Should Unmukt Chand, by virtue of being the hero of India's under-19 World Cup victory, be given certain concessions which go against the college and university norms, and be allowed to sit for his exams? This is the question which is exercising the nation today and the debate is in danger of getting high-jacked by those who see the nation-state only in the prism of ultra-rabid nationalism. In that argument, since Unmukt has done the nation proud, he should be accorded a status higher than ordinary sports quota students and be allowed to give his exams, even if his attendance in the college is as low as below 10 per cent.
His college principal is quoting "dilution of academic excellence" and following the "university guidelines" to justify denying him that permission. The entire nation is up in arms against him, some branding him anti-sports and even anti-national.
Even the courts are seized of the matter where not just Unmukt but a group of 16 students from the same college have challenged their college's stand of not allowing them to appear in their respective exams.
What about others?
These are those students who have got admission, like Unmukt did, through sports quota, but have fallen short of the required attendance and hence have been denied access to the examination halls.
Their voice is not being raised in the media because they have not done the "nation proud" as Unmukt has. Had India failed to win the World Cup and Unmukt not done as well as he did, it is doubtful whether he too would have got the kind of media attention and sympathy he is getting now.
At the heart of the issue is the policy of sports quota and how much concession a genuine sportsperson should get. Every college which admits students on sports quota does no favour to the sportsperson as this policy benefits the sportsperson as much as it does the college. For the college its image of "academic excellence" gets enhanced when its students excel in sports.
The greater their achievements on the sports field, the greater the pride the college takes in them. It's natural that anyone who has to spend a major part of his time on the sports field, either training or playing, will have to miss out on college attendance, given the rigorous regimen sportspersons have to follow today.
In the case of someone like Unmukt, he was bound to miss out much more as he has gone on to play at the highest level a sportsperson his age can aspire.
If a college can take pride in a student's sporting excellence because it improves the image of that institution as a diverse, multi-dimensional personality development place, it should also take extra interest and care in helping these students to appear in the exams.
In a country where sports culture is almost non-existent and the middle-classes are reluctant to send their children to the sports field, this issue is not just about Unmukt and 'national pride' but a necessity to be welcomed by everyone.