– 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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— The NotA Collective
The fascist BJP government has finally given in and agreed to repeal the three anti-people farm laws. We at NotA bow our heads in admiration to all the farmers, agricultural labourers, and other activists who have come together over the past year to keep this historic protest going and deal the first major defeat to the BJP since 2014. We hope that this victory gives the broader anti-fascist movement (including not only the farmers’ protests but also other movements like the anti-CAA protests, migrant workers protests and the adviasis’ anti-mining protests) in the country even more energy and leads to the downfall of both Hindu fascism and the anti-people “development” agenda it is supporting. The war is far from over, but this battle has been won.
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— দেবদত্ত পাল। Debdutta Paul
The Indian Institute of Science (IISc), which takes pride in being India’s top-ranked institution, has recently been in the news for a spate of deaths by suicide of students. The stark difference between the reality of ranks and the grim reality of lives lost at IISc prompted me to take a closer look at the ground. I spoke to three students from IISc, aiming to decipher the causative patterns of poor mental health. In accordance with their wishes, their identities have been withheld.
During the national lockdown of 2020, students in IISc faced massive policing on the campus. “I suffered a tough time mentally, and I am happy to have come back home and work remotely,” said Z, a PhD scholar at IISc.
The rules and policies governing life on campus were changed without any consultation and were enforced rigorously, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, alleged Y, another PhD scholar. The rules severely restricted the movements of students and limited them from interacting with others, isolating them. The rules were not relaxed until much after the worst effects of the pandemic were over.
So, was the global pandemic the causative agent?
“The pandemic has made us lonelier, but it is not the root cause,” said X, another PhD scholar.
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(To endorse this statement, please complete this form. This statement is meant to be read in conjunction with a detailed critique of the IIT Kanpur report prepared by IITK Citizen’s Forum and Hamara Manch IITK, which can be found here.)
A purportedly scientific study by IIT Kanpur titled Covid War, UP Model: Strategies, Tactics, Impact has, over the past few weeks, been widely circulated, discussed, and reported on in the media. The report’s author and chief editor is Prof. Manindra Agrawal, a faculty member at IIT Kanpur and one of the principal architects of the so-called ‘SUTRA Model’, a compartmental model of infectious diseases.
The SUTRA Model is effectively an exercise in curve fitting with little predictive power or scientific merit. Indeed, the model has been empirically falsified multiple times and Agrawal et al. have repeatedly made incorrect public pronouncements based on it. For example, on 9 March, Agrawal announced on Twitter that “there will be no “second wave” in India.” On 30 January, Agrawal et al. lauded the central government’s policies in a scientific paper and claimed that “it is easy to establish why the decisions taken have led to the avoidance of multiple peaks.”
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-The NotA Collective
The past year has witnessed a striking number of deaths by suicide at institutions of higher learning in India. It is often difficult to talk about these events, tragic and inexplicable as they are. Harder still is the task of navigating the discourse surrounding suicide and its prevention that inevitably follows. A reliable pattern of response has now been established, to which all concerned parties hew closely:
- University press offices rush out statements, careful to distance themselves of all blame. Committees will be formed, which in a few weeks or months will invariably find that although it was all really very tragic, the only effective mitigation strategy is to spread “awareness”.
- Tenured professors on Twitter will bemoan the loss of young, talented academics, and remind their followers of the importance of mental health and “getting help” in a timely and responsible fashion. They assure us that they too appreciate the pressures of being a young academic, having also been young academics once. For their part, students on Twitter will retweet these exhortations; most of them will do so mechanically but a few will do so with anger and passion that inspires hope.
- Journalists interfacing with academia will mutter words like “systemic” and “structural” and quote tweet university press handles, focusing their criticism on how sentences are phrased. Some will commission articles on the ballooning crisis of mental health in academia, informed by what passes for progressive senior academics, and occasionally counsellors with experience treating mental illness.
- Most of the above parties will congratulate each other on a job well done. Any differences that arise in this churning are buried, or left unaddressed.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
We believe that, like us, our readers are inundated with and sick of mental health advisories, op-eds, and press releases. Instead, we’re going to try and understand this crisis of mental health as an inevitable outcome of the way academia is organised.
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This article is a compilation of my thoughts, mostly disagreement and criticism (or rather a myriad of questions I have) of Inventa – the endeavor started by a group of students from various elite science institutes (IISERs, NISER, CEBS & IISc) to communicate science.
On their website, they say, “As students of science, we believe it to be of utmost importance to be able to communicate the fruit of our [scientific] work, to the masses” (emphasis mine). As agreed by many fellow researchers, it is our responsibility to communicate our science to a broader audience. But, my question is, who are the masses?
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A Hamara Manch response to commonly held misconceptions
It has been 17 months since the first of a series of pandemic related lockdowns in the country, and working class livelihoods have yet to recover from its devastating consequences. Hamara Manch has come up with a series of reports on the conditions of campus workers during this period (all the reports, including the ones cited here, are available at: https://nirvaakiitk.wordpress.com/). We have also reported that the conditions of workers have become qualitatively worse after the second wave, especially for those who work in the hostels.
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- In June this year, we brought out a report on the conditions of women mess workers, most of whom are the only earning member in their family and who have been practically without any work for 15 months. As the wages have stopped, so has the ESI support, leading to a severe medical crisis for the workers. As narrated in the report, one woman mess worker in her 20s, who is unlettered with two small children, has a husband whose both kidneys have failed. Without ESI support, she now needs to find Rs. 30,000 every month for just the dialysis.
- One work that has been going on all along amidst the pandemic is construction. Some of these women mess workers tried to find work on a construction site, and from them, we came to know that all the women construction workers on one site were fired in July 2021. When Hamara Manch went to enquire about it to one of the residential sites of the construction workers, we found that they were living in containers that are generally used for shipping/transportation. Twenty persons were packed in each container in these times of ‘social distancing’! A young woman died on the same day due to a lack of access to any medical facility.
- In August, over a thousand workers signed a letter addressed to the community seeking support for a dignified existence, mentioning that some of them do not even have the money to get the free government-provided rations milled.