Friday, January 29, 2010

appeal to end caste discrimination in EFL University, Hyderabad

One fine day, the second day of the semester, Prof. Meenakshi Reddy, the dean of the German studies enters into the third semester class and asks two of the students (OBC) to leave the class on the basis that they have failed in two subjects in the examination of the previous semester. And then she asks two other students(SC/ST) to leave the class by saying that “you might have understood, what I said.” One of the two students asked her to expalin why students who did not take the exams are allowed to sit(today when we were discussing she said that VC asked her orally to accept them to sit in the 4th semester class), and we are asked to get out of the class? She replied that is a different case and yours is a different case. Therefore these 4 students went to VC's office, where he asked them to wait till monday. (5days). On Monday the students went to VC. He said Meenakshi Reddy has taken a decision and therefore you go to her she will tell you what to do. When the students approached Meenakshi Reddy, she said whomever failed should sit in the second semester and will not be allowed to sit in the fourth semester. The students requested/begged her to allow them to sit. She told them that they are not able to cope with the course therefore under her custodianship she can allow them to stay in the hostel and audit the second semester course without any scholarship. The students cried and begged to not do this because they are coming from a humbe backgroud and cannot afford to repeat a year. Her reply was that she can't help it because she is not the authority to decide. The students again went to the VC, and he asked the students to go to Meenakshi Reddy and that he will himself speak to her. The same day they went again to Prof.Meenakshi Reddy. She said she cannot do anything and repeated that she can allow them to sit in the 2nd semester. It was late by then, and the next day they went to VC again and he said he has written a letter to German department asking them to allow the students. When the students went there she said “If Chindambaram (Home Minister) or your Chief Minister of your state asks me to allow also, I cant allow”, and said further that in case such situation arises she might resign rather admitting these students to the class( this was told in the class too). (Later we came to know that she has given a resignation to the VC that if she is asked she would resign) The students asked the department that whether they received the letter and they replied in the negative. We went to Controller of Examination to confirm whether VC's decision has reached them. He said he has already forwarded it to the Department. The studentse went to VC again and he said he cannot do anything, and that he has done whatever he could. This was happening for one week. There was a week end and on monday one of the students attempted suicide in the near by Seetafal mandi railway station. Fortunately she was saved, this was reported in all news channels. Then we went to VC shockingly he called her on mobile and asked to allow them. Then they were allowed.

After this incident the two SC/ST students were been approached by various other faculty and students asking them why did they do this. They all was of the opinion that Meenakshi Reddy is a nice woman in the class.

Meenakshi Reddy had a prior history of caste based discrimination. In 2008 she, in her position as the Head of the Department, had converted the SC/ST reserved seats in the German Certificate of Proficiency Course to General Category. Further she has a history of being rude to SC/ST students approaching her for various reasons.

Later, we some Dalit students went to VC asking an explanation and to seek her resignation for showing discrimination against the students. He begged every one asking not to do any thing as such. He even said that he went to each students who were active in the university room asking them to be flexible in this issue. However, some students felt such discrimination should not be overlooked. Today (29-01-10) we went to ask to assure that such kind of discrimination will not happen in the future. She messaged a group of students and called some faculties. Thereupon some faculty members came into her room and started speaking on her behalf. We demanded that we need to hear the reassurance from Meenakshi Reddy's mouth. However, she consistently refused even though Prof.Rajagopal himself told her the same. From 11am to 1pm, Meenakshi Reddy was adamant that she would word any such reassurance. Then, some 30 students from the BA German barged in and pointing fingers at the students in the chamber, said “we don't know who you are. You have no business to be here. Come out and talk to us and we will show you”. Following this, they pulled the collar of one of the Dalit research scholars present there. We said that we are here to talk to Meenakshi Reddy.

The issue then ended in a scuffle and the administration can now rejoice that they have succesfully silenced the Dalit and other depressed class students by turning a chunk of students against them. Though the Dalit students then sat demanding justice in front of VC's chamber for the next four hours, the VC was adamant that he would not speak to them. Moreover, on his way to the chamber, he also termed it a “non-issue”.

We request all of you readers to react to this issue. Please mobilize whatever resources you can command to react to this discrimination.

Also, the following is a letter we had drafted to present before the administration, which was however thwarted in the course of the day.

The flow of the incident.
Those students failed in two subject have got a very less GPA. However, In recent case the supreme court said students from reserved backgroud should be given a chance. This was given in the earlier semesters, where students failed in 3 subject were allowed to take the next semester.

It is not that only in german department students failed. Students were failed in most other department too but they were allowed on the same day of re-opening.

There were students who did not take the exams but they were allowed to sit in the same German department.

What it really meant when she said that “If Chindambaram (Home Minister) or your Chief Minister of your state asks me to allow also, I cant allow”.


The recent incident of a particular female student of II yr Foreign Languages attempting suicide has brought into focus several issues which were hitherto hidden but have now surfaced. Let us recount them:

1)The idea of merit based on a uniform scale:
The reasons which led to the above mentioned incident are as follows: The student had failed in her third semester examination. Following which, the German Department was insistent on not permitting her to continue into the next semester, though similar incidents in every other foreign language department were condoned. In the discussions which followed, the idea of “German efficiency” is constantly being referred to. This is a very convenient argument that at the same time conceals the undemocratic nature of the educational system of the country as a whole, and on the other hand projects this “efficiency” as an ideal to look up to.

The reality is very different though. Firstly, one must agree that the student is a student by virtue of his/her having cleared a set of requirements which include an entrance examination. Therefore, the merit of the said student is also unquestionable. The question then is, “how is that a student who has cleared the entrance examination and (in this particular case, though not necessarily in every case) has cleared her first year examinations, fails to live up to the standards of the university?” The commonsensical answer is that these students belong (as empirically proven in our university) to the Reserved Categories. This answer is often whispered, and never spoken aloud in any open forum. This in itself constitutes a violence, because it denies the option of a discussion and thereby violates the right of the accused (of meritlessness) to defend him/herself.

Once we agree that most of the failed students are from the Reserved Category, it is easy for accusers to say that these students have entered the university only by the merit of fixed seat numbers reserved for them, irrespective of what marks they get. This in itself constitutes an already assumed inferior position of the students. One should then remember that this reservation system contributes to making our nation a truly democratic setup. The reservation system is based on historical truths, that of deprivation and of denied access to public resources which a certain section of the country's population has been historically subjected to. Therefore, the very idea of reservation is based on providing a level ground of competition.

By implementing reservation, the university agrees to the above in theory. But what should we understand from the fact that a student granted admission on these grounds has failed in subsequent exams? It means that in practice, in everyday academic life, the university does not follow the spirit of the Constitution. The very fact that Reserved Category students constitute the chunk of “failures” underscores the fact that, in practice, the reservation policy is violated. To put reservation into practice one should then have a real-egalitarian measure in the case of examination also. This would involve evolving criteria for measurement which takes into account factors like the initial profile of the student matched against the subsequent performances in percentage, a radical refashioning of the syllabus as per the real-life needs and cultural life-worlds of the students, eradication of merit based on examination marks and a juxtaposition of mark vs. background in its stead, abolishing of “failed” category, etc. Once the category of “failed” is abolished, students will be able to continue through the course at a single stretch, while they should also be given the provision of grade improvement exams atleast once in each semester.

By evoking a law uniform to all sections of the society, heedless of their historical backgrounds, by sticking to the letter of law and not its spirit, by treating such failed students in a manner which will humiliate them, which will bring upon self-harming responses from them, the university has failed to live up to the historical compensation which the state promises its depressed citizens.

It should be noted here that those who are invoking law against these students are forgetting their duty, again enjoined by law and reiterated by the Supreme Court in relation to the failed students case in Delhi IIT, that the centre of learning has a constitutional responsibility to ensure that the Reserved Category students are at par with the General Category students. This in effect means that providing equal opportunity is not a gesture of equality but a perpetuation of existing inequalities. What we want is a radical transformation of the idea of merit itself.

On the other hand, a teacher training in this country should correspond to the post-Mandal realities where education has ceased to be the privileged possession of a few. They should take into consideration that a newer demography of students has entered this campus and instead of looking down on them, the university should realize the potential that these students from diverse backgrounds have to offer, if catered to sensitively. These students, hailing from life-worlds hitherto kept off bounds of university, has to offer the society novel ways of p[erception which can revolutionize our very procedures of knowledge formations. It will be a historical blunder and failure on the part of the university if it fails to acknowledge and make use of this variegated experiences of these students and subject them to the obsolete, wornout and fetishized academic practices.

2)The university as family and whimsical justice:
The university administration constantly evokes the idea of students as siblings and the faculty as their parents. This idea in itself is a mask which hides the diverse backgrounds that the students come from, and installs in its place the idea of an imagined equality where each person, regardless of his background, can achieve things equally. This imagination then conceals the real-life hurdles of a large section of students. This is another way of saying that because the university provides the same facility to everyone, they should have the same potential. This leaves out the fact that there are real differences among the students -rural/urban, english medium/regional medium, had TV at home/couldn't afford, had time to have a hobby/had to be a helping hand in the family... In other words, it is saying that we enter the university without memories, like a clean slate -which we did not.

The flip side to this same argument is that the teachers are equal to our parents who can render justice. It is no wonder then that in many cases the university resorts to a method of justice by whims.

Let us take this specific case. All the other departments in the Foreign Languages except the German department allowed the failed students to continue. How is it possible that the university works on such informal arrangement where one unsympathetic faculty member has such enormous control over the fate of the students? The answer is, the university has to formulate a clear cut rule regarding failed students, which nevertheless takes into account the diverse background of the students.

Is there a contradiction between this and point no.1? No. What we demand is a set of democratic ules rather than an option of”sympathetic” interpretation of rules, or a case of sympathetic non-implementation of rules. One should consider such conditions of life that prevail in many of the students from depressed classes which do not allow them the luxury of losing a year and coming back in the next. Instead, we should have a system of automatic entry into the next semester wherein the students can reappear for those subjects in which they have failed even while they continue pursuing their course.

While a teacher's aim is to improve and educate the maximum number of students, there is nothing desirable in it if this comes at the price of a depressed minority. The depressed minority here is the Reserved Category. It has come to our notice that some teachers conduct their classes in certain regional languages (no matter how predominant that language is in the national imagination). his is a violation of the very criteria of entry into the university which conducts its entrance examination in English. While we agree that this measure might be useful for the majority of students, it comes with the price of alienating and being unreachable for a section of students who have historically no access, or due to historical political factors, even an unconscious aloofness, to this particular regional language.

4)The importance of “feelings”
The current procedure of teacher assessment in our university is based on a set of objective scores which do not leave scope for the feelings of the students. The teacher assesment need to be revamped to take into consideration those aspects regarding a teacher, his/her teaching and the holistic academic experience that cannot just be expressed in numbers. And equally important is that the assessment should have real implication for the teacher rather than an informal reprimand (at its best). There should be an option to fail the teacher, just as a student can be failed.

In the light of these facts, we demand the following:

1)The University should reach out to the depressed sections of students and reassure them a real-egalitarian treatment in terms of education and way of life within the campus. We believe that an apology tendered to the concerned students is the least and the essential beginning to this process.
2)Remedial training for teachers to enable them to sensitively deal with students of diverse backgrounds. A revamped teacher assessment structure that can take into account the student emotions rather than just “objective judgement”, and an option to fail the teacher.
3) The medium of education should be limited to the specific foreign language being taught , and/or English.
4)The abolishing of failed category, a point-based system which takes into account background; and a stage by stage profiling of student performance in all exams, extracurricular activities which include sports, volunteer activities for various university activities including involvement in political activities; a flagging of the topic based on the relevance to historical situations and division of marks in a subject for the various topics based on this flagging, a minimum of 50% of marks to be allotted to topics which can be related to by the students according to the varied lifeworlds.

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