The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

A Response to ‘The Consequence of Our Convenience’

By Deep Vakil, Class of 2020

Following the events of the Vice-Chancellor’s Townhall, which inter alia announced the night curfew, an article was published in the columns of this newspaper, on 2nd October, titled “The Consequence of Our Convenience,” authored by Vaibhav Parik, someone I know as a batchmate, colleague, and friend. The suggestion to write this article came from one of my conversations with him. The intended purpose is to register my disagreement with some of the views he expressed, to make a defense, if I may, of the stance taken by the Student Government, and in the process, to offer an alternative take on the matter that he raised in his article. I would like it to be known that the views expressed in this article are neither limited to, nor by virtue of, my capacity as an elected Representative.

At the very onset, allow me to voice my resounding affirmation for some of the views that Vaibhav expressed: the apparent discomfort we have with broaching discourses that challenge our convenience and entitlement; the justification of our irresponsible behaviour in the name of freedom and social justice; the lack of initiative aimed towards issues that face us as a community; and, the suggestion to constructively engage with this through organised conversation. However, I wish to note that there is one slight inconsistency in his article that must be reconciled before I proceed to put forth my arguments — the characterisation of our University. In the very first paragraph, Ashoka is referred to as “a certain established product,” but in the seventh one, it is (more aptly, in my view) described as “merely a five-year old institution that is not perfect and may not have all the right systems in place.” I think we can agree that the latter is a more acceptable way to think about Ashoka, and I would take this as my starting point.

When the Vice-Chancellor was posed with the final question at the townhall about whether he deems us worthy of consultation, he concluded with a joke, and the punchline went along the lines of: “You are a product of this University.” Not only is this an assertion that dismantles all pre-existing notions that we have about the relationship between the administration and the students of this University, it is also one that I find frightening. By comfortably joking about this at such a platform as the townhall, the Vice-Chancellor is breaking the promise of Ashoka: that in its formative stages, the students play a role in shaping its legacy. Unlike already established universities like Oxford, which attract students with their experience, and excellence, Ashoka offers us this promise. A promise that is made to us from the moment the Founders call it an Ivy League in the making, to the time that the Vice-Chancellor himself addresses the incoming students and parents on the first day of the Orientation Week, saying that “[this] is what distinguishes an education at Ashoka from every other institution.” His remarks at the townhall, then, come as nothing short of a betrayal of the administration’s word.

This brings us to the second point in Vaibhav’s article that I would like to respond to. He suggests that the students “hastily generalise and blame [the administration] for the slightest of flaws,” which only propagates more hate towards them; that “we want to make this an us-against-them matter.” I beg to differ here — particularly in reference to the stance taken by the SG. I refuse to concede that it is a conscious effort by, or in the best interests of, any of us to otherize the administration. In fact, everything that the SG must do to affect long term change can only happen with the authorisation of the administration. Our budget is subject to their approval; our concerns are subject to their perusal; our ideas are subject to their consideration; even our meetings are in a way subject to the availability of rooms. We might tend to take for granted their cooperation on all these matters, but what must not be forgotten is that they may chose to withdraw their support any second they deem fit, significantly impeding our work, albeit not halting it altogether. Why is it, then, that we are still charged with antagonising the administration? Because there is one very significant development in recent times, that we cannot stay silent about without betraying our duties and our conscience — the increasingly paternalistic approach of the administration. The night curfew is just the latest in line of several recent decisions that not only disregard what the student body has widely expressed, but altogether overlook the consultative step of the process: the survey for cross-residence access, the case of the CCTV cameras, and the policy on porn and cross-batch emails. This is not to say, that there is no way to call out this problematic pattern without necessarily alienating the administration, and the attempt has been to continue employing such means. However, with this backdrop, I feel that if this trade-off is considered inevitable, we should nonetheless demand our rightful say in the decision-making process. We do not owe a cordial and cooperative attitude to a party, if they simply refuse to acknowledge our stake in the conversation.

Finally, the concluding argument of Vaibhav’s article was that the night curfew is “a collective repercussion of the lack of an inclusive discourse about the culture of substance abuse;” our inaction “is definitely the biggest contributing factor of this fallout.” I would argue that it is fallacious to think of the night curfew as a fallout that befell us because of something that we as a community took a fall for (or in this case, failed to do). It does not take a very close look to notice the whataboutery in pointing out our inaction, which, albeit deplorable and worthy of attention, in no way exonerates the administration of its own shortcomings. The insufficient communication, and lack of transparency, is in stark contrast with what students learn within the classrooms of this university. Afterall, if a university’s administration is not consistent with its own value system, where are the students to look for inspiration? Moreover, as for the lack of discourse, or the delay in creating it, why is it exclusive to demanding our seat at the negotiation table? Is it not for us to introspect as a community why we are repulsed from any discourse that compels us to think of ourselves as anything more than atomised individuals? Can it have something to do with the prevalent sentiment of disdain for anything that serves as a reminder of our existence as a collective, and responsibilities thereof, such as our cultural fest Banjaara or even the Student Government for that matter? These are all pressing questions, but none that preclude us from asserting our right to being consulted. If anything, this discourse and the process of consultation are complementary and mutually reinforcing.

A simple thought experiment can help elucidate this point. First, note that despite the night curfew not having been implemented yet, there is already an exponential decline in the number of students who can be seen outside campus on Thursday nights, owing in part also to the advisories. Now, imagine the same townhall with the Vice-Chancellor, except he does not announce the curfew at the end as something they have decided to impose on us but mentions it as an option that is being considered. They then give us a week to 10 days to have discussions among and within ourselves, and in that time, the SG is asked to collate all the feedback and inputs from the students. It can reasonably be foreseen that these discussions would have been of a nature similar to the ones that we had this time around. At the end of the stipulated time period, the SG would present this collated feedback to them, and seeing how many students welcomed the decision even when it was imposed, it can be said that had the process been consultative, the proportion of students in agreement would have at least stayed the same, if not been higher. Even if it had been lower, what matters is that that is what the student body conveyed to the administration, and that the administration considers us “[its] colleagues and [its] peers,” not products that are passively subjected to its decisions.

On a parting note, students might be relieved to know that our endeavours in the aftermath of the townhall have borne some fruit. Our condemnation of the imposition of the night curfew, the subsequent email, the open House meetings, and the counter-proposal that we unanimously stood by, have certainly had some impact. The Residence Life Team invited us to meet on 4th October, as well as 11th October (both befittingly happen to be Thursday evenings), to discuss the policy draft, and some of the concerns that we raised at that meeting seem to have resonated with them strongly. The policy is still being drafted, we have been told that they would run the draft by us before it comes into force, and hopefully, the resultant policy will be more carefully thought out and encompassing of all our demands. Simultaneously, we must ensure that the impending discourse around substance abuse is initiated and the various accompanying nuances are explored. This is our chance to shape the legacy that we leave for future batches. This is our chance to learn from our past errors, and grow as a community. This is our chance to meet up to our end of the promise that Ashoka holds.

Deep Vakil is a Politics and Society major and IR minor, from the Undergraduate Class of 2020. He is also a member of the Fourth House of Representatives, and occupies the seat of the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs in the Cabinet.

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