Tuesday, March 5, 2024

“I am surrounded by a deafening silence”

These days I find it suffocating in my college. As Indraprastha College for Women enters its 100th year, I stand in front of those saffron walls in sadness, a sense of defeat.

This is the oldest women’s college that pioneered women’s education and provided a space for women to speak, think and be well-rounded individuals since 1924. I always wanted to be like the women who studied here- the ones who dug their swimming pool when the government denied them a permit, the ones who actively took part in the Indian Independence movement despite rations of rice and wheat being cut off in their hostels.

This white building made numerous fearless women who were not scared of questioning authority and put up a fight when their rights were under threat. 

But now, I am surrounded by a deafening silence as people are scared to speak even in their classes. I write this with a fear of my internals or my degree being affected as things can be largely misinterpreted. I am concerned about the systemic changes that are being brought in by the administration that would change the nature of education imparted over the upcoming years.

Anything that was barely democratic or student-led is now gone. Currently, there is no functional Student Union, and there have been no announcements of elections to date and the semester will end in a few weeks. Earlier the Union which had a single faculty advisor now has six to “guide” them. The student councils of departments are dismantled and replaced by “organising teams” who are chosen through nominations and interviews. Student Unions and Student Councils are essential for students to voice their grievances and they act as a bridge between the administration/faculty and the students. Students have a right to choose their representatives — this is non-negotiable. The canteen prices have gone up immensely, the water issue persists and without General Body Meetings or Student Unions, students do not have a democratic safe space to raise these issues. 

A board of teachers control the ECA societies and clubs now. No elections have been held to choose the President and other positions. Several societies like Izhaar: The Poetry and Elocution Club and Oghma: The English Editorial Society have been dissolved without any justification. The Women’s Development Cell is now run by a group of teachers. All social media handles that were often used to showcase students’ work are in the control of the authorities and many have been taken down.

These changes took place during the summer break and without any justification. Apart from an ECA convener and co-convener for each society, there are also three other members of the faculty managing the societies. The excessive hold of the administration on societies, unions and cells, is removing the autonomy of students to engage in college activities apart from academics.

The administration has not taken any action against the perpetrators who scaled the walls and harassed students during the fest in March, despite protests and pressure from the students and the Delhi Commission for Women. We were assured that the Internal Complaints Committee would take the appropriate steps but only a single meeting was held. Dr. Shubhda Choudhary, an ad-hoc faculty member of the ICC in a press conference said, “Since several girl victims were my students, I decided that I would prepare the report. The students were unhappy with the administration, which took no interest in delivering justice. Before I could submit the report, the interviews were called, and I was ousted.”

The previous ICC has been dissolved and replaced by a new one in September with no notice. No report or investigation has been done after this.

Like Dr Shubhda, a large number of ad-hoc professors in our college and across DU have been displaced. The Sociology department was hit the hardest with all five professors who ran the department being denied a permanent post. These highly qualified professors who made this new department one of the best have been removed in the middle of the semester.

The same has happened for History, English, Philosophy, Political Science and almost every single department in the college. It is predictable to me who will remain, who will be appointed and who will be displaced; the politics behind this is very evident to me.

Several of the new professors who have been appointed have had either no experience of teaching previously or have sub-par qualifications.

Moreover, the massive displacement between the semesters has caused a major disruption in our academics. The administration has not taken any consideration on how the students will have to cope with new teaching styles, and changes in internal assessments in between the semester. Professors have changed 4-5 times for a single paper this semester in some departments. Moreover, a new professor does not know where the previous one had left off and often takes more than a week to get back on track. Was our opinion on how the previous ad-hoc professors taught considered? No. I do believe the students deserve an answer as to why our previous highly qualified professors did not make the cut and why the new professors were considered over them. There is a lack of transparency on how the interview process took place of these professors. 

The surveillance is at an all-time peak. Students who tried to ask questions to the administration were sent emails titled “Anti-College Activities” and interrogated behind closed doors. We have been openly told in meetings that the college can take action against us for what we post on our private social media handles. Parents have been called, students have been threatened with suspension, and defamation cases have been filed against them. Teachers have been asked to intimidate students who are joining protests and cut their marks in internals, says Dr Shubhda. 

The new normal is not normal for me. I view their control as only a means to suppress student voices. I owe the person I am today to this institution and find it very draining to see what I see every day. This is not meant to insult anybody in the institution, I am not speaking on behalf of anybody nor have I been instigated by anyone or anything to write this. But I do wish women and gender minorities did not feel trapped in a college meant for them.

The author is a student of IPCW. Maktoob has verified the identity of the author who fears reprisals from the college administration if her name is published.

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