The University of Delhi (DU) has outdone itself in willfully failing to acknowledge the grievances of its students and teachers by deciding to conduct OBEs amidst the collective trauma that the country is going through. This article is an exploration of the gravity of the issue, the opinions of those whose well-being is the most at stake and the secondary considerations that cannot be overlooked.
“ In extraordinary times like these however, it’s so integral to give yourself the benefit of the doubt. This is not the time to feel guilt or regret over days spent taking care of your physical and mental health rather than being conventionally productive”.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused an upheaval in the functioning of the country as palpable fear and anxiety to loom around its people, exacerbated by the ever-proliferating number of cases and deaths. Today, the insanely overburdened and under-equipped health infrastructure of the country is nearing its collapse as it faces shortages of hospital beds, medical equipment, treatment drugs, and healthcare workforce. Despite the best efforts of the healthcare workers and those who’re religiously following all precautionary measures against the virus, innumerable families are currently grieving the loss of their loved ones, some of whom couldn’t even get the resources they needed to recover. The government has barely taken any concrete measures besides willfully failing to provide any sort of relief to those who are suffering. This blatant disregard for the plight of the common people has prompted students all over the country, who themselves might be suffering physically or mentally or might be taking care of their family members who are COVID-19 positive, to take up the task of verifying and amplifying pandemic- related resources, regardless of whether they have time to spare or not.
Numerous college societies and student-run NGOs have started their COVID-19 relief helplines to increase the accessibility of these extremely limited resources. The upsetting reality is that millions of people today are relying heavily on the mental effort, energy, and hours invested by these students in helping others, while the government continues to be indifferent. To add to the mayhem, the University of Delhi (DU) has decided to hold the final examinations of second and final year students, thereby adding to the distress and emotional anguish of lakhs of students who are already anxious about and preoccupied with taking care of themselves, their families and others in need. This has resulted in widespread criticism from the affected students, their teachers, and unions like the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) as the consensus among all is that the University’s resolution to conduct examinations in such emotionally and physically challenging times reflects its lack of empathy for those it claims to serve.
Since the onset of the pandemic, DU has conducted online semester examinations thrice. Each time, its decision to hold OBEs was based on the unfounded assumption that all its students, backed by varying family incomes, had the necessary facilities to attend classes and sit for their exams smoothly. If there’s one thing that’s stayed constant throughout last year, it’s the University’s disinterest in considering the specific privileges of a proportion of its students, or lack thereof. Except for this time, the frightful state of the country and its toll on the mental and physical health of the students has further added to their adversity. A common sentiment shared by most students and professors is that it is out rightly brutal on the University’s part to subject
them to such mental pressure at a time when the majority of them are grieving the loss of a relative or are down high fever, severe body ache and other ghastly symptoms of COVID-19.
Image caption: DU students to DU Beat
“We’ve already lost some of our colleagues, so many are suffering and there’s no record of the number of students who are currently COVID-19 positive. The exams scheduled for May end must be postponed immediately,” said Mr. Rajib Ray, the President of DUTA, who expressed these concerns in a letter to the acting Vice-Chancellor and appealed for the extension of deadlines of Internal Assessments as well.
(Read more: DUTA’s letter to the acting Vice-Chancellor )
Even more than the University’s lack of consideration and understanding, what’s agitating the concerned students and teachers the most is the dearth of response from the University’s end for their queries, appeals, and grievances. Time and again DU has reinforced its inability to take a proper stance to back its students and its teachers. It is only after a series of requests, mass protests, strikes, and other forms of demonstration that the University feels compelled to take some sort of action. The current situation however has thrown several issues out into the open, one of them being whether the University is politically hindered and is unable to support its students and teachers and help them. It feels as if the modus operandi of the institutional structure disallows it to consider all viewpoints and perspectives, even if they go against the establishment. There are a lot of confusing elements at play and it’s normal for any student to get utterly perplexed and dejected by the overwhelming amount of things happening around. Firstly, as mentioned, the youth is significantly and virtually running the health infrastructure. It’s not as if students have an enormous amount of free time but the kind of helplessness that has pervaded and persisted has inevitably forced us to take the reins of the situation into our hands. While some colleges have ensured and implemented some amount of leniency, the experience across the University has been extremely varied. Moreover, while Universities like Ambedkar, NIFT, Delhi Technological University all have suspended regular classes, the situation isn’t as smooth and comfortable for the country at large. The recent incident at IIT Kharagpur is a testament to that.
Secondly, when it comes to the conduction of OBE examinations for the second and third-year students there’s a lot of conversation and an overall explosion of opinions from all sides which have to be heard and considered before the University takes any decision. Postponing exams could be a probable cause for added pressure later on, as it will not only hinder further academic prospects for the final year students but also rests on an idealistic
assumption that things will improve fast. The students studying at Delhi University come from all over the country and with such a diverse demographic, going ahead with the exams at a time when the country is burning is downright inhuman. “Firstly it’s not an easy yes or no when it comes to cancelling exams altogether. We need to realize how we are dealing with a lot of different people and individual differences. We need to consider the problem of the third-year students fulfilling their academic timeline which is integral for pursuing their Master’s and can reflect in their employment as well.” says Karthika Sajeev, President of the LSR Student Union.
There must be a realization that the consequences of the second wave of the pandemic are way more drastic and sudden as opposed to the first wave, making this year a substantially difficult year to keep a track of all your commitments. Sajeev further points out how for most students it is physically and mentally impossible to sit for exams let alone attend classes. According to her, even the faculty members are not in the right mind space to properly devote themselves. Attendance has gone down significantly, with most classes not even seeing fifty percent of students turning up. “Last year the situation was better but we need to realise how the situation plays out in multiple ways. We have yet to receive our results from the last semester and if the university goes on ahead with the examinations, who is going to evaluate them?” Sajeev remarks on the lack of clarity and communication from the University’s end. Indian Universities indefinitely have a habit of valuing hustle culture over normal, human concepts such as taking breaks, work-life balance, etc. With that being said, if the university goes ahead with the examination it will be a highly discriminatory move against those who are COVID-19 positive and have lost their family members. Some might argue that online classes are relatively easier to navigate. We understand that disrupting the entire academic calendar of an institute as significant as the University of Delhi isn’t an easy decision. However, providing students and teachers with absolutely no relief after a tsunami of tragedies in the country is heartless, to say the least.
“The University has made no attempt to provide relief to the families of the teachers we’ve lost, the teachers who have to teach despite not having the mental bandwidth for it, the students who are suffering or the ad hoc teachers who lack essential job privileges. Moreover, the propagation of fake news by the government to divert people’s attention from genuine concerns of the aggrieved and its inconsiderable and inconsistent contribution to dealing with the pandemic crisis have shown its utter disregard for the well-being of its citizens,” said Miss Abha Dev Habib from DUTA. The idea isn’t about flexibility as much as a heartless approach being employed to deal with the situation. Citizens are left, alienated, and disowned to look out for themselves. There’s no idea of a welfare state looking after the necessities. No scope of communication with any regard or empathy for those who’ve been potentially traumatized for the rest of their lives.
Image caption: “Exams or no exams, classes suspended or not, we must reach a larger and conscious acknowledgement of the fact that we all need to slow down”.
Image credits: Elzeline Kooy
At one instance, teachers and students are struggling to find Oxygen and Remdevisir leads, and the very next moment you’re struggling to finish assignments, attend lectures, take notes and juggle internships side by side. This is to assume you’ve not been affected directly by the pandemic. When you’re running pillar to post, struggling to find basic resources that should otherwise be easily accessible, completely ruptured by the whirlpool of uncertainty around, you can’t possibly think of grueling yourself further with the complicated OBE exams. “Our session will get over on the 30th of April, most Internal Assessments are already there with the respective professors. At this point it’s all about how the University responds. We’ve sent emails to the Vice Chancellor, the Dean and we just hope that the University makes a quick decision in the favor of the student and faculty body.” Sajeev points out with a hint of optimism.
Once again the question that arises is of the complete breakdown of all mechanisms to seek redressal. As brought forth by Sajeev, a lot of DU colleges do not have an active student body that will actively communicate the students’ grievances while also keeping in contact with the faculty members. The situation has lapsed beyond control and one is left to realise that often students have to face crises disproportionately. It’s imperative to remember that the principal reason for the existence of the University is to bring value to its students and professors. The institute was built to serve us and not the other way round. And no matter how strenuous it gets to navigate the right path to collective betterment, it is still vitally important that the University places the well-being of the students and teachers over all secondary considerations, at every step of the way, including this very moment. And the need of the hour is to let the affected parties decide for themselves what the best approach to soothe their afflictions would be. What holds paramount importance right now is that the grievances and opinions of the students and professors, the ones who are the most
affected by the University’s decision, are heard and entertained, despite what the University may consider to be the better judgment. It is quite certain that the mental and psychological consequences of the impact will be deep- rooted. At present, there are no clear-cut solutions to the problems that we as students and as citizens of this exhausted country are facing. Exams or no exams, classes suspended or not, we must reach a larger and conscious acknowledgement of the fact that we all need to slow down. We all need to give each other the space to grieve, process our emotions, collect our thoughts or simply take a break. There is no certainty of the fact that things will get relatively better. In extraordinary times like these however, it’s so integral to give yourself the benefit of the doubt. This is not the time to feel guilt or regret over days spent taking care of your physical and mental health rather than being conventionally productive. Our only hope is that things will get better. People will look out and support each other. empathy will replace apathy, The government will be held accountable for the grave terror they’ve carelessly caused. And, most importantly the voice of the youth will be heard.
Featured Image Credits: LA Johnson, National Public Radio