An Open Letter to AUD: "The many ways a student can be violated by an institution"

 

Aroh Akunth 

15202561 1276117309113187 3344554481599643730 nI am no more a student of Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD). My right to education has been obstructed. This letter lists out the reasons which have kept me from pursuing my education at AUD. It's been two months since I first informed the authorities about the issues I have been facing with regards to my education. Neither have efforts been made to resolve my case nor have I received any kind of redressal.

A Bachelor's second year student needs to pass at least 14 courses to be promoted to the third year; I passed 12, failed 1 and challenged the results of 3 courses. This makes it impossible for me to be promoted unless I pass in at least two of the 'challenged' courses. In the absence of a redressal mechanism, I approached the then dean Prof. Rachna Johri, who allowed me to attend third-year courses till my matter is resolved.

1) One of my course coordinators had refused to accept my assessments on the day of the submission because they were handwritten, which resulted in me failing the course. In the process of rejecting the submission in various formats, she also went as far as to remark and question my Dalit Queer identity multiple times on email, despite having full knowledge that I was seeking therapy to deal with homophobic and casteist elements on campus. The teacher deliberately failed me despite knowing that not grading my report, on the basis of which she took a viva and graded it, can result in me failing my year. To look into this case the present Dean of School of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Tanuja Kothiyal instituted a 4 person internal committee comprising of two teachers at least from the department of the teacher involved (School of Human Studies) with no student representation on the committee, let alone a Dalit.

Despite me and the student body registering our discomfort and protests about it, she further suspended the democratic rights of not only me to represent my case but further debarred the elected representatives of the student body (student council) from representing my case, which her predecessor Rachna Johri had allowed. Till date, I have not received any clarification as to how the committee investigated, decided in favour of faculty involved, the same faculty who have had discrepancies in their own versions on record and have changed their stance multiple times during the investigation. The evidence of the same has already been submitted to the authorities. Not only did the committee reduce me, a human being to a piece of paper, in this case, my application, I also cannot fathom how my application which has already been answered to, becomes representative enough for the committee to decide what transpired and sufficient enough to represent me. Also, there is the fact that there is no policy which allows them to constitute such a committee and it is all left to the "discretionary powers" of the Dean. When asked for the report of the committee, I was told that I am not liable for it, further making it impossible for me to appeal and seek justice.

2) My case was further referred to SFC (Student-Faculty Committee) after a month where again no students were invited to the meeting, even if they were invited they won't come in through means which indicate a healthy democracy, I was again asked why I didn't approach them first. My reply to this was how a faculty and student member already knew about my case and had stated to me they can't be of much help or declined to help. In turn, I was told I should have written to all of them. I want to admit on record I had known about SFC and standing committee route to resolve my case but since the dean's office was looking into it personally, I thought that's the best way to go about it for the reason that standing committee again has no policy or an investigation procedure and is headed by Dean Student Services Sanjay Sharma who was already aware of the case. It is this sorry excuse for a redressal body which is not arbitrary in nature and neither holds any judicial status, it's a recommendatory body which recommends its decision to academic council which again has deans and vice chancellor on it, deans who have already been aware of my case and chose to do nothing about it or contributed to my harassment. How does it even become a substitute for a university court?

I didn't even get why would the dean send back my case to the SFC after forming the previously mentioned internal committee, where, all the SFC does as AUD loves to do it is, give recommendations. Now after telling what I have been going through for the umpteenth number of time (which again I have had concerns with since it makes me relive what I have been going through again and again to no result) SFC again says it's the prerogative of the faculty to take assessments, which means in a hypothetical situation I am left at the mercy of the harasser who also happens to be my teacher. It also goes on to display how caste-class privilege works to set the norms in our institution, I am a human, not a machine, I can't print the paper on my own If a working system wasn't accessible to me at that time, can the teacher even fail my course for it let alone a year? If yes, then calling me a chamar to my face and assuming that I have the means to submit the printed typed copy are behaviours stemming from the same problem. If it's the teacher's prerogative to accept the assignment in whatever format they desire, student welfare is a part of whose prerogative? And this blatant caste ego plays out daily in the institution named after Ambedkar. I am not even the worst receiver of it. How this institution still has manual scavenging, holds Lakshmi puja's, describes us as people who can't stand up for themselves and gives no representation to the marginalized while loves to faff about caste and earn credits in our name is a conversation for another time. I was also not shocked when SFC didn't have a follow-up of my case from what transpired in the dean's office regarding my case. These intentional delays are justice delayed and these incompetencies have led me to question every time I address AUD as my institution because I have been made to feel not a "part enough" of it. A student-centric university without student rights is a sham. A democracy which doesn't let you exercise your identity is not democratic.

3) The teachers who have been standing by me all this while, are not even allowed to take assessment from the same semester you allow another course to take a Partial repeat from because there your faculty didn't assign grades for a year while I can be failed for not being able to arrange a common date with my teacher for an oral presentation, something I couldn't have foreseen or changed. AES as a division along with its policies has not been introduced to the existing student body while it has been orienting fresher's into it. I refuse to be held accountable by a division which I wasn't notified in any way about and directly impacts students, (these are the possible ways to go about it, notice boards, emails, website) it being a division which came into existence a year after my admission into the university. It is the university's prerogative to introduce the existing student body to it and what it means for the students. The highly guarded explanation of old policy new division doesn't cut it, when AES is devising punitive measures to shame students for their economic capabilities or can even make education inaccessible to those who don't follow its norms.

4) Since day one, I have had "reservations" about the way my case has been dealt with, firstly our university doesn't have a redressal mechanism or an equal opportunity cell(which is mandatory for students who are disabled or come from marginalized backgrounds according to UGC) the fad that we sell to fresher's in the name of equal opportunity cell is not in place yet. Which in itself is a testimony to not only how the structure cannot deal with non-normative cases like mine but also how I and other students like me will never fit the norm for the "ideal students" of AUD; the system or lack thereof further makes it tough for the marginalized students to seek justice. Not only have my wishes to have representation on the committee, which UGC recognizes, and my wish, since I was the complainant, not vice versa should have been respected to treat the case in an innocent until proven otherwise manner instead my case has been treated where I have been made to feel like guilty until proven otherwise. Which is not only highly problematic, it reminds me of how I always have to justify me being Queer or Dalit to fit this society's expectations of me. I have been directed from one office to another, told that

I can't be helped 'categorically', this includes SFC (Student-Faculty Committee) whose members told me they can't help me, and it's a personal matter. It is a not a personal matter, it's a matter that concerns all of us. Student services is another safety valve which just saves the ugly Brahmanical homophobic face of this varsity, they remained more or less inactive until I threatened to go public with my harassment finally arranged meeting where they went back on their words to let me have representation of my choice from faculty in charges of SC/ST issues, equal opportunity and reps from student body. All this while the SUS office has known about my plight, what do they do to help me? Analyze my character, lose my applications. If not the aforementioned case the way my case has been dealt with despite knowing my condition has been disappointing at the very least, on top of it I can't help but recognize the condescending tone from administration's side. I have been told whether harassment has taken place or not will be decided by the committee, Now my problem is, I sit on another committee which looks into harassment, I know for a fact that if we cannot take punitive action against the defendant we sure as hell can't tell the complainant that we decide what they have gone through.

According to UGC the committee looking into grievance needs to give a result within ten days, for CPSH its a month, In my case redressal is not even in the picture, instead I have been threatened for going "against the faculty", told by you that students fail on technicalities in AUD by my Dean, I have been talked about in class, I feel the way the administration has dealt me with apathy and instead of finding a solution making me go round and round in circle with my future ascertain is nothing short of academic harassment, how come people who go on and on about sexual harassment not get another form of harassment? This one and a half month have weighed very heavily on me, I have contemplated giving up on education and life, and I will not be shamed for thinking that in a system which treats me as a problem instead of making itself accessible to me along with my identities finding ways to justify or eliminate my being is wrong. How does a judicial body compensate for something which cannot be recovered? Why should I be the only one who suffers at the end of it if it's the "system's problem"? The authorities know about this, they know I withdrew from college life the first month of my fourth semester due to the kind of homophobic and casteist elements on campus, what did they do? They know I have been questioned and humiliated on the basis of my chronic illness, what did they do about it? It's not as much as about harassment as it's about redressal, it's not as much as about the problem as it's about finding the solution. It's not about as much as about me as it is about so many other students who will not even be able to reach the level where I am engaging with the authorities. Harassment of A Dalit student is not the same as a Savarna one, but your policies don't even recognize that and it pains me even more since I have worked tirelessly for the past two years in AUD, for it, all the while being oblivious to the sinister mechanisms that strip students of their dignity while using them for their own purpose. The only formal conversation I receive from SUS instead is them telling me they are going back on their decision to let me attend my third year without solving the case. Is it fair to fail a student on basis other than his academics? Can any number of policies justify it?

Anybody who has ever been a student can get the sense by reading this long letter just some the many ways a student can be violated by an institution, and how the policies are clearly tilted in the favour of the faculty. I really want to fight back, but I don't know what course to take, seeking guidance, I really want the student community to realize how the odds are stacked against us and organize for what our university is not as important as how we want our university to be, but I don't have the means, I just have an undying will and a couple of friends and faculty who have braved me through all of this. Now my plight is in the public domain, I hope it brings hope.
 

Regards,

Akunth

~~~

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