Why I Demand The VC’s Resignation : A Presidency Protester Speaks
The following article has been written by a student protester from Presidency University who is part of the movement that demands the VC’s resignation (Read the updates here).
A lot has been said about the student movement in Presidency University. Media houses owned by the state government have very conveniently managed to mask the truth behind the demonstration. There are, however, a few questions that need to be asked about this student movement. The first question that you should ideally ask is -Are the students of this university stupid or are they all freaking Maoists?
I am a post graduate student of English literature studying in Presidency. This is my fifth and final year in college and I am an active observer and participant of this demonstration. Before I start clarifying my stance, let me make myself very clear on my political affiliation. I am a politically conscious independent student of Presidency University who is aware of his rights as a student of this institution and a citizen of this country. In four years of academic life at Presidency, not once have I joined a protest rally or a hunger strike. I didn’t simply see the point. Notwithstanding how many classes I attended, I could always be spotted in campus, smoking and chatting away. It all changed in 2014 when Anuradha Lohia claimed power over my beloved alma mater.
I am not the kind of a person who is afraid of change. I was among the first batch of students to study in Presidency when it was transitioning from a college to a university. I witnessed change in the dynamics of power as one brand of government replaced another. No I won’t say that Presidency was perfect before Lohia took over. It had its shortcomings, there were infrastructural necessities but what we never lacked for a moment was freedom. We had freedom to be stupid, jingoistic, prejudiced and sometimes unique. We had teachers who would answer questions without having to look at the notes saved on a pretentious smart phone or a self same gadget which no one looks twice at. We had professors who would come to class and generate a discussion where students would go absolutely crazy and start slandering each other on sophisticated, intellectual dimensions. Thing were certainly different before Annuradha Lohia came into the picture.
I will not rant about Anuradha Lohia as a failed administrator and an oppressor. Anything I think I ought to write on her megalomania will sound generic and stale. I will, instead, try to recall Anuradha Lohia as I remember her. Within the very first week of her entry, Lohia threatens to remove all the dogs on Presidency Campus ‘by hook or by crook”. She seemed relentless on her pursuit to “beautify” the campus for her “dignitaries” and somehow dogs were in the way of her project. She was very clear about her opinion on the hierarchy of living beings and the tragic death of a few dogs in the hands of KMC workers. It would be occupational hazard. I know what many readers will say to this. This is irrelevant. It just goes to show that she is a woman of differing worldview and opinion and has strength of character to stand true in the midst of kitsch. I would have said the same thing had she not retracted her statement and accused the students of spreading canards the moment Maneka Gandhi mailed Anuradha Lohia a legal notice. If you still don’t believe me, you can check out the dog enclosure at the Baker entrance yourselves. It had to be destroyed to discontinue its use but it is still there.
I will move on to other memories. I remember promises of best faculty recruitment and state-of-the art classrooms. I also remember students going on several hunger strikes because some of their dear professors had to either get transferred or had to resign in protest of a “corrupt administration”. It must be grown up stuff; I shall not delve too deep in it.
But how will Anuradha Lohia account for the resignation of the Dean of Students’ Affairs? She was not only popular with her students but did her job tirelessly despite getting rape threats from TMC goons and facing harassment from the head of my University herself from time to time, on a regular basis. While leaving, the Dean of Students’ Affairs made it very clear that she was unhappy with the way the administration was being run. The vice chancellor denied my Dean an entitlement to her own opinion and predicated her resignation to better job prospects.
If that was not enough for me to feel irked, Lohia made sure I took things more personally. Her 75% attendance criteria deterred me from taking my exams. Now I know what some of you may be thinking. It doesn’t hurt to attend classes and I would just be fussy if I were to make 75% attendance criteria a big issue. I agree. I am all for attending classes and getting good grades. However, for me to attend a class, shouldn’t a teacher be regular and punctual as well? Should a teacher take offence at a student for reading solipsism in Freudian theory and for calling Elizabeth Barrett Browning insecure? Should a teacher shout at me and ask me how I dared question Freud’s intellect being the insignificant student that I am? Why can’t I lodge a complaint about a teacher for humiliating me in front of five batches and comparing my lifestyle to a living room? Is it really healthy to remain diffident when a teacher forbids your juniors from interacting with you because you are a “bad influence”? Why are you a bad influence again? It is because you asked questions that countered the discourse of a government nominated professor, that’s why. Anuradha Lohia remained silent to my complaints and reminded me of my sobering position in the hierarchy.
I remember Amardip Kumar Singh, a student of the Mathematics department going on a hunger strike that lasted for 9 whole days. I remember the vice chancellor remaining in her room, ordering pizza during a gherao and watching the IPL. She had to come down from her office and request for the hunger strike to be lifted only when Amardip got hospitalized, the students blocked the college street roads and the issue reached national recognition. All the demands were met on pen and paper. I remember Anuradha Lohia signing that piece of document which sealed an agreement between the students and the authority of Presidency University. That document has been rendered a lie because not even one single demand has been met as yet.
I remember being shifted to a new location at Newtown because the Eden Hindoo Hostel had to go for an immediate renovation. 1 Crore and 40 Lacs of Rupees were given for the purpose of renovation and relocation of boarders. We were promised adequate transport and adequate rooms to accommodate students and hostel staff. On arriving at the new location, I discovered that my room was prone to water leaks and pest invasion. 11 hostel staffs were asked to live in three rooms of ten by ten and only two buses were provided to transport 150 students every day. If you are not on the bus by 10 o’ clock, you will either have to spend the rest of the day at an inaccessible part of Newtown or spend 42 rupees a day to maintain 75% attendance. I know this should not be a problem for people who can afford to spend 42 rupees a day for transport but there are some of us who have to count our notes to spend the month.
I should have mentioned that the University has also imposed an extra Rs. 400 on monthly bills for the bus fare and Rs. 200 as late fine, should a student fail to pay up by the 10th of every month. Why are these impositions problematic? It is because Presidency shelters students from various socio-economic strata. You will be surprised to know how many students will not be able to afford dinner outside if the hostel were to stop cooking for a day. There were protests against these irrational impositions mainly because the students in question were never consulted.
So what led to this outrageous protest demanding for the vice-chancellor’s resignation? Is it indeed political fanaticism or is it just pure spite for a woman who is gravely misunderstood? If you ask me, it is because of everything you have read so far and more. I don’t know if it is okay to turn a deaf ear to students going hungry or students missing their semester examinations but I do know it is unpardonable to remain blind to molestation and abuse of students in their University campus.
I will remember Anuradha Lohia again, sitting in her chair and smiling. She smiled through the time when 6 students had to be hospitalized and 2 students had to be rescued from the hands of molesting cops. On approaching the head of an academic institute to report sexual harassment and demand for immediate action against the police, the students were declared liars and their evidences were challenged.
I remember Anuradha Lohia as that delusional administrative head who will always go down the pages of history as an utterly inconsequential woman who got drunk with the power of state sanctioned authority. I will always remember Anuradha Lohia as that woman who killed my favourite dog in campus, led to the injury of six students and molestation of two. I will remember her as that woman who ordered pizza when Amardip Kumar Singh’s health was deteriorating with a 9 day long fast. Yes, I want Anuradha Lohia to step down from her office and acknowledge her failure to elicit respect from students. I am a student of Presidency University and I reject Anuradha Lohia and her claims on my beloved alma mater.