‘THE PEOPLE TREE, we have no branch’. These were the words written on the piece of paper put up on the dhaba tree right opposite to the Stephens cafeteria on Friday at 1pm. Amidst the clamour of the teachers staff protesting against the principal, the security being tightened as a consequence of the governing body meeting being held on campus and the gentle winds around the cafeteria carrying the aroma of coffee, a group of students from St. Stephens gathered to have what they described as ‘a larger private discussion’. A group of about 40 people assembled under the Dhaba Tree, took turns to stand up on the stone mounting around the tree to give voice to their opinions on a wide array of issues.
Udit Bhatia (President, Students’ Academic Council) communicated to the students saying that this was their speaking space, because according to him, “we always talk about each other, but hardly ever talk to each other”. At first the students were hesitant to begin. Probably they were contemplating the limits to what all they could discuss here, unaware of the fact that this was one place where anything could be discussed, and it is exactly this potency of ‘no limitations at all’ that granted this discussion a power like no other.
The issues which were raised in the discussion were extremely thought provoking. Listing them one by one, the first was regarding the method of induction of students into various college societies. What many people wished to convey was that everyone desirous to join a society needs to be included in it. Once they are a part of the society they need to be rigorously trained by their seniors and final induction should be done depending on whoever has progressed most from the training. However this was soon followed by a dissenting rebuttal which opinion-ed that the widespread training programme was not possible and went on to further uphold the ongoing system.
The second issue was regarding the criteria for allocation of hostel residence to students. A couple of students felt that the criteria was unfair and too tough on most of them. But it was accompanied by conflicting opinions as well.
The issue which caught everyone’s attention and was unanimously applauded, expressed disapproval of the separate lists which come out during college selections. The names of those who are selected through the general category and the names of those who qualify through the reserved category are stated separately. According to them, this defeats the whole purpose of reservation, which is to instil a sense of oneness among the students, while what separate lists actually do, is create a divide in the minds of students, even before they enter college. A divide which makes them aware of ‘whose entered how’ and a divide which takes expression in the form of the occasional remarks in class, for example, ‘mainey tera naam dekha tha list main,tu toh reserved category se aaya hai’ (I saw your name on a separate list, and I’m well aware of the fact that you come from the reserved category).
The discussion later on revolved around extraordinary, with a compelling voice talking about the need for Stephanians to stop pretending to be the ‘elitist of them all’ and accepting the fact that most of the time people from other institutions do land up being better than them. And that they shouldn’t restrict their learning by pretending to know it all. Surprisingly this was the one voice which was followed by consentient approval and the classic ‘amen to that’.
The subsequent issue was even more stirring. This voice wished to convey that no one is ever completely apolitical. One only pretends to be apolitical in the veil of apathy. And this epidemic can only be sniffed out of the general sensibility by an initiative taken by the students union to create a ‘thinking and speaking’ space for everyone, so that the voices of those who are more vigilant can help change the mindsets of the so-called apolitical category of people.
After some heated discourse, the axis of the whole dialogue shifted towards the way the decisions are taken in the college, with a complaint against the name of the college fest being changed from ‘Harmony’ to ‘Winter Fest’ without there being any voting for the same. The seventh issue focussed on gathering support for putting forward a plea to the college management to allow entry to the Andrews Court. The whole discussion was interspersed with lighter talks as well, with a foreign student sharing his experiences in Stephens. There was even a ‘kebab and chicken’ discussion
The whole concept of ‘People Tree’ should be propagated in as many colleges as possible and one can only hope it proves as flawless as the inspiration behind it.