Suraj Sharma and Unmukt Chand have more than the fact that they’ve made international headlines, binding them together. Between the Life of Pi actor and Under-19 world cup winning cricket captain, their combined college attendance this semester is still not enough to make them eligible to take their exams. But it’s not just St Stephen’s College, Delhi, that has had the (mis)fortune of haggling with both under-20 stars before eventually allowing them to sit in the exam hall; colleges everywhere grapple with students with ‘valid’ reasons, excuses, letters, certificates, cups, shields, crying parents, dead relatives and so on, when the final attendance lists are made.
Incidentally, Chand had a paltry 8% attendance while Sharma has a more respectable 47% and a deal with the principal to submit a few assignments and reports. Reportedly, after he defaulted on the work, Sharma wasn’t given his admit card and missed his first exam recently.
“The discipline of the student in question plays a vital role,” says KV Visalam, former head of the department of Chemistry at Government Arts College, and senate member of Bharatidasan University. “If the reason for leave is genuine, then regardless of the sphere of activity, the varsity would take cognisance and grant the attendance,” she adds.
While most other academics and college professors agree that sportspersons like Chand should be given some leeway, most of them were harsh when Sharma’s case was put forth. “I don’t like cricket. But Chand has obviously represented the country for a valid sport. This other boy (Suraj Sharma plays the protagonist Pi in Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s award-winning novel) has gone to act in a movie. I denied a girl permission to write her exams when she said she had gone to shoot for a Tamil serial on Raj TV. To me it is all the same,” opines a fuming HoD of a women’s college in the city.
But do all sportspersons get away easily with missing class? Depends on which college you study in, say students. In a few ‘liberal’ arts colleges on the outskirts of the city, hockey and football players would often report for practice in the morning and then extend that OD (On Duty) period for the entire forenoon session and only report to class at 10.45 am. Given that college would up by 1.30 pm, that is a pretty large chunk. “Even when there was no practice we would just stay on the field and ask for out PT instructor to sign our attendance forms. He would not refuse as we wouldn’t be able to play next semester if we were held back,” says Philip Jacob, who eventually abandoned his pursuit of a degree by 2008, wryly.
Swathi R, a swimmer who participated in state and district competitions says that she got a raw deal if the sport wasn’t offered at their institution, “The principal told me that as they did not get any credit as a school, I was competing alone and so she did not think it necessary for my absence to be excused.” She adds that the injustice bordered on sheer discrimination.
“While the students of the cricket, basketball and volleyball teams were given attendance, I needed to pay condonation to write my exams. I was apparently bringing laurels only to my name and not to my college,” she says
Eventually, courtesy the high profile nature of their cases, all may have ended well for Sharma and Chand, but for several other lesser popular sportspersons — attendance for their toil is a faraway dream.