As the second wave of COVID-19 rages in the country, a state of fear engulfs our lives once again. According to a recent survey, one in every three people being tested in Delhi are proving to be positive. People are frantically searching for hospital beds, panicking due to the unavailability of oxygen cylinders, hunting for Remdesivir injections at pharmacies and endlessly waiting to get a home-collection date for an RT-PCR test.
Delhi has reported about 20,000 plus cases every single day in the past week and has gone into yet another lockdown. This disturbing situation is affecting everyone except the University of Delhi. Amidst this unprecedented sense of dystopia pillaging the city, Delhi University (DU) has left no option for its teachers and students but to take and attend classes, evaluate and submit assignments and prepare for the upcoming semester examinations.
On April 19, as India recorded 2,59,167 cases and 1761 deaths, the country’s premier institution, DU released a notice asking the students to fill their examination forms, confirming that the exams will begin mid-May. Ironically, on the same date, the dean published a ‘Message for Students’ on the university’s official website. The message presents a facade of the administration’s concern and awareness of “the distress and disruption to the society”. With the message, we, the students of DU, are assured that the university will ensure that our “academic year, examinations and other related activities will be taken care of to the maximum”.
How? No one knows.
Unfortunately, such inane notices and messages are not surprising for any DU teacher or student. Rather, the pandemic has accentuated the apathy of the university towards all its stakeholders. The university conducted an online open book exam (OBE) last semester, amidst rising cases. There was no concern for the students or their friends and family, who might have been mentally or physically affected by the pandemic. The whole gimmick of online education has shown that the university not just lacks empathy but any data-driven, efficient policy implementation. Although some teachers and a few colleges helped economically disadvantaged students procure laptops and internet connections in order to attend classes and give exams, the university, as a whole, simply assumed that all its four lakh plus students had all the required facilities to study from their homes.
Moreover, the physical option given to students was rather farcical. Students who could not avail online facilities were helpless and inadvertently forced to come and sit for the exam because the university was inconsiderate of their plight. To be fair, there was indeed a lack of alternatives to the system, and term papers or assignments might have hampered the centralised evaluation system of the university. Yet by ignoring incessant requests from students’ and teachers’ representatives to not conduct the OBEs, the university proved that neither the physical and mental health of students nor their unequal access to resources are significant factors for their administrative decisions.
It must be noted that the students are not the only sufferers of these iniquitous rules and regulations. The college teachers and non-teaching staff are also caught in the ambiguity and uncertainty of the guidelines. According to recent notifications, the teachers have been ordered to be present in the college on any given day and they cannot leave town without taking a leave (even though classes and evaluation process is taking place online). Moreover, teachers have been forced to manage first-year classes at a completely different timeline (owing to delay in admissions this year), evaluate illegible scanned answer scripts of different semester OBE exams and finally, finish the syllabus and prepare their hapless students for yet another phase of the deplorable OBE.
With strained eyes after reading long PDFs and attending online classes for hours at a stretch, neither teachers nor students have any energy left to argue with such an apathetic administration. With the second wave devouring our loved ones, breaking down our healthcare systems, and unfurling a state of fear and panic across the country, the least we can do is acknowledge the crisis, and its varied impacts and severity. Not as teachers or students but as sensitive human beings, we can empathise with each other and those who might be in an unsaid state of shock and fear. Many teachers and students are supporting each other, getting in touch with different helpline numbers, and sharing leads on plasma donors, hospital beds and more, helping those in dire need.
While the university could have supported students in creating online databases of volunteers, donors, and helpline numbers or could have asked the teachers to be mindful of the mental health of the students and give them the required support and flexibility with regard to classes, practicals, and assignments – it hasn’t done so. What the university fails to understand is that in such grim times, even a slight hope of flexibility can unburden students. Needless to say, the structure of online teaching and learning which DU wants to continue at all costs is of no use in such bleak days.
In these terrorising weeks, when we can see ambulances and hearses moving up and down the roads, every phone call fills us with an apprehension – fearing the news of one more case or worse, one more death. Even in these trying times, not all humans have let each other down. Old students have run to hospitals to donate plasma to their retired professors, social service societies have prepared lists of helpful contacts and well-wishing students have used social media to find donors for patients in need. It is upsetting that all this has happened not because of the university but in spite of it.
As the administration in its recent message reminds the students of their “responsibilities towards society”, perhaps it is time for the university to remind itself of the duties they have towards their students, teachers, and humankind at large!
Disha Ray is a student of History at St.Stephen’s College, University of Delhi. You can find her on Instagram @_disharay.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty