Admission Season

No Talent Key to Chambers of Dear DU?

Delhi University (DU) recently got rid of its Extra-Curricular Activities (ECA) quota for the upcoming admissions, while Sports, NCC, NSS remained as is. Where does this lead the artist community to? Sidelined and massively underrated. 

Every year in the scorching heat that the month of June brings with it, you’d find North Campus buzzing with excitement. Trials being held at various venues, students practicing their acts out on the roads, long queues outside the college gates, and well, commotion all around – all for a 3-minute audition deciding one’s academic fate. The ECA trials are a tradition every current student would look back at and cherish. It is the big hall pass to enter the prestigious and culturally diverse University of Delhi. 

The University of Delhi is a dream for all, but a nightmare for many. The prestige value of getting in comes with skyrocketing cut-offs, enough to take the sleep of applicants away. Looking at the prevalent admission cycle, where with the pandemic comes a load of uncertainty, I couldn’t help but feel pity for the Batch of 2023. As if the agony of getting that high percentage despite many board exams being cancelled was not enough, DU decided to spring yet another surprise on this batch by completely doing away witheradicating the 12 ECA quota categories.

Most colleges have a 5% reservation in each course under the Sports and ECA quotas for students who excel in fields other than academics. In the light of the pandemic, ECA trials were scrapped due to inadequate social distancing measures, yet, Sports, NCC and NSS students were said to be considered solely based on their certificates. It is problematic and concerning on various levels that such accommodations were not made for ECA applicants.

India is a country that sparkles with exuberance and takes pride in its artistic heritage and rich culture, where ethnic flavor and diversity bursts from each state, where artists are appreciated in every manner. Yet, this nation’s leading central university conveniently got rid of that one quota that separated academia from talent, while sports remained unaffected. This is also the same university that boasts of producing famous artists like Anurag Kashyap, KK, and Shah Rukh Khan to name a few. This year, with its one move, DU proved that it only cares about those who either get more than a 97 percent, or well, those who play a sport.

While the dreams of thousands of prospective students remain shattered, questions are constantly being raised about the discriminatory nature of this decision. 

“If sports students can be judged on the basis of their past certificates, why not us? We too spent our high school years preparing a portfolio good enough for us to qualify under the ECA category. It is easily possible to take virtual auditions.” 

Esha, a student from Delhi Public School

In the screening process of both ECA and Sports applicants, there are separate marks and considerations made for a student’s achievements during high school. They play a significant role in determining the overall tally and rankings. Like sports students who strive to bring a tailored resume to the table, artists from all fields spend their high school years honing their craft in order to make a portfolio impressive enough to receive a high mark in these very trials. Though the cited reason for theof the inability to judge on the basis of certificates is understandable to a large extent owing to back hand manipulations, this disparity in the final decision between Sports and ECA has led to many students feeling disheartened and dejected.  

Sources claim that online auditions would be unjust and unfair for those who do not have access to the internet and are in remote areas. If this is the case, then isn’t the university negating its own stance? What happens to those who are stuck in the very same areas and are forced to sit for the Open Book Examinations? Like the exams have been indefinitely postponed, why couldn’t the trials be halted or even conducted remotely? 

“We are glad that the university is making accommodations for our country’s exceptional sports, NCC and NSS talents, but we are very concerned that such considerations are not being made for potential ECA applicants.” 

An excerpt from the #BringBackECA petition 

Angered by the abrupt cancellation of the ECA Quota this year, many prospective applicants and current students have joined hands to create a movement – #BringBackECA, urging the university to reconsider and reinstate the trials digitally. A petition has also been started for the same, giving valuable suggestions and alternative methods to the university about conducting the trials, and has been signed by over 2300 students yet. 

“My first year in this university has been rewarding because I got to be part of a society that appreciates me for my skill and it just hurts me that my juniors aren’t going to get the same opportunity. It’s also unjust because getting into DU otherwise is such a hassle, keeping in mind the significantly high cut-offs every year. I feel that the ECA quota makes the college and the community richer and the university will not only be depriving students but also all of its colleges of great talents by taking this decision.

Arushi Malhotra, a student of Lady Shri Ram College

The artist community, already suffering due to the ongoing health crisis, has taken a severe hit by the cancellation of these admission trials. Most applicants have dedicated their lives to their art. Years of training, coupled with extensive levels of engagement on various platforms significantly hampers academic performance. Though it is no excuse to score poorly, it is definitely a compensating factor for not topping the charts. 

Earlier this month, eminent figures such as classical dancers Sonal Mansingh, and Geeta Chandran, along with other signatories, wrote a letter to the Vice President, M. Venkaiah Naidu, supporting the concerns of the students.

In response to the numerous requests on this issue from Members of Parliament, prominent artists and students, Shri Naidu, who is also the Chancellor of the university, advised the authorities to review the decision and continue the present quota procedure by earmarking seats for talented artists. The Ministry of Human Resource Development had also advised DU to review and restore the ECA quota so that student rights are not hampered.

In conversation with professors from DU, we received a varied response. While some agreed that the university could come up with alternative measures to hold these trials, some were of the belief that the task is merely impossible.

“It’s terribly unfortunate that the University has cancelled the ECA admissions. However, from my experience this seems unavoidable owing to the fact that Social Distancing norms cannot be maintained, since crowds are part and parcels of ECA trials. Certificates alone cannot be an indication of merit as they cannot be verified or assessed without trials for cultural events. Video trials or online trials would discriminate against applicants who lack infrastructure to record and submit.”

Susan George, professor at Jesus and Mary College

“DU is known for its notable alumni who have been part of various artistic fields. In these gloomy times, students have to completely rely upon their grades to get admissions into different colleges this year. It is a different situation altogether because of the pandemic. I am sure that students who have performed well at various levels and have certificates for the same would be having a reasonable chance to get into DU.”

A professor from the university 

The whole concept of having a quota was to credit those students who are doing exemplary work in fields other than academics. Even when in college, ECA students are given attendance perks as they indulge in time consuming activities, workshops, performances and fests, bringing laurels back with them. This is proof that the university considers the hard work put in by this community of students, then why have considerations not been made for their admissions this year? The ECA is what makes the culture of the university, it is the differentiating factor amongst students, it is what brings diversity to the classroom. The riddance of this very quota has ensured that all students are alike and are only academically oriented.

Being an ECA student myself and receiving over a 5% relaxation through this very quota, I’m deeply saddened by the plight of the artist community in the admission season this year. With the recent developments and the chancellor’s advice on the matter, one can only hope that the university takes the backlash in its stride and makes relevant arrangements that benefit all.

Featured Image Credits: DU Beat Archives

Sara Bhasin

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