Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Story That Shut Down Scholars' Avenue

The Scholars' Avenue team got more than what they bargained for, with their October 5 issue. Their cover story was about the pathetic state of IIT Kharagpur's hospital for students - remarkably fair and objective, it had the views of all the stakeholders - the institute administration, hospital administration, doctors, and students.

The institute responded to this like you'd expect the North Korean secret police would - it ordered gymkhana to shut down Scholars' Avenue immediately, and take down the Scholars' Avenue blog (used to be at http://scholarsavenue.blogspot.com); The entire Scholars' Avenue team was theratened with disciplinary action - and the irony is, senior members of the institute administration who are now involved in this crackdown actually gave some of the honest and candid views that were published in the article.

Issue no. 6 also had a small feature on the disruption of classes in the recent All-India strike - it had couple of photos of the mob squatting outside the institute gates, under the cliche of a heading "Painting the campus Red". No-one gave it a second thought; when the administrators alleged that Scholars' Avenue was publishing "political statements", nobody could get what they meant.

The fiasco actually started because Scholars' Avenue newspaper was stuck on the institute noticeboards (something they have been doing for every issue). The argument was that visitors to the institute would get a bad impression about it - fair enough. If this was communicated to the Scholars' Avenue team they would have taken it down immediately - instead the administration decided to kill the concept of a student newspaper completely.

Incidentally, one wonders what happens to this image-building when one of the various employees' associations takes out a strike, putting up banners and posters in front of the institute. At least the Scholars' Avenue was in small print, and used pretty mild language.

Is it that life-endangering apathy in the only hospital for students is less important than 50th anniversary gold coins for mess workers (and for lining pockets across HMC)? Or is it that IIT students, wary of turning their institute into another government "strike-engineering" college, avoid voicing their demands?

There can be no two opinions about this.

The consequences of the Scholars' Avenue chaos has been widespread - thanks to the "pointy-haired men" having a field day of it. This assortment of professors, who happen to be the most rabidly suspicious of students, used this incident to reopen one of their pet issues - with devastating results for the student community. More on this in my next post.

Bad decisions have become a way of life for the IIT administration.