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A setting for suicides

A setting for suicides
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Are young men and women in our university system facing challenges and difficulties confidently? What is required to help them cope with problems of...

Are young men and women in our university system facing challenges and difficulties confidently? What is required to help them cope with problems of residence, food, health, transportation and safety on campuses? The students, away from the security of their homes, are left to their own devices. A In this context, the author looks at institutional mechanisms and examines whether they respond to students' challenges and difficulties

The spate of suicides from among the student community of higher education in recent times is deeply disturbing. It is a difficult problem to understand. It is multi-dimensional in causes and makes the response to it understandably high in emotional pitch.A Suicide as a social problem has been discussed by some of the greatest social scientists like Emile Durkheim over a century ago. Even so far back, Durkheim speaks of it as a social phenomenon caused by the failure of society to integrate individuals successfully in the process of change. We see this tragedy unfolding before us repeatedly even as institutions and persons in authority watch helplessly. For the police records, a particular reason may be identified as cause, but there is a complex set of conditions that forms the context for each of the cases.

When young students come to major institutions of higher learning, they are hardly aware of the pressure points in these institutions. A young man who has graduated from a degree college in the district headquarters has a different perception of an educational institution in the city. A They walk into the big university in the metropolitan centre, thinking that the institution will be efficient, and humane in its functioning. Within the first two weeks, the disillusionment sets in.

As a new student narrated last year, he was allocated a room in the hostel of a university after passing the entrance with flying colours and securing admission. The boy was not allowed to stay in the hostel room allocated as 'others' were already there. Being a youngster from a poor family and knowing no one in the city well enough, the student went through untold misery of homelessness and hunger for a couple of weeks.

He cannot seek help from his family as it will further burden them. There are very limited choices for such individuals. They either drop out and go home or sell their souls to the highly politicised 'leaders' who can smooth their path but will extract loyalty in times of trouble. There is no administrative help forthcoming for such students.A The universities are deeply politicised institutions, where the administrations look the other way when politically powerful people seriously violate the rights and entitlements of deserving students. Many students want to study and benefit from their time in the university.

But because of the environment in the system, they are drawn into and forced to participate in activities that increase the political clout of entrenched interests. This happens to be their only ticket to survival.A Over the years, the 'leaders' have succeeded in creating confusion between rights-based activity and extractive activities. When extractive activities of demanding mandatory 75% attendance despite never attending any classes, or demanding marks for complete non-performance in a post-graduate course are framed in the language of rights, many students get misled into supporting such demands. This ensures crowds for the leaders' activities, but completely shifts the emphasis away from academic work.

Several of the students are quite capable of far better performance if they genuinely try and participate in the teaching-learning process. This easy way out is undermining their chance of learning and improving their skills. A This they realise when it is too late. When recruiters do not find their skill sets adequate, the 'leaders' are not there to ensure that their flock gets the jobs they need.

The university administrations, instead of trying to govern through the informal, unelected student leaders on campuses, should try to address some of the serious problems being faced by the genuine and needy students. If courses are run with integrity and rigour, it is the students who will benefit. Academic discipline will also benefit the student because by participating in the course work, the student is better prepared to cope with the challenges of employment. Young men and women who have entered the university system face untold difficulties in coping with problems of residence, food, health, transportation and safety on campuses. Staying away from the security of their own homes, they are left to fend for themselves. The institutional mechanisms are slow to respond, if they respond at all.

For instance, almost since two years no road transport buses ply through Osmania University campus. The Home Minister of Andhra Pradesh promised to rectify this at a live show held by HMTV on 8 March this year. Two months later, there is still no bus service through the campus. The girl students still have to walk several kilometres to the edge of the campus for basic necessities.

The first generation post-graduate students, students from suburban and rural backgrounds, have too many adjustments to make when they enroll in the universities. Instead of an enabling environment that supports and nurtures positive aspirations, they find themselves under the control of powerful political groups and are compelled to do their bidding. Years of sacrifices their families have made to send them for higher education come to naught when they find that they are unable to cope. The despair of not doing well enough in academics and not finding employment can be frustrating. This may well be compounded by other factors like falling in love and being unable to settle down in life.

All major political parties have to bear responsibility for such a state of affairs on campuses. Political parties seem to have no mechanisms to monitor the strategies their cadre use to mobilise support. Any party with integrity must first ensure the welfare of the ordinary student and not maintain strongmen to achieve its goals. This is a misunderstanding of what a leader must be like. If people are forced to follow in fear or for favour, the following would quickly disappear if these lose significance. The followers will show long-term loyalty, with or without persuasion, when the leadership shows ideological integrity.

Interestingly, the political parties and other groups enter the picture to show their solidarity as soon as a suicide occurs. Demands for compensation are made with alacrity but hardly any critical evaluation is done of the vitiated environment in which students struggle to fulfil their aspirations; and how unhealthy political activity is indirectly setting the stage for frustrated aspirations of sensitive students. There are no attempts to identify and alleviate the problems of serious students.

A student from the suburban/ rural background quickly learns that universities are not such rarefied havens of intellectual growth, but a microcosm of the criminalised polity we see everywhere else in the country. Some sell out and play along to succeed in this mess, while the sensitive ones find death the only option.A It is important for the future of the country to prevent the deaths of sensitive young men and women and to diminish the power of the cynical ones.

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