“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
In Tamil Nadu, it all began in the 1980s when MG Ramachandran (MGR) was the chief minister of the state. Sensing that rural household women were largely getting affected by the liquor menace, MGR banned the production, sale and consumption of arrack while ensuring free flow of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) across the state. As a result, most liquor barons in the state turned against the AIADMK government-led by MGR.
Incidentally, all of them (liquor barons) were AIADMK supporters, who helped the party with funds. That’s when mgr decided to take a leaf out of the book of the neighbouring state of Karnataka. It was to allocate self-financing colleges to the privileged, who enjoyed both power and position. In Tamil Nadu, such people were liquor barons. Thus began the era of privatisation of higher education in the state.
“Illicit liquor barons, pimps and bootleggers have begun to preside over the education institutes in Tamil Nadu for the last few decades,” says C Lakshmanan, a Dalit activist and an associate professor with Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.
“They manage both the technical and higher education sectors in Tamil Nadu at present. They have also entered the governing councils of these educational institutions. After the Dravidian parties started enjoying power, education became a business and its quality eroded significantly. Moreover, the institutions run by them have depoliticised the students who are ill treated and exploited by the management.”
The recent deaths of three girl students from SVS Yoga and Naturopathy College at Kallakurichi Villupuram district have brought forth the perils of commercialisation of higher education into the public domain yet again. It is quite evident from the suicide note of the students that they were harassed and humiliated for voicing dissent in a college that had lost its affiliation (to Dr MGR Medical University) in the academic year 2015-16. Despite this the university continued to list the college as an “affiliated” institute on its website.
The dead students alleged in the suicide note that they were forced to clean the classrooms, given bad food and humiliated. When their continuous attempts to get justice from the intimidating management of the college and the Madras High Court failed, they took the extreme step. Critics say that just like SVS college there are many institutes which are fleecing money. The suicide note also mentioned that during the second year of Yoga and Naturopathy course, the college extracted around Rs 6 lakh from each of them and denied receipts. Unfortunately, these three suicides followed by two others from Tamil Nadu itself failed to attract national attention. Leaders of national parties did not visit the victims’ families and even the state leaders remained mute spectators.
However, these facts not only expose the nexus between owners of private colleges, senior officials in the educational department and politicians, but also highlight the corrupt practices over the years. “As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, the nexus between politicians and government is extremely visible and strong,” says an associate professor with a deemed university in Coimbatore on the condition of anonymity. “There are many colleges operating without affiliation and basic infrastructure. Even after they are derecognised by the (affiliated) universities, they continue to function.”