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From Rajshekhar to Koj Buker: NIT Silchar is a system that repeatedly failed students on the edge

First things first! The protesting students are being called hooligans, goons and unruly maniacs by professors of NIT Silchar. Let’s not name and shame, but at the same time, remind them that they are the same professors who once protested against their boss – a former Director and went to jail. From hunger strikes at the heart of the town to locking the gates of NIT Silchar, they have brought the administration upside down. In fact, they made the Mahisasur in the idol of goddess Durga wear Pagdi as a mark of protest against the Director who happened to be a Punjabi. So, the professors of NIT Silchar should not throw stones at young students when there are too many skeletons in their own cupboards.

That set aside, let’s get back to the story that needs to be told. It was in the 2011-12 academic year, a student named Rajshekhar who hails from Hyderabad jumped off from the Academic Building of the National Institute of Technology, Silchar. The students got outraged, vandalised cars and bikes, protested for days urging for reform in academic structures and eventually, had to shut their mouths as they were made to stare at the risk of losing the lucrative offers from PSUs, Microsoft, Oracle among other giant multinational companies.

Rajshekhar is forgotten by most of us, he was an Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering Student of the National Institute of Technology who took the step of killing himself after he was prohibited from registering into the progressive semester. His batchmates will remember him but his teachers? There are doubts!

Cut to 2023, It is the Amritkaal. MHRD has now become the Education Ministry, Congress has made way for the BJP, Manmohan Singh is now in a wheelchair and the Prime Minister is Narendra Modi – world’s most popular leader hailing from the largest democracy on earth. Parliament building has transformed into this amazing monument and NIT Silchar has leapfrogged to become a premier Engineering Institution in the country. Call up Rajshekhar’s parents and family and ask them if anything has changed since 2011, they will say, NO. In 2023 too, just like Rajshekhar, Koj Buker decided to kill himself as he was prohibited from registering into the progressing semester.

In its pursuit of excellence, NIT Silchar lost the track of empathy. It is not that there were no suicides between Rajshekhar and Koj Buker. In 2021, a second-year student of NIT Silchar, Kushal Singh killed himself. In September 2020, third-year Electrical Engineering Student, Shubankar Pandit killed himself. Rakesh Pandit, father of Shubankar had alleged that his son was under immense pressure at NIT Silchar and one Dean had refused to meet him despite many requests. Speaking with Barak Bulletin, Rakesh Pandit alleged that his son was not allowed to sit for the examination as he did not have the requisite attendance and that triggered the suicide.

The list is long and Barak Bulletin has filed an RTI to have them officially, once we get a response, we will share.

While the unruly behaviour of a group of students and a bottle thrown at the nose of SP Cachar, hijacked the story, the biggest headline came out from the Deputy Commissioner of Cachar, Rohan Kumar Jha’s statement. “We must form a committee to find why the system failed, that a kid had to take the extreme step of killing himself”. He is spot on, that is what one must ponder upon.

During Rajshekhar the spotlight was on Professor AK Sinha and it was alleged that Sinha threw the application requesting for consideration. Today, professor BK Roy is being alleged of behaving with a student at edge in an inhumane manner. Back then the conspiracy theory was surrounding Professor AK Sinha and this time, the theory is, Koj Buker went to the Dean Academic, Dr. BK Roy and Roy tore apart the application and threw it in the bin. Someone close to the development said, BK Roy’s office is under CCTV surveillance and Koj Buker did not visit the Dean. In all likelihood, this time too the theory will fail to stand the scrutiny of law.

These theories against professors are followed by impractical demands like you cannot fail anyone, you cannot implement attendance laws, you have to revoke all actions taken against students of the college and all of it cumulatively dilutes the seriousness of the matter. It becomes something else and the problems in the system remain unaddressed.

The fact that a playful young student decided to kill himself is enough to realise a collective failure of the College authority. A bunch of great scholars do not necessarily mean great managers! BK Roy is a scholar in the true sense, says a former student. “But he will follow the law and go by the book irrespective of the mental or the physical condition of the individual or group facing the wrath of law. To be honest, he won’t go off the books even for his own daughter,” added the student. So, it’s not BK Roy or AK Sinha but the book they are following is probably the root of all miseries? Or it might be something else.

The director of NIT Silchar briefed the press after professor BK Roy’s house was vandalised by the students and the Police had to resort to lathi charge. The director said, “We treat our students like our children.” Sorry Mr. Director, you don’t, nor do you realise the gravity of the situation, if you did, you woudn’t have made a silly statement like “Chhota Mota Incident” while talking about the chain of events at the Institution you are at helm of.

A student killing himself is not a “Chhota Mota Incident”. A teacher’s house being vandalised is not a “Chhota Mota Incident”. The Police resorting to lathi charge on students of your institution or rather your own children, is not a “Chhota Mota Incident”, one of your students throwing a water bottle at the SP is not a “Chhota Mota Incident”. It isn’t clear in what context the director said “Chhota Mota Incident”, as much of his English throughout the briefing, but what became clear is he lied when he said he treats the students as his children. He added, “The friends should take care of the mental health of the students as in IITs and NITs there is huge competition.” He believes someone falling behind the others feel the “mental pressure.”

The student who killed himself had problems from the very beginning, added the Director. So, Mr. Director, when you know your children has a problem, you abandon him for his friends to cure? The Director said he considers the students as his children but he neither stood by protesting students, nor was he publically paying condolences to the departed soul, who exactly were he calling his children? You don’t abandon your children when they lose their track, you hold their hands and bring them back on the track. The teenagers and twentysomethings, look up to you for you to raise them, not look down on them!

There is no guarantee that there won’t be a Koj Buker or Rajshekhar emerging from the protesters of today. Even if BK Roy is removed from the position of Dean Academic, what the students are demanding, there won’t be a guarantee. Also a few suicides doesn’t make NIT Silchar any bad an institute. For every Rajshekhar story, there is Chanchal Rana who too lived in the same hostels, were taught by the same teachers and went on to crack UPSC, became an IAS officer and Deputy Commissioner of a district and there are hundreds of such stories in both private and public sector. Success makes you arrogant and so, Director of the premier institution gathers the audacity to say,“Chhota Mota Incident” when he is speaking on such an important issue.

But what might help is if the intimidating super-scholars realise that in the ocean of brilliance that NIT Silchar is, there are islands of mediocres. These are the students walking on a tight rope, living on a life boat. They are at the edge for various reasons. The run up to joining NIT Silchar isn’t any less of a mental tussle for young igniting minds. There is pressure of expectation from the family. The management need to tackle them with special care, maybe, the Deans need to go off the books for these students. They are the ones without all the answers. Some of them are into things that aren’t helping them. Some of them are off the track and in need of attention, some of them are with broken hearts and some are in pain of losing their near and dear ones. Some might have lost all their monies playing games that they should avoid. In this world, no one is happy, but most are in pursuit of happiness, the ones who aren’t, have given up on life. You are only a scholar if you can bring them back in their pursuit of happiness, otherwise, you are just another teacher doing a job. You ain’t a backbone of any nation!

Suicide is not the solution only when you make the ones at edge realise that there is help available.

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