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Disciplining at Tuljapur: A First-hand Experience : Sunandan K N

May 1, 2013

This is a guest post by SUNANDAN K N

From the earlier article by Hartman De Souza and comments here on recent incidents at Tata Institute of Social Science campus at Guwahati, we had a glimpse into how a Deemed University heavily funded by the UGC and by both the Central and State governments could conduct its business in totally autocratic and authoritarian ways. Even with the risk of repetition I want to share my first-hand experience at another extension counter of TISS Mumbai which is TISS Tuljapur where exactly same events unraveled six months ago.

I was a faculty for short time at TISS Tuljapur campus and I was shocked to see how easily the administration could take totally unjustifiable and undemocratic decisions and get away with it.

The TISS Tuljapur is a residential campus and it is constructed like a jail (Oh that bald French philosopher) with full security surveillance.  All students stay in hostels.  Except a barber shop there are no shops or any other amenities inside the campus. The nearest market place is 6 km away and to get there you have to depend solely on the institution’s vehicle which run on fixed times.  Students have to sign on a register whenever they go out of campus and whenever they come in.  To go out or come in you have to pass through two security gates guarded by security men hired from a private security agency.  Within the campus students are not allowed to go certain places. The reason cited is that there are snakes in those areas; everybody knows the real reason, that those are the places where students engage in dangerous activities such as: a male student talking to a female student, a female student smoking a cigarette, a group of students singing and enjoying themselves and so on. The faculty are not under such restriction, maybe because administration already considers them dispensable. There are strict rules against drinking and smoking, though nobody was ever able to impose it completely.

Soon after joining, I met the present Dean on the campus who had come with an (evangelical) mission of cleaning the campus. He wanted not only to control drinking and smoking habits among students, but also to actively curb any sort of ‘disobedience’ among them students. A group of students who were vocal, active, and intelligent became the target of Operation Clean and the Dean experimented with all forms of disciplinary mechanisms on them. Whenever a student dared to ask question or complain, she/he was labeled ‘disobedient’, included in the above group, and threatened with disciplinary action.

Once this became rampant, some of us from the faculty tried in vain to question this obsession with moral policing.  We pointed out the fact that the Director, the Dean, and most of the faculty might also have violated the rule in Maharashtra regarding alcoholic consumption which says that every individual has to take a license even for private drinking.

The issue escalated when two students (a female and a male) went out and came back to the campus probably after having some drinks (which is completely legal). They were already on the top of the Dean’s watch-list, especially the female student who always asked difficult questions to the Dean and the faculty. Since they were a little late — past curfew time (9.30 PM) — the security guard at the first gate called the warden of the hostel and the warden permitted them to enter. One of the students decided to rest / have her own time alone and so the other student proceeded alone to the second gate. The security at the second gate was already notified from the first gate that two students are coming in. When they noticed that only one student is coming, they mentioned this to the Registrar who was taking an evening walk near the gate.  He immediately ordered a search for the female student. When five security men with high beam torches came near, the student was surprised and she asked what the problem was.  The security men told her that the Registrar wanted to see her.  They walked to the Registrar and questioned her in front of the five security men. She felt that she is being intimidated by six men and so she raised her voice. The next day, the administration, aided by some students, spread the rumor that the student was lying unconscious and was heavily drunk. But the security men then confirmed that when they found her she was not unconscious and had walked half a kilometer with them easily.  She filed a sexual harassment complaint against the Registrar for intimidating and spreading rumors against her. The next week these two students were served show-cause notices asking them to show reason why they should not be expelled.

By this time, the student community had become agitated not mainly just because of this issue, but rather out of accumulated anger and disappointment. Some of the faculty pointed out that there should be some procedure before serving such notices and faculty should be consulted before taking such drastic actions.  The Director then appointed a committee which included members who were already biased against these two students.  Some of us deposed before the committee and told the members that this issue was precipitated by the moral policing-obsession of the authorities on the campus. Before the committee took any decision, three faculty members (who supported the students) were dismissed without any reason being cited!  Two of them were temporary faculty and the other was a permanent UGC faculty under probation.  It is interesting to note that two of them were part of the sexual harassment committee which would have examined the student’s complaint!

Then a group of faculty members, including me, demanded an explanation from the Dean; he claimed to have nothing to do with this and that this was the sole decision of the Director.  When we contacted the Director, he lectured to us for half an hour over through phone.  He began with these words: “I am very angry with all of you (which means ‘don’t you know you have the responsibility of making me always happy?’).  What do you think of yourself (hum.. when did start thinking that you have rights and you can make complaints) …..  I will shut down the campus if anything further happens… (I am running the shop and I will shut down it whenever I want).”  He also mentioned that if these teachers want revolution why they don’t go to villages!!! (Until that point I did not know that the Director is a Mao-sympathizer!) He warned that if any existing faculty, temporary or permanent, try to support the dismissed faculty, they too will face similar disciplinary actions.

In this conversation the Director also mentioned about the sexual harassment complaint.  He said that it was fabricated and that he knew it to be the handwork of faculty. If he knews all about it, then surely the question is whether the sexual harassment committee at TISS Mumbai forwarded the complaint to the TISS Director! In that case, this would go against the norms prescribed by the Supreme Court in the Visakha judgment. No wonder the complaint of the student was dismissed by the committee!

When the students started an online campaign for re-instating the teachers the Director sent threatening emails to them individually and informed the parents about their children’s ‘revolutionary’ activities.   At this point reputed scholars like Dr. Gopal Guru intervened and the three teachers were re-instated not at Tuljapur campus but at Mumbai campus. The two students were rusticated from the campus and were not allowed to attend the classes, but were allowed to write the examinations  Eighteen other students who were in the above mentioned group was compelled to write apology letters.
The moral of the story:

1.    The TISS director can unilaterally suspend, transfer or dismiss any employee or student at any time without showing any reason.

2.     The faculty of TISS are not able to or not bold enough to organize or protest in any manner. I have to say that most of the senior faculty at TISS who claims they are Marxist, feminist or champions of democracy and social justice did not utter a single word when all these were happening at Tuljapur.

3.    At present the Director of TISS may be an exception (or may not be) but from what we see in Delhi University and Jamia Milia it is evident that democracy, transparency or justice is not anymore the concerns of the university administration.

Sunandan KN is a post-doctoral fellow at German historical institute, London. He is based in New Delhi

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2013 8:21 PM

    So sad from the point of view of students, but institute have made their Do’s and Don’t’s…which is also need to follow…after all its all for maintaining proper law and order for students safety!

  2. May 1, 2013 8:47 PM

    This is utterly shameful. But hardly unexpected. Autonomy has always been a thing of fashion in any sort of ruling class in India. What is disgraceful, is that this kind of behavior comes from educated people. With more than half the country, uneducated, and the educated ones behaving this pettily, this country is going to dogs.

  3. May 1, 2013 9:28 PM

    These so called social service institutes (I belong to one of them)….. preach something for the country, society and individual but get readily hasseled when the same in practised in their institutes…….they behave like they are the rulars/ maai-baap / zamindaars and rest are spineless, speechless salves who dont have to raise their voice (which is their democratic right…..I presume), sorry to give a generalised statement for the teaching community but as far as I have seen most of the teachers acts as shepherds and students as sheeps and they curb all the innovation and exuberance of students in almost ruthless manner and its common across board in all the institutions how big or small it may be……..

  4. May 2, 2013 11:16 AM

    As everywhere else in India, the Control & Power paradigm in full flow. Power hunger, Control obsession, parental ego of the wrong kind – When these are present, achievements take a back seat. Why can’t outcomes be specified, why can’t reasons explained and then leave people to do their own thing ? The same old malaise. Religion takes a back seat when rituals predominate. WHAT is more important than WHO. Why can’t the students themselves do self regulation to bring about the same outcomes ? It is not only the economy that needs to escape the benevolent zookeepers, to quote Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar, our education system too needs to escape them. The regulators are not bad at heart but somehow their good intentions are not translated into effective outcomes. Just as Hindu rate of growth of 3.5 % increased to around 8-9 % after economic reforms, Our intellectual output will also see a spurt only if our zookeepers of education allow the animal spirit to escape !

  5. May 3, 2013 11:42 AM

    The campus is a storehouse of many such incidents, much graver. I had better not open the Pandora’s box. But, thanks, Mr Sunandan, for giving a voice to this incident! We love this campus, and hope that one day a committed, loving and transparent administration will take it to the heights it is capable of. We also hope that the Bachelors of Social Work Course, the most unique, challenging and person-building course there is, which got scrapped by the administration recently, is re-instated. Can you write something on this, please?
    Chandni
    BASW 2007-10 batch (SRD, TISS)

  6. May 4, 2013 1:03 PM

    The arrogance of TISS administration and silence of faculty reminds me of my talk with an inmate in the prison who was convicted for raping his daughter. During one of the meetings after he was convicted, when I enquired from him what he felt about the offence he had committed, he said that he does not feel he has done anything wrong by raping his daughter. He felt that he has all rights over her, as he is her father and has provided her food and shelter.

    I then met his wife who had been very supportive to her husband all through the trial and blamed her daughter for filing a wrong case against the father. She shared that though she did not approve of her husband’s behavior, she cannot take her daughter’s side. After all, she is dependent on her husband who is the only earning member in the family; also it is her duty to protect the image of her husband.

    At that time I thought such cases are exceptions. What I did not know realize that the arrogance of power, and the fear of losing benefits is quiet common.

  7. May 5, 2013 11:36 AM

    As the corporatization of our educational system beckons, and our poor English-speaking students jump out of security surveillance in schools, colleges and places of higher learning and straight into the open arms of industry, I appreciate Sunandan KN coming out in the open, under his own name, and venting his ire at Dr. S. Parasuraman, the director, TISS, Mumbai, a person who, more and more it now seems, would be better off working for Delhi’s police force.

    I am happy that neither TISS Mumbai nor any of its many extension counters will ever see it appropriate to offer Sunandan, Vidya, Mariette and Uma jobs.

    I see why Nityanand Jayaraman was so categorical that a place like TISS that I once knew as being different, could never be anything more than an economic hub for Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives today. Having tracked the skullduggery of the five Mining Families who looted Goa since 2006, I know a thing or two about how dodgy such initiatives can be.

    There is a lot in Sunandan’s posting that ought to leave one disturbed, and the outrage brimming:

    That the students at Tuljapur who started the online campaign to reinstate the teachers were sent threatening emails by Dr. Parasuraman and their parents informed about the children’s ‘revolutionary activities’.

    That it had actually had to take the personal intervention of a reputed scholar like Dr. Gopal Guru to have the three teachers reinstated, and that too, not at Tuljapur campus presumably because they were dangerous, but at the Mumbai campus where they would be under Dr. Parasuraman’s nose.

    That even a respected figure such as Dr. Gopal Guru was not able to prevent the two ‘troublesome’ students who were accosted by the security guards, one of whom faced sexual harassment by the registrar and against whom in fact a complaint was filed, from being rusticated from the campus, debarred from classes but allowed to write the examinations; and that eighteen of their colleagues compelled to write letters of apology.

    What is this, a play written by Dario Fo?

    Sunandan’s end notes leave me even more enraged.

    That Dr. S. Parasuraman can unilaterally suspend, transfer or dismiss any employee or student at any time without giving any reason whatsoever, and that none of the influential faculty came out in support of either student or younger teacher.

    “I have to say that most of the senior faculty at TISS,” writes Sunandan, “Who claims they are Marxist, feminist or champions of democracy and social justice did not utter a single word when all these were happening at Tuljapur.”

    Vidya and I were both copied in a mail from an old friend in Delhi, a retired teacher, a veteran at taking on college demagogues. He mentioned some prominent names at TISS, Mumbai whom all of us knew. What are they saying, he asked? What reasons do I give him for their inexplicable silence, that they buried their heads in the sand?

    Wouldn’t have happened in his days he mails me later, the rest of us would have come together and taken them on…

    Whether senior faculty at TISS choose to pretend none of this happened is neither here nor there.

    One would like to know, as Sunandan pertinently notes, whether the faculty committee to look into sexual harassment at TISS, Mumbai, actually forwarded the now rusticated student’s complaint to Dr. S. Parasuraman!

    In case they are unaware of the implications of the Supreme Court ruling in the Visakha case that Sunandan refers to, the new guidelines thereof shifted the onus for ensuring employees’ safety and gender equality to the employer and institutions, whether government or private and made the employer responsible for implementing both preventive and remedial measures to make the workplace safe for women.

    If the faculty committee chose to put this under the carpet at their director’s bidding, this is as serious as it is shameful.

    If you go to their website, TISS tells you their ‘Vision’ “has been to be an institution of excellence in higher education that continually responds to changing social realities through the development and application of knowledge, towards creating a people-centred, ecologically sustainable and just society that promotes and protects dignity, equality, social justice and human rights for all”.

    Puffing out its chest, TISS tells us is guided by directive principles.

    That TISS appreciates and respects freedom of expression and cultural, ideological and intellectual diversity; offers equal opportunities for all and is non-discriminatory on grounds of caste, class, gender, sexual preference, religion, and disability; shows accountability and transparency in all work matters; that decision-making in management and organisational processes is collective, participatory and non-hierarchical; that its pedagogy, which is participatory and experiential, fosters dialogue, mutual learning and critical reflection; that there is an emphasis on rigour, creativity and innovation in academic activities; that TISS recognizes the synergy resulting from teamwork, including multi-disciplinary perspectives and trans-disciplinary collaborations; that it creates an enabling environment that fosters teamwork, cooperation and mutual support; develops inter-linkages across teaching, research and extension; and lastly, that it fosters a spirit of self-reflection and critical appreciation.

    Does that make you want to gag or what?

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