A workshop was on, young boys and girls were sitting on pavement keenly listening to the modern artists. The banner at the back says ‘unschooling the minds’ and several of these listeners were in white t-shirt saying ‘I Protest’. Students at Delhi College of Art (DCA) who are on strike since 31 August this year are running parallel classrooms and workshops right outside the college gate.
While several university and college campuses across the country are boiling with protests on several issues students at DCA are successfully breaking the stereotypes attached with Dharnas (strike). A small cage was hanging at the entrance gate awaits the visitors. All it has is a brush and a colour bottle, symbolic representation of how the future of students is being marred by the administrational apathy and voice of dissent being caged.
Days back a master’s final year student of film making course here registered a complaint of sexual harassment against the Head of Department (HOD) of one of the six courses that is being catered at the DCA. This sparked anguish in the student community, already pondering to raise their voice against dismal infrastructure, and united them together to stand against the administration. “The college is ailing from infrastructural crisis. It’s been over a decade that they stopped providing material required as per curricula. They have also closed down Suvidha—the only stationary shop in the campus eight months back,” says Nitish Arora, a 3rd year student of Applied Art. Arora and eight other student delegates are locking horns with the administration as representatives, as the college doesn’t have an elected representative body. He further added, “Once the sexual harassment case surfaced against the senior faculty member, we decided to take it up as our main agenda in the protest.” Though the complainant later withdrew her complaint with police but it had ignited the students, demanding gender justice in the campus. Also, the accused faculty has had similar complaints against him in the past.
The walls, pavement, trees; every site that you see informs you about the frame of mind of the students at DCA i.e. ‘No more ignorance’. The ongoing protest is reminiscent of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) logjam over Chairman Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment. It is shocking that a Delhi University constituent college is lagging behind on basic infrastructural issues like space, material, workshops.
Active sexual harassment cell with student representation, a student representative body, updating four decade old curricula, campus placement cell, Wi-fi are few amongst 25 demands that student are seeking from the administration. Vishaka guidelines make it compulsory for institutions to form gender sensitization cell, even then such a cell is absent the college. Shockingly, one fails to find even notices around the campus regarding gender sensitization, despite the fact that not only the Vishaka guidelines but UGC’s (University Grants Commission) SAKSHAM report makes it necessary that boards carrying details of gender sensitization committee and awareness about sexual harassment should be evidently visible in the campus. There are other areas too where the college administration is clearly befooling students.
“Despite the fact that we contribute Rs 1200 towards placement cell every year college lacks any such body. We are clueless about career options and it becomes almost impossible to look for job outside,” says a BFA final year student who is also extending support to the movement. The principal Prof S N Lahiri refused to meet TEHELKA. Interestingly, there are several questions hovering over his appointment too, as the new college correspondence refer to him as HOD.
TEHELKA accessed a copy of written reply by the college administration on these demands which clearly show that it wants to maintain a status quo on the issue, as no concrete promises have been made. Also, it is sending individual notices to student’s parents stating possible action which might be taken against their wards owing to absence from classroom. The protestors had to return empty handed from Delhi Secretariat too. “We went to the Secretariat on 11 September but of no use. We failed to get an appointment from Delhi CM and Manish Sisodia (Education Minister),” informed one of the student delegate Meet. As the college comes under Delhi government, they also approached Kapil Mishra, the art and culture minister, which too failed.
While students are planning to meet Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung, who is also the part of the governing body it appears that the administration is waiting for students to succumb to pressure of time and crisis of funds. Only time prove whether these motivated students will be able to keep their spirit like the FTII students or will the movement get dismantled, but it is for sure that country is witnessing one of the most creative and commendable way of organising a protest by body of unorganized students.