Jain University skit row: Why college cultural events must be more inclusive | Azad Times

1 month ago 27
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Azad Times News Desk.

College festivals in Bengaluru have become unimaginative and a breeding ground for students who want to display their socio-economic status and flaunt their ‘merit.’

There are two things that should have happened as soon as the Jain (Deemed-to-be-University) skit came to light. First, there should have been a massive protest by the student community against the skit, the audience who cheered for it, and the organisers of the fest. We have not witnessed even a single statement from any of the student councils of the elite colleges and universities in Bengaluru. Second, this incident should have rattled the teaching community and we should have started asking some fundamental questions about what we do in our classes and institutions. The disgusting humour in the skit cannot just be attributed to a few students who went ‘overboard’. The cheering and applauding by the audience indicate an eagerness to emotionally hurt and strip others of basic human dignity. The video snippets reveal what has become a common phenomenon in the campuses of colleges and universities: mocking reservations.

Whether the students who performed the skit and the audience which cheered for it are consciously aware of it or not, the humour in it is a result of a shared understanding of injustice. They feel that something has been snatched away from them and it is now their time to regain it. The dialogues in the skit become a sort of comeback, a revenge against the perceived injustice they have suffered. They are making a political statement against a system that they think has denied them their due. That students are becoming overtly political is an interesting development. But, where is the teacher in all this? Where is the classroom, the curriculum, the syllabus, and the dialogue and discussion that is at the heart of a college or a university?

What would have happened if these students had encountered debates surrounding caste in their classrooms? What if they had read the Ambedkar-Gandhi debate on caste and discussed it in class? What if they had read Dalit and Adivasi experiences and compared it with their own? What if the concept of justice and equality was discussed in class to throw light on the role that history plays in our understanding of it? As teachers we should take responsibility not just for the skit but also for the lack of response from the student community. This should be a moment of introspection for us.

College fests in Bengaluru have become a breeding ground for students who want to display their socio-economic status and flaunt their ‘merit.’ They have become unimaginative. Every year one sees the same set of competitions and events which lack creativity and engagement. Every student knows what kind of competition one must prepare for, how to get trained for it, and where to participate. For students the stakes are very high; there is status in winning in these fests. Every student council of these elite colleges do only this. They call it ‘festing’; they identify themselves as ‘festers’. This is done by actively excluding students who come from different socio-economic backgrounds. Competitions like Mad Ads, Air Crash and Personality contest actively promote mocking of everything, irrespective of the social and political context of what is being mocked. The judges of these events rarely have any socio-political understanding or even the artistic sensibility that is required to appreciate satire.

Another way of avoiding diversity and inclusivity in these fests is to make fluency and comfortability in English as a gate pass. This automatically excludes a large section of students whose primary mode of self-expression is Kannada or any south Indian language. Even if token representation is given to Kannada, it is very clear that such fests are about excluding those who are not comfortable with English. The environment that is created in these cultural fests become a template for the kind of society students want to create and the kind of persons they want to become. Students begin mimicking what they witness. In this sense, fests are much more powerful in shaping students than our classrooms.

A festival is a celebration. It is about performance and witnessing; imagination and creativity; and more importantly, diversity and inclusivity. It is a moment of joy as we celebrate the act of coming together. Tragically, college fests in Bengaluru have become highly exclusive and have almost acquired a mafia-like character. One could say that this beautiful idea of a cultural fest is now suffering like a festering wound.

As educators we haven’t paid much attention to what happens outside our classrooms. We have become reluctant in asking questions about our students. What do students talk about? What do they debate? How do they debate? What does self-expression mean for them? What is their understanding of justice and equality? Are our students really thinking beyond the narrow confines of examination and placements? Do they feel an ethical compulsion to respond to what is happening around? We need to introspect and find out what has led to such a situation. We also need to ask some fundamental questions about the value and scope of our profession. If we imagine ourselves as some sort of service providers, we are doing a great disservice to the trust that society has put in us. We need to reimagine the act of teaching as an ethical enterprise that goes beyond instruction and mentoring.

(The author is Asst. Professor & Head, Department of English, St. Joseph's College of Commerce (Autonomous), Bengaluru. Views expressed are the author's own.)

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