Chandigarh: The Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences and Research (PGIMER), a premier health institute in Chandigarh, is in the midst of a controversy after 36 nursing students were reportedly grounded for a week for not attending the event where the 100th episode of the prime minister’s ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio programme was broadcast on April 30.
While PGIMER has remained tightlipped since the matter came to light on Wednesday, May 10, reports suggest that the institute’s director had made attending the programme, which was held within the campus, mandatory for students.
An official note, circulating on social media, also mentioned that instructions for students to attend the PM’s radio broadcast came directly from the director’s office. PGIMER has not denied the authenticity of the circular.
The circular says that 28 third-year and eight first-year students of PGIMER’s nursing college National Institute of Nursing Education, all of them women, skipped the event.
The warden of the hostel in which the students were staying seems to have initiated the complaint. The warden says that the students were warned that if they skipped the event, their “outing” would be cancelled. The warden says that the students were informed about this on the night of April 29 and also on April 30 morning. But the 36 students chose not to attend the event.
The college in charge then passed directions to punish them for a week on May 3. The direction on the circular specifically mentions that the student’s “outing for one week” should be stopped.
PGIMER’s media department has not yet responded to media queries, even as the action taken against the students has come under severe criticism.
Manjneek, the president of the PGI Nurses Welfare Association, told The Wire that she totally opposed the punishment given to the nursing students as it amounted to a violation of their right to freedom.
She said that the Mann Ki Baat event was not an important academic lecture or seminar which demanded the mandatory presence of all students. Even skipping such seminars or lectures does not attract punishment, she pointed out. There are rules in place for students who fall short of their academic lectures, but arbitrarily grounding them is not permitted, she said.
According to her, the prime minister’s event was very much a political programme. First, the order of the institution to make the students’ presence mandatory was wrong. Participation should have been voluntary, Manjneek saod.
“Then punishing those who skipped the event is absolutely wrong. Not just me, but everyone will oppose it,” she said.
Delhi University professor Apoorvanand tweeted, “Our academic leaders have become shameless in showing their loyalty to the master. Everywhere. But it should not go unchallenged if true.”
When The Wire contacted Dr Sukhpal Kaur, principal of PGIMER’s National Institute of Nursing Education, she said that the college “always [tries] to maintain discipline in the institute”.
When asked if students violated the disciplinary rules by not attending the Mann Ki Baat event, she replied in the affirmative and said it was “a matter of discipline”.
Kaur then said that she had sent a detailed note on the incident to PGIMER authorities, and that it would be better if they responded to media queries.
A PGIMER official, commenting on the condition of anonymity, told The Wire that the matter was “unnecessarily blown out of proportion” and that a mountain was being made out of a molehill.
“There is nothing new in students facing disciplinary action for skipping official events. The PM’s event was [an official event],” the official said.
PGI media officer Saryu Madra told The Wire that an official statement will be released soon.
Action was an “over-reaction”: PGIMER statement
In a statement late on Thursday, PGIMER said the action against the students was an “over-reaction” but added that the incident “should not be given any other connotation or blown out of proportion in the larger public interest”.
The statement said students were asked to attend the broadcast “purely with an intent to enable them attend the afore-mentioned episode as a part of their regular curricular activities wherein talks, guest lectures and discussions are arranged regularly by best speakers /experts / professionals to impart them value education”.
It claimed that in an earlier episode, Prime Minister Modi “had interacted with an organ donor family, a case of transplantation from PGIMER, to promote the noble cause of organ donation, which was hugely morale boosting and invigorated more interest in the episode”.
The students who did not attend the event did not state any reason, which prompted the college authorities to take action against them.
“Though it was little over-reaction on the part of the college authorities and the concerned have already been conveyed the displeasure of PGIMER administration. We humbly urge that the issue should not be given any other connotation or blown out of proportion in the larger public interest,” the statement said.
Note: This article was originally published at 6:30 pm on May 11, 2023 and republished at 9:20 am on May 12, 2023 to include PGIMER’s statement.