It is well known for decades that young students from the North-east regularly suffer certain discriminations even in cosmopolitan towns. It has come up once again under the shadow of two avoidable tragedies resulting in the loss of two young lives. Richard Loitum, a student of architecture, was found dead in his room in Bangalore, reportedly due to brutal assault. Equally tragic was the suicide by a young Meghalaya student who was in possession of a cellphone in the examination hall. She was asked to leave after confiscation of the phone and answersheet. Her friends present there claim she was insulted and foul language was used. Both of them were from the North-east and obviously, these instances get linked to prevalence of discrimination against students from this region. In Loitum’s case, the police initially put forward the theory of a scooter accident and registered a case of death under suspicious circumstances. It swung into action only when country-wide protests were organised — mainly by the students of North-east studying in various parts of India — which were supported by all, irrespective of regional consideration. The reaction to these tragedies in the North-eastern states was understandably severe. Social and regional cohesion require constant vigil and such incidents can’t be treated as routine.
Three major aspects deserve to be examined seriously: ragging, teacher-taught relationship and the presence of racial discrimination. When young persons enter the portals of a college, it is an occasion of great celebration for all. Unfortunately, the joy and sense of achievement often gets clouded under the fear of impending ragging. This is the first hurdle that torments the parents who, in most cases, may be sending their ward to a distant place for the first time. Ragging persists in spite of implementation of the Lyngdoh Committee report and instructions from the Supreme Court. Institutions that have succeeded in abolishing ragging have done so only by establishing a cordial teacher-taught relationship and, equally importantly, by persuading teachers to devote time to informal interaction with students, particularly the newly admitted ones. It is more important outside the classroom and in hostels.
Having served as head of a professional institute for 11 years, one should know how faculty members could be most effective in preventing copying, and not mechanically stretch the punitive measures. The acceptable approach is to change the answersheet and let the candidate continue on a fresh one. After the examination is over, the invigilator could, in the presence of the superintendent, get the student’s statement and let the unfair means committee do the rest. Even if the UGC has instructed that mere presence of a cellphone should result in cancellation of examination, one would hate to do so without applying one’s mind and taking a humane decision. Institutions are supposed to nurture young persons; it applies in examination halls as well. Invigilators must remember that they are not policemen on riot duty. Unfortunately, invigilation is treated as a forced duty and no one cares to have discussions with invigilators on how they should perform it, maintaining the sanctity of examinations without being unduly harsh. They have to be ‘supportive yet firm’.
Racial discrimination is a national shame, and greater interaction is the only answer. Instead of squandering thousands of crores on Air India in the name of ‘who else would fly to North-east’, the government should let thousands of young students visit North-east, be overwhelmed by nature’s bounties as also the historic links to other parts. Let Moirang be the place to learn about the glorious role of the North-east in India’s freedom struggle.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own.