Driven to despair and death

Impleading themselves in the case of students’ suicides, initiated suo motu by the High Court, a group of 28 university teachers volunteered to help the court understand the context behind these suicides. The impleading petition stated failure, fear of failure, insult, stigmatisation, and rejection resulting in demoralisation and lack of self-belief among students as the reasons for suicides.

Having to face the families with the stamp of failure, sexual harassment, and not having economic resources to survive outside the campuses are also a few examples of the hardships faced by students from underprivileged sections.

University administrations often attributed these deaths to psychological issues, rather than attempting to study the problems and initiate broad systemic and attitudinal reforms, the petition said.

“Failure has a specific meaning for these students… ‘Discontinuing’ and going back home is not a viable option for poor, rural students, who may choose death over a future in which they must stare at their inability to provide for miserably poor families that have staked everything to educate them. In many cases they were also the academic ‘toppers’ in a village or a community and the ignominy of returning as failures would also be unbearable,” the petition read. Failure of a critical forerunner sends a bad message to many children, it said.

Exclusionary mindset

While more and more students from marginalised groups are making it to universities, the exclusionary mindset operative within the universities, though not wilful or conscious, is coming to the fore in procedures and norms, administrative arrangements, rules, curricula, teaching, testing and examination practices, and faculty-student relations, the teachers alleged.

“The multidimensional intellectual and institutional effort that is essential if this mindset is to be changed… has not been actively fostered. On the contrary, student anguish or anger has all too often been taken as depression or rowdyism, and medicalised or criminalised.”

Students from marginalised groups also are troubled by lack of clarity and sometimes contradictions in examination and administrative procedures and rules, the petition said. Due to all this, the students feel unwelcome and experience abandonment.

“The extraordinary merit of these students reaching the portals of the university despite all adversity is unrecognised and we continue to see them as a backward burden on the university system.”

The teachers also proposed an agenda for change, which includes changes in curricula so as to help the students learn than intimidate them, flexibility and openness to innovation of the semester system, change in public culture of the universities, establishment of grievance redressal mechanisms for different groups, paradigm shift in defining student failures, and provision of counsellors,

The petition sought an inquiry committee to study issues that bear on student suicides. Signatories to the petition include Prof. G. Haragopal, Prof. K. Satyanarayana, Prof. Susie Tharu, Prof. Rama Melkote, Prof. P.L. Vishweswar Rao, Prof. K. Srinivasulu, Prof. Madabhushi Sridhar, Prof. Vinod Pavurala, Prof. Sasheej Hegde, Prof. Rekha Pappu, and Prof. M.T. Ansari among many others.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 3:08:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/driven-to-despair-and-death/article4603419.ece

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