Rights

‘COVID-19 Monetary Penalties’: IIT-GN Alumni Condemn Institute’s Exclusionary Measures

According to the statement issued by the alumni, the college has demanded students to pay a 'flat quarantine charge' of Rs 4,000 if they want to seek quarantine facilities on the campus.

Gandhinagar: The alumni of Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar have issued a statement highlighting college’s exclusionary measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, which, they say, would further marginalise students who don’t come from privileged backgrounds.

According to the statement, the college has demanded students to pay a “flat quarantine charge” of Rs 4,000 if they want to seek quarantine facilities on the campus. The amount, students say, is exclusive of hostel, mess, laundry and other charges. According to the college administration, the amount being charged will be used for the “welfare of workers” on campus. While students say that worker’s welfare is necessary, they also believe that “it need not come at the cost of students’ welfare”.

“Penalising students in this way clearly discriminates against marginalised students. In other words, the administration seems to be suggesting that only those who can afford to pay the penalty could enjoy the privilege of mobility; it seems to not care about the rest,” reads the statement.

Secondly, the college is withholding PhD and postgraduate students’ monthly stipends which “they rightfully earn through teaching assistantships and other work,” students say.

According to the statement, PhD and PG students who couldn’t attend their respective orientations for not meeting the attendance requirement, were asked to sign up for extra courses as penalty. The college asked the students to take up two courses from an e-learning platform, costing Rs 2,000 each, and asked the students to submit the completion documents after finishing the course. According to the statement, the college “threatened” to withhold their monthly stipend if they failed to submit those documents. In addition, the statement points out that the attendance requirement was not communicated with the students beforehand.

“We see these as steps toward making the campus more inaccessible for students from marginalised sections, while creating a hostile environment more generally. While official narratives claim that the Institute is, and is working towards, enhancing accessibility, this is far from true. And these new and bizarre mandates certainly do not help us move in that direction. By continuously imposing monetary penalties, directly and indirectly, the administration is openly intimidating students, and making learning less conducive,” says the statement.

Keeping these issues in mind, the alumni has decided to not contribute to any of the institution’s funds until the administration withdraws the above two penalties. They have also urged the prospective donors to keep in mind the college’s “exclusionary measures” before donating.

Also read: How Long Should a Person Exposed to COVID-19 Stay In Quarantine?

The full statement has been reproduced below.

IIT-GN alumni statement on exclusionary measures and penalisations on campus 

We, the undersigned alumni of IIT Gandhinagar, want to express our concern at some recent developments at the Institute, which we find exclusionary and unwarranted.

In the context of Covid-19, students who have to seek quarantine facilities on campus have been asked to pay Rs. 4000, as a “flat quarantine charge.” Note that this is over and above current hostel, mess, laundry, and other charges. Covid-19 and continuing regulations have affected students in various ways, and, unquestionably, students from marginalized communities have been affected the most.

Questions of access—to space, privacy, computers, the internet, and so on—have been crucial in this situation. While many of them expect the campus to be a safe and hospitable environment which facilitates learning, extorting money—from students wanting to return—sends out inappropriate signals, to say the very least.

While the Students Affairs office acknowledges that the time spent in quarantine can be “stressful,” demanding payments from students who are already struggling makes things worse. The Institute has said that the money received from students in this way will be used for the welfare of workers on campus. While workers’ welfare is necessary, and desirable, it need not come at the cost of students’ welfare. Penalising students in this way clearly discriminates against marginalized students. In other words, the Administration seems to be suggesting that only those who can afford to pay the penalty could enjoy the privilege of mobility; it seems to not care about the rest.

In 2020 and 2021, PG and PhD students who did not meet a certain attendance requirement for their orientations were asked to take up extra courses as penalty. They were to take up two courses from an e-learning platform, costing Rs. 2000 each, and completion documents were to be submitted. The Institute withheld their monthly stipends until these documents were given. It is shocking to know that the Administration is openly threatening students—by withholding stipends which they rightfully earn through teaching assistantships and other work.

Also read: Will COVID-19 Intensify the Fault Lines Of India’s Already Unequal Society?

Irrespective of attendance regulations, we think that the Administration needs to learn sensitive ways of responding (it is important to note here that this attendance requirement was not communicated to students beforehand, but was imposed retrospectively). Many students contribute to the well-being of their families (apart from their own) using their stipends. And students living with their families are often expected to take up responsibilities at home, given Covid-19 and the various effects it has caused. It is disappointing to see that the Institute has disregarded the consequences such an action can have on its student community and beyond.

We see these as steps toward making the campus more inaccessible for students from marginalized sections, while creating a hostile environment more generally. While official narratives claim that the Institute is, and is working towards, enhancing accessibility, this is far from true. And these new and bizarre mandates certainly do not help us move in that direction. By continuously imposing monetary penalties, directly and indirectly, the Administration is openly intimidating students, and making learning less conducive. We don’t think this is how public universities, including the IITs, should deal with situations, especially given the crises and uncertainty present now. As alumni of IIT Gandhinagar, we have been told that we are to support the Institute in its mission (among others) of enhancing inclusivity and accessibility. But from what we see, the Institute is not acting in the spirit of inclusivity, especially during a time when that spirit is most needed. If anything, it seems to be finding new ways of excluding students.

We have therefore decided to not contribute to any funds that are associated with IIT Gandhinagar, until these penalties are withdrawn. We also urge prospective donors to critically examine the Institute’s policies around access and inclusivity, and to see for themselves whether what is being claimed is actually practiced.

This article was originally published on Livewire.