Students Strike at Vivekananda College
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are my own and are not that of the Chennai Metblog team nor Metroblogging network
Ramkrishna Mission Vivekananda College is run by the Ramkrishna Mission. There are two separate colleges, with different administrations under one roof namely the day and evening colleges. The day college is government funded while the evening college is run by the mission and is self-aided. The day college staff are government appointed and reservation as required by the Tamil Nadu Government is implemented there, while none of that exists in the evening college. The evening college staff are appointed by the Mutt, and the person who makes those appointment decisions is Sathyapriyananda. Though the evening college has a principal, the common perception amongst the students, some of whom were my friends is the college is run by Sathyapriyananda and A.S Kannan, with the principal just being there for administrative purposes.
The strike started I hear in the hostel block, and then spread to the evening college with discontent against the evening college administration. Trouble in the hostel started way back in 2003. The hostel is run by the Mutt, therefore the college administration has no control over it. During my first year of college, I have noticed another person who was clad in saffron (kavi) interacting with the hostellers. I learnt from my friends that this person was in charge of the hostel and its functioning, except for deciding who is admitted into the hostel. After a while, I stopped seeing this person in the college hostel. I later learnt that this person had been transferred out of Madras to another mutt. The rumour amongst the hostel students was that he was demoted in the mutt hierarchy and transferred to another city. The reason being the Chief Mutt representative was upset with his functioning, that is, this person didn’t implement compulsory religious instruction nor was strict regarding the attendance, he closed the gates at 10 pm I heard, and if students didn’t return by then they would be locked out, and warned. They wouldn’t be denied food or prevented from using the facilities. This person also was popular amongst the students, as opposed to the Chief Mutt Representative; I’ve been told by hostellers that this was another reason why he was transferred. After this person’s departure, the hostel came under the direct control of the Chief Mutt Representative. When the Chief Mutt Representative took over, the number of regulations increased, like students were forced to attend religious instruction on a daily basis, and had daily attendance. Earlier students who wanted to go home during the college term could easily get permission and leave, now that became harder, with hostellers usually bitching that they had to beg the Chief Mutt Representative to get permission. Recently, hostellers were fined for various reasons from not giving attendance, or not attending religious instruction or not keeping their room clean. Along with the fine they would be penalised, which usually was no food, electricity in their room, and not being allowed to use the toilet facilities for a week, and even denied water to drink. This has caused considerable heartburn amongst the hostellers.
Meanwhile in the evening college, the students complained that the commerce dept HOD, was now creating trouble for the good professors. the problem with the evening college is the professors are all management appointed and it is hard to get good staff for them since the economy was booming. In a desire to be the most important person in the evening college, the commerce dept HOD consistently eliminated his rivals by spreading rumours about the others.
This person is capable of this because, when he was appointed as a management staff in the day college, he consistently used to tell the Chief Mutt Representative rumours about the commerce departments functioning, and this lead to the Representative hauling up the commerce department staff members. The evening college Commerce Dept HOD, using his clout with the Chief Mutt Representative had all those were his potential rivals in the evening college. He also implemented strict rules in the evening college which restricted the freedom of students. Secondly, since he had eliminated his potential rivals, the quality of teaching dropped, but then the college has a high percentage of students clearing professional courses because the students are good and work hard, it is definitely not because of the quality of teaching.
After the college became autonomous, the restrictions and rules in evening college increased a lot, especially the fines. Students were forced to attend religious instruction, this is common in most colleges, but then students are not penalised for not attending the instructions, it is said to be compulsory, but students often cut them.
This environment of discontent proved an ideal ground for a strike to start. The catalyst was a hosteller who attempted suicide, as the mail I received from a hosteller informs me.
A boy has come from some south part of Tamil nadu who is disabled. he had attended prayers as required. One day, he had to sing during the prayer, therefore couldn’t give his attendance for that day, and he was told he would be fined, even after all the students vouched that he was present. He was also fined for not keeping his room clean
The fine was so huge that it prompted him to attempt committing suicide by cutting his jugular vein and was hospitalised.
Apart from this, a the former Genral Secetary of a past students union in the day college also informed me that due to some reason, the Chief Mutt Representative refused to serve food for 81 hostellers, cut the electricity in their room and didn’t allow them to use the toilet facilities. This also added fuel to the fire starting the strike.
The hostellers began their agitation two weeks ago, and recently the evening college students too have joined the strike. They are demanding that the HOD of the Commerce Dept, be removed along with the Chief Mutt Representative, the Principal, and the accountant, who seems to be hand-in-glove with the Commerce Dept HOD of the evening college. The college has effectively been closed for two weeks, with negotiations having broken down. Another round is expected to take place on Monday. If the students stick to their guns, which will happen in all likelihood, the strike will continue because the management is unlikely to give in to their demands. Though publicially the students organisations like ABVP and SFI are demanding that the Tamil Nadu government cancels permission to the college, it is unlikely to happen.
The former general secretary also informs me that the negotiations are being lead by this professor from the Physics department of the day college. Though the day college staff are publicly neutral in this dispute, privately they do seem to be sympathetic to the students cause is what I am told.
What is even more surprising is that the English media hasn’t covered this strike for over 2 weeks. The only piece of published news was in the Hindu, which was a 50 word piece in some obscure corner stating the college has been indefinitely closed. With the news hungry English media, I would hope it would be covered by them. I remember a while ago that a small scuffle between Loyola and Pachayappa students was covered prominently by the local English news papers. Considering that I’m surprised this is covered.
PS: All Images courtesy of Badri Seshadri