A few days ago, first-year students of Stephen’s College were told they would be charged Rs.50 every time they missed a morning assembly. And, most recently another student was allegedly suspended for wanting to speak to the principal about the recent administration drive to remove plastic cups from the canteen.
Students, who refuse to be named for fear of expulsion, say that the very act of questioning or even talking to authority results in a suspension, fine or even an expulsion in the college.
“Last week a student was suspended because he wanted to talk to the principal. There was a drive from the college authorities to stop using plastic or paper cups in the canteen and mess and this student went to talk to the principal. He was told that he cannot meet him and to leave a letter instead, which he did. Once he came out, he saw the principal outside and said he wished to speak to him and the principal replied “no,” and when the student asked him “why not?” the principal walked into his office and wrote out a suspension order,” said a second year student of the “school” who was among those who gathered outside the principal’s office soon after the suspension order got public.
“There is a certain culture and tradition in the college and there are some students who seek to make a caricature out of this. However, the true account is that this student and his mother came and apologised to me for his behaviour,” countered principal Valson Thampu.
“We were just gathered there, we didn’t chant slogans or anything and we just wanted to know what had happened with the student, the reasons for his suspension. However, the principal refused to come and meet us. He sent another person who said we wouldn’t behave properly if he met us and anyway he was not obligated to come out. The next thing you know…closed-circuit cameras are being installed to focus on the very spot we sitting on so that they can keep a record of any further gatherings,” added the student, jumping up and down and pointing to a “spot” on the ground.
“There is nothing there, just some concrete. Now they don’t want us to gather in big numbers. Just some while ago, mass distribution of any written material was forbidden. Nobody wants to even join a discussion even in private on anything these days for fear of getting expelled. The gathering outside the principal’s office on that day was spontaneous.” he said, adding that The Hindu was free to name him but that it was very probable that he would be expelled almost immediately.
Last term, the college was in the news when girls in the hostel protested for being locked up inside after 10 a.m. and a few days later, interviews were being held for “re-admission,” into the hostel.
“The readmission form had criteria like, “did you attend the foundation day lecture?” and “what are the rules that you don’t want to comply with?” Around thirty students who had taken part in the whole protest didn’t get re-admitted,” said a second year English student who added that in addition to the usual policing, their department was also subject to some unwelcome pearls of wisdom.
“The principal gave us this lecture about trouble–makers and how rights were just “illusionary.” In fact, scholarship interviews have questions on what we think of the hostel rules and whether we are fine with the regulations.”