Techno India University: Where students boldly abuse teachers and cheat in exams

The varsity has a complaints’ committee, but its constitution is wrong and no one knows it exists.

ByEkabali Ghosh
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Techno India University: Where students boldly abuse teachers and cheat in exams
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A Facebook post put up by a faculty member of Kolkata’s Techno India University (TIU) on December 13 has ruffled quite some feathers and highlighted the havoc wrought by the privatisation of education, particularly technical education, in India. Sarbajaya Bhattacharya, an assistant professor who has been employed at TIU for a month, wrote about her experience invigilating an exam at the university and made it clear that cheating and other associated malpractices take place openly at the university.

The abusive comments and threats she was flooded with after the post prompted the university to finally display the names of members on its Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee. Surprisingly, the hastily-formed panel comprised more men than women – a violation of Sexual Harassment Act of 2013. Then, with even greater haste, the committee was “reformed” with two more women members.

According to Bhattacharya’s post, students were writing their BTech semester-end exam when she bore witness to open and shameless cheating in the university. She says she had noticed such goings-on repeatedly in the few days she monitored the exams but had refrained from commenting as the invigilators had been asked to overlook cheating despite being instructed otherwise in writing.

On the fourth day of her invigilation, her patience reached its limit when she saw two people copying openly from each other’s answer scripts. Bhattacharya tried to stop the offending duo by standing next to them. Her presence was of “no consequence” as the two offenders continued their unfair activity, she said in her post. After some time, as Bhattacharya’s presence obstructed one of the student’s view, she was asked by the student to move away from the spot and join the other invigilators at the front of the room.

Refused, the student then proceeded to explain that they had been given a free pass since the beginning of the examinations. Bhattacharya responded by saying she did not care. At this point, the student asked the professor to summon the administration to “sort things out”. The student asked her for the third time to move away but Bhattacharya did not budge.

At this juncture, students continued cheating though slightly inconvenienced by her presence. None of her fellow invigilators stood up for Bhattacharya, neither did the university administration condemn this act in any way.

Flustered at the lack of reverence for academic honesty, Bhattacharya took to Facebook, describing the incident and the irreverence meted out to teachers by the students. She also vented her frustration at the money motive behind the functioning of private institutions such as TIU. What followed was a barrage of sexist slurs directed at the professor and even the university she studied in.

A post put up by a person named Mitul Sarkar claims that Bhattacharya’s resistance was influenced by her ego. She “exploited the situation” rather than “protecting the reputation of her students”. The same person suggested in a comment thread that a flex banner saying “Sarbajaya haat haat” should be stationed outside the campus.

The students even sent threats. In many of these posts, Bhattacharya’s “highly educated” status is made fun of. In another thread, a person called Sayan Dalal can be seen commenting on an old painting made by Bhattacharya with Bengali abuses. Such abuses are flooding her life now. Dalal proceeds to refer to her as “tui”, the least respectful form of appellation available in the Bengali language.

Despite such online shaming, the TIU authorities repeatedly told Bhattacharya that she should not have gone public with the goings-on at the university. Various members of the administration, although tagged in these abusive posts, have said or done nothing to prevent the barrage of abuses thrown at her.

TIU is no stranger to sexual harassment of women. Another faculty member who wished to stay anonymous told me that her colleague was threatened with rape when she attempted to stop a student from cheating. She was told that when she left the university premises, such unspeakable things would be done to her that she would not be able to show her face to society.

In another incident, she said a student grasped a female professor’s wrist and prevented her from taking away an answer script. In yet another incident, a female professor’s photograph was taken by a student without her consent in one class. One faculty member reported that when she called a student by his name, the other students told him, quite loudly, to expose himself to her and show her the size of his penis. The entire class laughed quite loudly at this. She further said that when the dean was made aware of this incident, he trivialised her trauma by asking her to be more patient and not get “too angry”.

A student of TIU said “sexual harassment is taken very lightly here”. There is no gender sensitisation programme in place. She claimed that a couple of female dancers were subjected to lewd comments by the watching students of the university at a cultural fest a few days ago. When the dancers objected to this behaviour, the students beat up the accompanying male dancers. She claimed that the matter was hushed up by the university. The culprits, who have a criminal record, were only suspended for a few days. The student also claimed that she underwent ragging and sexual harassment in her first year. The teachers, it appeared to her, were puppets.

Although Meghdut Roy Chowdhury of the TIU group confirmed that an internal complaints’ committee (ICC) was constituted earlier this month and has come into effect since, no student or teacher in the university has any knowledge of the same. Bhattacharya herself confirmed that there was a sexual harassment cell operational in the university but this was not an ICC, hence not in line with UGC regulations.

Roy Chowdhury, however, stated that the ICC is different from the earlier anti-sexual harassment committee and is “new”. By the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013, every workplace with more than ten employees is required to have an internal complaints’ committee for sexual harassment.

Since Bhattacharya and assorted activists descended upon TIU, the names of the members of the ICC have been made public by the university. One would expect that the authorities would at least get this one thing correct, but it appears that the ICC of TIU has six men and five women on its panel. This is unacceptable according to the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013, which legislates that “one half of the total members” of an ICC shall be women. However, the notice that was put out on Wednesday had two more female members on the panel, which was named Anti-Sexual Harassment Committee.

The grievances of women do not end here. Students who wished to remain anonymous further informed us that Gagan Pareek, who is on the newly formed panel, is known for making female students uncomfortable by “cozying up to them”. Employees too have faced inappropriate behaviour. Students are also not happy about the nomination of one Ishan Ghosh to the committee. Ghosh is known to flaunt his powerful position, according to the students.

While the issue of gender justice remains the topic of heated debate in many public university campuses, private universities are lagging behind. A source informed me that at an administration meeting following Bhattacharya’s Facebook post, a member claimed that neighbours should not intervene when a husband hits his wife. Such comments, coupled with the callousness exhibited by the university authorities in getting the constitution of the ICC wrong, set a disturbing trend. Though Newslaundry tried to reach out to TIU administration, multiple calls and messages went unanswered.

Largely male-dominated, the likes of TIU are run by a combination of money and machismo. And this has affected intellectual and political life in these campuses. And gender, let us not forget, is political.

If you’re a student, professor or an alumnus and want to write/share how your college deals with sexual harassment, the systems to check it or the lack thereof, email us at campus@newslaundry.com

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