Published: 09th December 2017
'Came to UoH because I thought it was a liberating campus but I was wrong,' says suspended student
With close to 20 suspensions in one semester and moral policing frequent on the campus, Pratyush Nirjher's wish to engage in student activism seems like a distant dream
Pratyush Nirjher was an engineering graduate but he chose to pursue Social Sciences at the University of Hyderabad because he felt that the campus was liberating — that it celebrated ideas, thoughts and the undying fighting spirit. Now, that very same reason is why the University has shut him out, possibly forever.
The University of Hyderabad just suspended three students for two years (seven others for six weeks), this is probably one of the harshest punishments an administration has ever unleashed on a student. Pratyush who is from Patna is in the third semester of his course, he only has six months to go to finish the course. But there are another six months added to the two years because he is in the second half of the semester. But at this point, he doesn't know if he is financially secure to wait so long for a degree.
What really happened that night
Pratyush said that he and his friends Athira Unni who was also suspended (possibly the first female student to be suspended for so long) were preparing for the upcoming NET exam in his hostel room. And, this is nothing new, students usually end up studying in their friend's hostels till late in the night. But that particular day, 6-7 wardens and 2-3 security guards barged into the room and demanded to know what was going on.
"We told them that we had the right to study together and that we should not be moral policed this way. To which one the wardens asked if all the boys would be "satisfied" if all the girls moved into the male hostels. They continued to make lewd and sexist comments at both of us. Finally, they just threw her out of the hostel," he explained. Pratyush alleges that two of the wardens were intoxicated when they were interrogating them but when he raised these issues at the inquiry, nobody gave two hoots about it.
Athira also complained to the GSCASH, the sexual harassment complaint association but didn't see any justice there either.
But the issue started much before that night, for all the three students.
Lost liberty: Pratyush Nirjher (right) suspended from UoH, after hostel room incident | Facebook
Close to 20 suspensions in one semester
The third person who was suspended was Sagnik Saha, a PhD student who had been previously moral policed by the wardens. The three students (along with others) had protested a few times against this archaic attitude because such incidents began to increase. Over the last semester, Pratyush said that at least ten students had been suspended or punished.
"The wardens have also been accused of sexually harassing the female students and we've protested against that too but nobody paid us any heed. But we've been on their radar ever since," Pratyush said.
"The university keeps issuing circulars about women safety but our own people on campus harass the women students on a daily basis," he added.
What he came for and what he got
Pratyush feels that his case will be set as an example to all future students, "They want to show how serious and devastating it can get. They want to warn students about ever protesting against anything. Students still put up with small fines and suspensions but a two-year suspension is life-changing. This is how they are now issuing threats."
Before coming to UoH, Pratyush had visited JNU and was fascinated with the way that the students protested even the smallest form of injustices. He was inspired by it and he wanted to be a part of it, he came with the same dreams to UoH. His parents too were supportive of his decision to change professions but now they have to hear about his suspension.
"I'm an adult, so are the others. And yet, the administration calls our parents and harasses them for an apology letter. Isn't this also a sort of moral policing? Why are they involving them? They're trying to humiliate them and put pressure on them so that we will bow down to administration," he said with disdain.
Even though it might solve the current problems, Pratyush is not even thinking about submitting an apology, "Letting my parents submit a letter would mean I am owning up to it. and they will then use that very letter as proof against me. That is what they have done to several other students."
Rage Rage: Pratyush Nirjher's Facebook profile picture | Facebook
What the future holds
In the last three semesters, Pratyush has only scored A's and B's, he says he has a great rapport with his staff and loves doing what he's doing. But he has always stood up for what is right and that he says has landed him in the lurch.
"I think the University feels most threatened when students who are not affiliated with any political party begin to protest. They expect "political students" to agitate and protest, the others are usually silent. But when they start to protest as well, that's when they know how grave things can get. This is why they suspend students like me," he said.
No voice: Student Unions couldn't raise their voices as the announcement and actions were taken during the semester break
The dejection in Pratyush's voice is quite apparent but he has to consider other options now,"Athira and I were just discussing what steps to take next. I'll probably have to get a part-time job. I cannot even apply to other colleges because the University is not giving us a transfer certificate. I'll have to wait an extra six months too and even if I wanted to take admission somewhere else then, who would be okay with admitting someone suspended for two years? We have very few choices and those choices depend on our families too."
Currently, since it is a semester break there is no chance of mobilising a protest on campus but Pratyush said that the Student Union has promised to organise one as soon as the semester starts, "What the management wants to do is tire us. They want us to get tired of protesting one cause after another. Now they think making such an announcement during a semester break would mean nobody will remember to protest. It's a good strategy but it won't work. We won't stop, we'll die protesting but we just won't stop," he said with some renewed hope in his voice.