Session attended by students, some teachers, university staff, journalists

“Introduce yourself first, speak into the mike and one at a time, you will all be heard,” says Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh. He is seated cross-legged on a raised platform and is dressed in a white kurta pyjama with a beige shawl draped across his shoulders. A bust of Mahatma Gandhi is right behind him, beyond which, seated in a semi-circle, is his team comprising the Pro-Vice Chancellor, Registrar, Proctor, former Proctor and several other members of his staff.

It is 3 p.m. on Thursday and the first public durbar of the Vice-Chancellor in the courtyard of the Gandhi Bhavan in Delhi University’s North Campus is about to roll.

The audience consists of students, some teachers and other university staff as well as journalists. They have also been asked to sit cross-legged on a white carpet and leave their footwear outside.

“Sir, we are first year political science students from Dyal Singh College. Our attendance was not recorded properly but we were allowed to sit for our exams. However, we were told today [on Thursday] that we will be detained this semester and cannot write the rest of the exams due to attendance shortage,” says Druv, who has come along with two of his classmates.

“So, are there just the three of you?” says Prof. Singh.

“No, sir. There are about 300 of us,” responds Druv.

“Where are they?”

“They are all sitting in college and crying sir,” replies Druv. After the laughter dies down, Prof. Singh promises to look into the issue.

Another boy stands up and says that their department has a tradition of failing 200 students every year to maintain numbers, and the department does everything it can to keep this tradition alive.

“They set tougher question papers, don’t take classes for months and set an exam date 10 days before schedule. And the worst part is that we can never meet you. We have come umpteen times to the Vice-Regal Lodge, but have never been allowed inside,” says the student. Prof. Singh says he has heard a lot of strange things in his tenure and promises a reply in a week.

There is a lull in the number of grievances and Prof. Singh starts a discourse on Gandhi, quoting Kabir and the like, but his voice is almost drowned by a ruckus that seems to be coming from outside.

“Vice-Chancellor hai, hai,” says a group of students holding black flags. There are members of the students’ union and other organisations who want to come in and protest. After about half-an-hour of negotiations between the students and the Proctor, the students’ union office-bearers are allowed inside minus the black flags and a promise not to raise slogans or protest inside.

“Why are you denying students a special chance to take their exams even after the High Court ordered you too? And why didn’t you tell us about your durbar here? And why did we have to fight to get inside?” asks Delhi University Students’ Union (DUSU) president Arun Hooda. Prof. Singh asks him to calm down and has a ready reply to everything.

However, the special chance issue refuses to go away. “My father died and therefore I could not finish my law exams for six years. All I ask is one chance. Why is the university denying me this?” asks a slightly older student. The university administration explains that the examination department cannot cope with the logistics of keeping open the option for students to take their exams whenever.

“If a student, having failed in 1998 wants to take his exam, then we have to set the paper according to the syllabus in 1998. There are too many students here. We simply cannot cope and we have not contravened any High Court order,” replies a university official.

Finally other grievances are aired. There is a pregnant girl crying who has not been allowed to sit for her exam due to shortage of attendance. Prof. Singh promises her that everything will be okay and so it goes on for about two hours with no more protests or dissents, but with the most number of complaints against the examinations department.

Prof. Singh declares the event a mild success and says the next meeting will be a bigger show as the word spreads.

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