For the second year running, IIT Madras is housing freshers together with the postgraduates instead of their immediate seniors. Is this a wise move?

IIT Madras has been making changes in hostel allotment for the first-year students, by giving them rooms in three hostels that are also occupied by postgraduate students. This is instead of the usual arrangement where they board with their immediate seniors. This year for the second time in a row the institution would be separating the freshers from the second year students and this has drawn comment and even resistance from the students.

“If they want to implement anti-ragging measures, why do so at the expense of the hostel culture? There must be better ways to do that,” says Sarnath (name changed) who is in the third year. This culture that Sarnath is speaking of has many dimensions. Most important are the fundae sessions. Every night at about nine, a roll call is taken in the presence of the warden. After that, there follows a session of introductions and then someone from the second or third year holds a session which is almost like a lecture and goes on till about 1.00 a.m. or so. “It is not only the fundae sessions. It is during the roll call and introductions that we find out what talents each student has. Then they are guided by particular senior students who are good in that area,” Sarnath continues.

Vivek and Kameshwar (names changed) are now in the second year. They feel that the hostel spirit is dying out. There are inter-hostel competitions in Robotics, Literature and Sports, in which the bonding between the freshers and the second years is crucial. “It is not the same with the postgraduate students,” says Vivek.

“Even in selecting courses a senior (second year) has a better idea and can advise,” says Kameshwar. “Some seniors have a repository of question papers and they call freshers and give it to them. Now we have to seek them out, which is not an easy thing to do,” he continues.

Another thing which has struck home is that the freshers are not being asked to volunteer for the cultural festival. “It is through volunteering that we learn how to organise and co-ordinate the festival. Now, when we go to the second year we’ll have to work it out for ourselves,” says Sarnath.

All in all, the students see this move as something that will irrevocably weaken the bond between the first and second-year students, in effect dividing them for ever because when they reach the next year, they are going to be too busy to build relationships with their seniors.

Dr. N.S. Narayanaswamy, from the computer science department of IIT Madras, who has just completed a three-year wardenship of IIT hostels, says, “I would say ragging is non-existent; IIT Madras has a vibrant cultural life. Every hostel has its team and they compete. The freshers are the workhorses. So here is a small contradiction. We want the freshers to settle down, figure out academics, come to 8 o’clock classes, etc. This is very important for their progress for the four years. On the other hand, the student community which is very vibrant wants to motivate the freshers to participate and be geared up to lead their hostel from the second year onwards.”

Pointing out that having fundae sessions means four hours of lectures by professors in the morning and four hours of sessions by seniors at night, Dr Narayanaswamy continues, “We believe that these fundae sessions which are so important for the students should be postponed, by maybe six months.”

But clearly, the students feel that an important part of their lives is being cut out definitively and without consulting them.

UGC regulations

Even as the students debate the impact on their cultural life, the UGC regulations on curbing the menace of ragging in higher education institutions, July 2009 takes a firm view: “freshers shall be lodged, as far as may be, in a separate hostel block and where such facilities are not available, the institution shall ensure that access of seniors to accommodation allotted to freshers is strictly monitored by wardens, security guards and other staff of the institution…”

Given this stipulation and the complexity of the alternative suggested, is IIT-M taking the best way out by placing students in a hostel with the postgraduates? Or will it take it upon itself to argue the UGC stipulations by citing the example of other institutions that have taken this route and seen its ill-effects?

The latter possibility is weak now and the next batch of students is already gearing up for their stint in the Freshie hostel.