to four dozens of papers, thirteen to fifteen labs and numerous internal examinations which run over four years create tension among the students and they are compelled to perform better each time. This has resulted in the increasing rate of suicides among engineering students. Even the country’s premier institutes like IITs and NITs, where most brilliant minds sought after are not free from the clutches of self-destruction. Quite often, the sadistic nature of some faculty members aggravates the scenario as they tend to exert their power through marks. Nithin, a third year engineering student confirms this aspect as he says, “some of them are just plain….who use that power irresponsibly, for personal satisfaction, some for vengeance”.

Many times, students who fail to meet the requirements often tend to become dropouts. There are cases where students got depressed and performed badly as they were completely uninterested in the course. Ria, a drop out recalls her days as an engineering student when she says, “Although I went to college most of the days, I hated it like anything. I got depressed and flunked in two exams. Those days’ still haunt me like a nightmare”.

What’s next?

The scariest question that may haunt you, if you are an engineering student; “Didn’t you get placed?” If ever you made a bold attempt to say No, then the story is over and your fate was decided; “Good for nothing! Don’t you have any shame for yourself for spending so much money of your parents?” This is a harsh reality most of the students face. The lack of core employment opportunities compels students to work in software fields and some of them even take up jobs in call centres!

This is the story of the majority of students who took up engineering, not because of their passion but because there is no option. Its hard time we need to realise the inherent potential of our children. Let them be what they want.

The Muted Spectators ?

“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties” – John Milton
     

The liberty for free speech has become a nominal term in the recent Indian scenario. It has become a much debated term following incidents of attack on the writers, intellectuals and popular figures, which shows the weakening of the very basis of democratic society. Though freedom of speech is enshrined in the Indian constitution, the government seems to adopt an anti- liberal attitude which largely has blown the issue out of proportion.

The inability of the government to resolve the affair coupled with its blind nod to the “nationalistic” policy designed by Sangh Parivar have aggravated the crisis thus pushing the state of freedom of speech into an abyss. The current controversy concerning Jawaharlal Nehru University is yet another dereliction of government as it failed to properly address the matter in hand but instead chose to remain the stringent supporter of its youth wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

The term freedom of speech clearly states the power or right to express one’s opinion without censorship, restraint or legal penalty. The article 19 (1) (a) of Indian constitution ensures freedom of speech and expression as fundamental human right. But this freedom, as guaranteed in the constitution is not fully exercised as the sedition charge which dates back to colonial period acquires prime importance in the Indian Penal Code. But the law ensures that “words and speeches can be criminalized and punished only in situations where it is being used to incite mobs or crowds to violent action, mere words and phrases themselves, no matter how distasteful, don’t amount to a criminal offence unless this condition is met”. The crisis at JNU came into spotlight as this basic freedom of speech was violated at the very hands of the custodians of law.

The row on India’s premier institute began when Democratic Students Union (DSU) in JNU campus organized a cultural meeting of protest against what they called “the judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat” and to lend hands for “ the struggle of Kasmiri people for their democratic right to self-determination” on 9th February 2016. The ABVP strongly protested against the event following which the permission given for meeting was retracted.As this action is the gross contravention of freedom of speech, All India Students Federation (AISF) under the leadership of Kanhaiya Kumar, Students Union President of JNU, affirmed their solidarity for the right of free speech. Meanwhile, manipulated versions of videos regarding Kahaiya’s speech went viral through Times Now and Zee News where Arnab Goswami and Sudhir Chaudhary played their role respectively in making “anti-nationals”. Following this, Kanhaiya Kumar and some of the students were arrested and charged under sedition based on the video clippings appeared in the aforementioned news channels. Recently, Delhi police appears to have no evidence against the accused and Kahaiya Kumar received a bail.

The whole issue regarding sedition charge triggered social media response and many contemned the government for its unnecessary indulgence in the educational institute which is well known for its liberal approach. Pratab Banu Mehta, political scientist observes that “some of the students may have been deeply misguided in the beliefs they hold. But a university is the space to debate them: yes, even the hanging of Afzal Guru”.

The usage of sedition charge against students who peacefully protested is a blatant violation of free speech. The tyrannical act of the government can no way be justified and this intolerance towards freedom of expression is the clear affirmation of the burial of “Right to Speak” under the puritanical mind set. But the massive outcry of the student communities all over India against the incident reinstate the fact that they are no longer muted spectators.