“What degrees of freedom are being curbed?”
Following the discussion on entry of visitors into hostel rooms, T5E interviewed the Dean of Students, Prof. L. S. Ganesh, who answered some questions that many students had to ask. Following is a transcript of the interview:
LSG: The Council of Wardens (CoW), in its recent meeting, unanimously proposed the policy of permitting entry of girl students into specifically earmarked visitors rooms in our boys’ hostels, rather than into any of the boys’ rooms. While the necessary facilities are created, the hostel common room could serve as a visitors room. Some of the student representatives – The SAC Speaker, SGS, HAS, and Sharavati General Secretary – who were invited to the meeting voiced their opinions and concerns, and presented supporting points for encouraging healthy academic and personal interactions among our male and female students for their holistic development as mature individuals. As of now, entry of girls into the rooms of their male friends/classmates is permitted in the night until 09:00 p.m. The proposal to modify the existing policy has to be discussed further within our Institute administration before a final decision in this matter is officially stated and implemented.
T5E: Why is this policy being considered now for implementation?
LSG: As I’ve stated, the policy is yet to be implemented. However, keeping in mind the possible concerns among some of our students, I wish to add that there are certain well-established traditions and norms in Indian society that the CoW, and all of us, must uphold in our campus. At the same time, we must carefully balance these traditions with the evolving, modern socio-cultural realities. We are sincerely trying to find feasible middle ground between these two differing positions of traditions and modernity. Keeping in mind the best interests of our Institute, students, and their parents, the CoW has proposed this policy. However, we genuinely want to encourage healthy interactions among our girls and boys for academic and socio-cultural activities, thus the idea of visitors rooms emerged. Of course, please let us note that our entire campus and the numerous facilities are open to use by our students for these interactions; the proposed visitors rooms is one more option that we are providing as an alternative to the boys’ rooms.
T5E: Why were the statistics of the Colloquium poll and discussion not considered? Doesn’t it indicate that students’ views were not given any importance?
LSG: Less than 600 students out of 7000+ have taken that poll. Could we please analyse the academic and socio-cultural composition of the sample? So, statistically speaking, prima facie I’d suspect both, a bias among the respondents and a non-response bias in the results. Moreover, given the stakeholders related to, and the nature and scope of this issue, why should the poll be conducted only among students? What would the results be, had parents and our faculty also participated in it? As far as students’ views are concerned, we did invite student representatives to the meeting. They were asked to suggest compelling reasons in support of girls being permitted access into boys’ rooms, and they could not come up with any. We are and will be open to any relevant suggestions/alternatives that any of you can give.
T5E: Many students see this as moral policing and curbing of freedom…
LSG: I want the students to answer a few questions:
(a) What degrees of freedom are being curbed now, and how, in terms of our students – boys and girls – having/gaining access to and use of our Institute’s facilities and infrastructure like hostels, library, labs, eateries, classrooms, stadium, play-fields, OAT, lecture halls, roads, nooks and corners, etc?
(b) When, where and how has the administration ever stopped our students – boys and girls – from socializing?
(c) Have our boys and girls holding hands or putting their arms around each other while walking on the roads, or even embracing each other, ever been stopped from decent, acceptable public show of affection?
If indeed, there have been incidents of any curtailment of such degrees of freedom, I would urge you to call me anytime, and I will intervene directly and appropriately. I have clearly discussed with some officers in our Security Section to instruct all the Institute and contract security personnel to respect individuals’ personal freedom and space, even when public show of affection within decent, acceptable limits is noticed. We respect the need for our students to be encouraged to interact with each other, academically and otherwise. We do offer them more than ample space and facilities to do so. In fact, starting with this academic year, girl students have been given the choice to dine in boys’ messes too. Moral policing is certainly a most inappropriate term in this context.
T5E: Students feel they are not being treated as responsible adults. What would you like to say to that?
LSG: The students need to understand themselves a lot first, which is quite a challenge. Unlike Western society, most parents in India do not raise their children to be independent, self-governed adults. We continue to raise our children in a protective environment, with only some degrees of freedom. In India, the legal age for adulthood is 18, but, how many parents (faculty members) will truly accept that their wards (students) are responsible for themselves at that age? When parents leave their children here, they expect the administration to understand this and accordingly treat their wards. We have had stray incidents of parents blaming the administration for undesirable incidents. “Your child is a responsible adult; he/she should have considered the short-term and long-term consequences before making the mistake” – would parents accept such a statement from our administration? They would sharply criticize our administration for letting the possibility of the mistake be realized in the first place. That’s how most Indian parents are, and we have faced this sometimes in the past. My opinion is that Indian adolescents think that they are responsible adults, while we elders know that they are not. After all, we elders can certainly reflect upon our adolescent days and recall our “experiences” and their consequences. Naturally, we are eager to guide our children and youth to avoid the high probability, undesirable effects of their thoughts, words and actions.
T5E: Is there anything else you want to convey to the students?
LSG: Please have faith in our leadership and administration, and trust us teachers. First and foremost, we act in the best short-term and long-term interests of our Institute. Certainly, we are your well wishers and will not mislead or misguide you. We must realize that ours is an institution of national importance, although we enjoy autonomy in many areas, we are answerable to the general public, and to the authorities that represent the general public. The IIT tag gets you, me and everyone in our institute a lot of respect in our society, but it also subjects us to lot of legitimate expectations from the same society. Our students enjoy enough freedom and facilities, much more than their friends in most other colleges. We want all of you to use this freedom for personal development in all fields – personal health, academics, sports, leadership and socio-cultural activities. Why? Because you young folk must be the prime movers of India’s competitive strength and capacity in global markets and forums. While I certainly do not wish to divert from the theme of this interview, I wish to underscore the fact that India is languishing in the bottom decile of competitiveness. Wake up! Work with purpose, with determination and conviction. Work harder and harder, smarter and smarter. Work for the day, which may even be realized in your lifetimes (certainly not mine, for I have but a few years more to say bye! bye!), when India will be the “go to” place for everyone for every moral, ethical, socio-cultural and civilisational reason.
T5E conducted a small video survey (Vox Populi) about this issue. Click here to view it.
Also read ‘Adulthood and Responsibility‘, an opinion piece written by an alumnus of IIT Madras in context of the same issue.