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College unions, then and now

THE DEATH of Professor Sabharwal is a shining act of the ?Hindutva? brigade, for it spelt the demise of the traditional, though frayed, Hindu concept of ?guru-shishya parampara?. The incident, distressing as it is, is indicative of the prevailing state of anarchy in the intensely politicised, violence-ridden college/university campuses.

india Updated: Sep 01, 2006 13:45 IST

THE DEATH of Professor Sabharwal is a shining act of the  ‘Hindutva’ brigade, for it spelt the  demise of the traditional, though frayed, Hindu concept of ‘guru-shishya parampara’. The incident, distressing as it is, is indicative of the prevailing state of anarchy in the  intensely politicised, violence-ridden college/university campuses.

Staring at us is a worrying fact that those who are to fuel our ‘knowledge power’ are so violence-prone that they have no qualms in punching a teacher to death for a reason that is, at best, trifling.

That it happened in Madhav College, Ujjain, made it more poignant for me as my father was associated with the institution. About 80 years ago, after his wanderings across the country, he had joined its staff to teach English and spent almost a decade there before being  transferred in the mid-1930s to the then Victoria College in Gwalior. At both colleges he collected an enviable reputation for his erudition, principled conduct and student-friendliness.

Perhaps, for reasons of the qualities of his head and heart the Victoria College students’ union was made to function for years under his regulatory supervision. It was a sort of ‘guided unionisation’ that never ever saw an incident disruptive enough to disturb the prevailing placid atmosphere.

The union activities were oriented more towards cultural, intellectual and sporting pursuits. There were no politicians and no politicisation of unions. Lumpens were yet to arrive on the scene. Most students, coming from feudal, upper and lower middle classes, were well-bred and urbane. Others would have their sharp edges chiselled off at the primary or secondary stages.

Teachers used to be highly qualified and righteous. Though lowly paid, they were respected by the entire community and were role models for the students. Those were different days, seemingly, in another world!

No wonder,  the College produced excellent sportsmen, students bright enough to occupy, in  those job-scarce days, high positions in Governments and corporate world, one of  them even going on to occupy the highest executive office of the  country.

The slide commenced with my generation.  Within a decade of Independence things started changing. Checks and controls were relaxed and rowdy-ism raised its ugly head. Lawlessness was seen slowly descending on the campus. While I was still in Victoria College in Gwalior in the late-1950s, our Principal, a distinguished mathematician, was assaulted by a reckless new-entrant who threatened to take to dacoity if punished.

Thereafter, the slide has been progressive and steep culminating now, for want of stiff action, in a fatal assault on a professor, reprehensibly, in the presence of a politicised police.

One wonders what is at stake in college union elections that criminalises boys so much so the elections make news when they pass off peacefully. Is it access to sleazy money like in elective political offices or sheer unbridled desire of some anti-socials for  indulging in dadagiri? 

For once Uma Bharati seems  to be right. These elections need to be scrapped. Promoting violence and  indiscipline, they vitiate the academic atmosphere and, inevitably, foster  confrontations with teachers, which mostly tend to end up in violence.

There is a need to banish political parties from campuses and empower teachers and principals to enforce much-needed discipline with a view to producing civilised and caring citizens.

Hopefully the death of Professor Sabarwal will not be in vain. Already, there are reports of the teaching community coming together. Surely, civil society, shaken as it is by the ‘Ujjain shocker’, will forcefully campaign for booking culprits.
It will, however, be a shame if the Shivraj Singh Chouhan Government and his ‘Party with a  difference’ shielded the culprits. Worse, it would be criminal of the State Police if it allowed that to happen.