– Pranav Minasandra
Trigger warning: suicide
This was originally published by the author on twitter. While the author focuses on IISc, this same “solution” has also been implemented or discussed in Kota and IIT Madras, and likely in many other places.
Yes, I never expected that I would write something with that title, but then, here we are. Recently, the administration of the Indian Institute of Science decided to combat the rising wave of student suicides they faced…by replacing ceiling fans with wall-mounted ones. Several faculty and students presented this as a nuanced decision that will save lives, a well-reasoned method of means restriction.
With the disclaimer that I know next to nothing about this subject, I make the following points.
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This statement by a united front of student organisations in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi, was shared on social media. We are republishing it here, with permission.
Student organizations of JNU and JNUSU have received a massive number of complaints from candidates from SC/ST/OBC/PwD categories and minority communities who appeared for viva-voce examinations for PhD admission this year. These candidates have received extremely low and undignified marks for the viva resulting in their automatic exclusion from JNU. Despite scoring well in the written examinations, they have been unable to secure admission simply because they have been awarded marks as low as 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
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In 2020, Pondicherry University (PU) suddenly restricted the number of ways PhD candidates could gain admission to various departments. The admission routes cut out were precisely the ones designed to increase inclusion of various marginalised communities — the National Fellowships for Scheduled Castes (NFSC), Scheduled Tribes (NFST) and Other Backward Classes (NFOBC). They were challenged in court by Arunesh X, a member of the department of English at the time and a member of Ambedkar Students Association (ASA-PU). NotA interviewed him about this case, his activist work, and campus politics generally.
About the Case
NotA: Can we start with what the NFSC/NFST/NFOBC is and what role it plays in equitable access to education?
Arunesh: Before going into NFST/SC/OBC, we need to talk about JRF, UGC-NET, etc. In India, if people want to take up research, they need a research fellowship. For example, the IITs and other places offer institute fellowships. But central universities don’t always offer fellowships, and we are asked to take up an examination called National Eligibility Test (NET). Based on the cut-off, a person will be given a fellowship or lectureship. For example, for general category the cutoff for JRF would be 60/100 and for NET lectureship, it will be 50 or 55. This is the normal procedure.
The second thing is that based on the quota/reservation percentages, those who score the greatest marks in every category are allotted JRF/NET. A lot of people miss the UGC’s JRF cutoff by .5% or 1% mark, like last time I missed the JRF cutoff by 0.54%. So to level the field, the Ministry of Social Justice created this fellowship – previously it was called Rajiv Gandhi fellowship, and now it is called National Fellowship for Scheduled Caste (NFSC)/Scheduled Tribe (NFST)/Other Backward Castes (NFOBC). And it is also there for persons with disabilities. There are also other fellowships like Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) for Muslims students. Around like 2000 students are given this fellowship every year.
The process is the same as for general quota; we need to write the NET and then based on that [these fellowships are} offered to people who miss the UGC’s SC/ST/OBC cutoff by fractions of a percentage. So the question of merit, which is often put forth by other people, does not apply here.
NotA: Can you describe how Pondicherry University tried to evade the NFSC policies and your attempts to fight this?
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— The NotA Collective
This is an entry in our new series of “invitations” to books. For previous examples, see our invitations to Beyond Inclusion, The Thorat Report and The Caste of Merit.
Conventional (even contemporary) narratives of the origins of inequality broadly fall into two categories, which we will call Team Rousseau and Team Hobbes, named for the authors of their respective founding texts: Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men and Hobbes’ Leviathan.
Team Rousseau holds that primitive humans lived in small, egalitarian, nomadic bands that lived off the land, hunting game and gathering berries, nuts, and fruit. After the advent of the ‘Agricultural Revolution’ they settled down into small towns, which set in motion a cascade of events that led to modern science, poetry, and philosophy, but also private property, militias, war, slavery, and bureaucracy. This version of events has a decidedly Biblical flavour: “a fall from grace, a technological transposition of the first chapters of the Book of Genesis”.
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