Thiruvananthapuram

A debate from heritage space

Is University College a space for excessive activism or is it a victim of smear campaign?

It is a 153-year-old institution that boasts of a rich heritage with illustrious alumni including former President K.R. Narayanan, literary greats including O.N.V. Kurup, ‘Father of Green Revolution’ M.S. Swaminathan, besides numerous civil servants, politicians and artists.

More recently, it was ranked 23rd among colleges in India under the National Institutional Ranking Framework in its rankings for 2019. Yet, the University College has been in news for all the wrong reasons. Exposing the institution to intense scrutiny was a suicide attempt by a first-year B.Sc. student, who initially alleged unfavourable academic environment on the campus as the cause for her act, but later retracted her statements.

Ever since, the critics of the manner in which the college functions have latched on to the issue, claiming that there is a dire need for corrective measures in the college including steps to rein in the activities of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s student wing, Students Federation of India (SFI), which has maintained a stranglehold on the campus for several years.

The turn of events also prompted a section of activists to institute an independent commission, chaired by a former Kerala High Court judge, to apparently “examine the human rights violations” on the campus. All these, when the admission process for the next batch is under way.

So, is the institution a victim of a smear campaign or is there indeed excessive activism there? Former University College principal S. Varghese, who is a member of the commission, alleges student welfare was largely neglected in the institution that has turned a witness to numerous instances of human rights violations.

“Shockingly, these have mostly occurred under the watch of teachers who are at the mercy of SFI leaders for fear of transfers. The institution has been reduced to a ‘party college’. How can you expect the college to produce leaders who believe in democracy when it failed to facilitate equality in freedom of expression,” he wonders.

Taking offence to the ‘biased view’, a faculty member of the college says no efforts have been spared to support the student community, particularly the freshers. “Our college is widely known to have enabled numerous students to showcase their talents. Such is the attachment among the alumni towards the institution that we find many meritorious graduates returning to pursue postgraduate courses even while they could have gained admissions in other colleges,” he says.

Lack of political space

Yet another criticism raised is the lack of political space for the rivals of SFI to function on the campus. “The lack of political democracy in the college is the fundamental cause of the existing problem. There have been several incidents when SFI leaders have far exceeded the so-called boundaries of ragging which, in itself, is an inhumane act,” claims V. Manu Prasad, State secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party-feeder organisation Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

Countering the allegations, SFI district secretary Riyas Vahab says their campus activism is not confined to politicking or electioneering. “Our efforts ensured that the college authorities arranged furniture for postgraduate students. The SFI campus unit also undertook a clean-up drive on the premises. We have always worked for the welfare of the student community. We have also prevented youngsters from falling prey to anti-social activities,” he says.

He feels that the University College was being unfairly targeted, particularly when there are several violent incidents in other colleges in the district including VTM NSS College, Dhanuvachapuram — an ABVP stronghold.

The ongoing debate is likely to continue unabated for the days to come. But, there are many who feel that any corrective step must be taken only after careful thought. “While many hold campus politics as a bane of educational institution, the role played by student organisations in keeping radical and communal elements at bay cannot be overlooked,” says a senior professor of a government college in the city.

He, however, says the current style of campus activism threatened to become a mindless activity that could adversely impact student-teacher relationship. “Some colleges have been witnessing an unhealthy trend of students flocking behind leaders in the midst of classes. While our campuses have produced prominent leaders who held a deep understanding of various social issues, our youngsters failed to fathom ground realities,” the professor says.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 3:51:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/a-debate-from-heritage-space/article28236885.ece

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