By Arman Kazmi
It was two days after 2G Internet was restored in our area in Kashmir because of the encounter that took place in my neighborhood when I got a call from one of my professors. I was delighted to see the name of my professor on my screen thinking he might be calling to ask about my well-being. That happiness proved to be imaginative and short-lived. As soon as I picked up the call, the sentence that haunts most of the students rolled through my eardrum straight to my brain and choked my throat:
“Please submit your assignment before the deadline; otherwise you will not be graded.”
I was baffled, astonished, disgusted and everything seemed worthless. In a place where survival is doubtful, all my esteemed teachers offered me was an assignment deadline.
This helplessness faced by the student community is quite common. With the way they are being treated at various levels, a student taking an extreme step is not surprising. From harassment by university/college administration to the government policies, the reasons are innumerable, to say the least. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the way the government is dealing with it, is only adding to the existing woes.
The feeling of helplessness and powerlessness is imbibed and it increases as we go down the social and economic pyramid.
Every time a student commits suicide, there is some discussion in the newsrooms—some blame game, some attach it with protests, some demand for compensations, and then wait for the next student to commit suicide, and the cycle begins again.
We saw the same cycle being repeated in the recent case of Aishwarya Reddy, a student at Delhi’s prestigious LSR College, who died by suicide at her residence in Hyderabad. While some criticized the government, some blamed the college body and some, the scholarship management. If only one of them had done their job with sensitivity towards the student, Aishwarya would have been alive today with her million dreams. All those dreams were murdered by this inhumane, insensitive system.
There is no doubt the above mentioned factors have failed Aishwarya and many other students, but there is another class that has been failing and in this case failed Aishwarya too —the class of university/college teachers or what the grand old Indian tradition terms them, Gurus.
I remember when I was a child, my parents told me, “Respect teachers because the status of the teacher is higher than that of parents because parents just give you birth and teacher gives you life”. I believed the same until I saw them sucking the life out of me. Not sure whether they still give life, but they ensure an after-life for sure.
In my time in college and university, very rarely have I come across professors being sensitive to the plight of students. It is really painful to see the professors whom you look up to, lack basic empathy and even sympathy for students.
Apart from their salary and reputation as academicians, if I draw a list of concerns— most professors are bothered about— are tests, exams, assignments, syllabus, course, etc. Students are far away to be on that list. Very rarely do they make an extra effort to know and understand the students. Instead, they leave no stone unturned to go the extra mile and harass students.
I cannot stop thinking if any of the professors provided an opportunity to Aishwarya to communicate her difficulties and took a few steps to help her out. Only if such things would take place, then we could have saved the lives of many students, including Aishwarya’s.
The suicide of Aishwarya was an institutional murder and the faculty members are a party to it. It’s very unfortunate to witness one of the most learned people in society be insensitive towards such issues. They may be writing academic papers on the plight of students; essays on morality, ethics, responsibility and articles on suicide, poverty, etc. but their hands are soaked in the blood of so many students.
Aishwarya’s suicide echoes this and gives a loud message that somewhere the teachers, too, failed her.
Arman Kazmi is a Kashmiri student. He recently completed his master’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Hyderabad. Views expressed are personal