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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Laakhon Mein Ek is brilliant, but no genius takedown of IIT coaching nightmare - Daily O

The Amazon Prime Original series is created by Biswa Kalyan Rath, a stand-up comedian who went to an IIT himself.

Aditya Mani Jha

Writer works at Penguin Random House India. The views expressed here are his own.

To have your protagonist — or one of your primary cast members, at the very least — shoot a YouTube video is becoming a very popular device in both Hollywood and Bollywood. The DIY ethos of such an endeavour communicates an "underdog-on-the-rise" vibe that would, in times gone by, have taken up several scenes and dialogues to establish. And so we have Zaira Wasim YouTubing her way to fame in the upcoming film Secret Superstar. A few years ago, Devi Lal (Salman Khan) fighting off goons in Kick was secretly shot and propelled to online fame. The recent Netflix stoner comedy Disjointed features some hilarious scenes that use this device, not least the ones featuring fan favourites Dank and Dabby, uber-stoners and YouTube stars.

Which is why the first scene of Laakhon Mein Ek felt particularly apt — the protagonist Aakash Gupta (Ritwik Sahore, rock-solid with moments of brilliance) is shooting a YouTube video of himself mimicking various Bollywood actors, calling it "Aakash Ki Aawazein" (Aakash's voices). There was a time when YouTubing your own act had novelty value, but now not so much. This chimes well with the show's double-meaning name: "Laakhon Mein Ek" literally means "one in a million"; a remarkable person or thing. But "one in a million" can also refer to the nameless, faceless everyman, lost in a crowd of near-identical peers. And therein lies the crux of the story: when a very specific achievement is being chased by tens of millions of people, including everyone around you, can you still say you're in pursuit of something special? And when you do reach that specific endpoint, can you still say the whole thing was an exercise in free will?

In the world of this show, this specific endpoint is a seat at an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology). Laakhon Mein Ek, an Amazon Prime original, is set at a Vijayawada residential coaching institute (named "Genius Infinity" with straight-faced hyperbole) which feels like a composite of every coaching class horror story you have ever heard. At the beginning of the show, we see Aakash's parents soft-coercing him into joining Genius Infinity, even though he himself is convinced that he has no aptitude for science. Despite his low marks in the Class X board examinations (55 per cent), Aakash's parents are convinced that hard work and sheer will are enough to close the gap, to overcome the odds.

The odds, as Aakash finds out, are enormous. From the day he steps inside Genius Infinity, it is clear that everything is stacked against him. He has been placed in the infamous Section D, allotted to students in lowest bracket of Class X marks. Section D students are stuffed in painfully cramped rooms, they receive the worst food, classroom teaching is virtually non-existent and for the most part, they are left to their own devices. And all this while actually paying more than sections A-C, who receive "scholarships" on account of having higher Class X marks. In this hostile atmosphere, Aakash quickly makes friends with two fellow Section D travellers, Chudail (Alam Khan, delightfully uninhibited) and Bakri (Jay Thakkar, starts off as a caricature but comes into his own nicely). The Genius Infinity racket is steered with an iron fist by Mr Moorthy and his man Friday, Bala.

Once the initial, predictable comedic hijinks are out of the way (these do include some enjoyable tomfoolery, still, courtesy Chudail), the show gets down to what I see as its two big themes: a) Privilege and b) the tyranny of the bourgeois Indian hivemind.

Laakhon Me Ek has been created by Biswa Kalyan Rath, the up-and-coming stand-up comedian who went to an IIT himself.
Let us discuss the latter first. Aakash's parents, the Guptas, are drawn with broad brushstrokes, true. But they remain representative of the salaried middle-class in India. Mr Gupta has a distinctly Nehruvian belief in the indomitable power of hard work and sincerity: he is austere, unrelenting, and uses the moral high ground to power through whenever he senses Aakash resisting his bullying. Mrs Gupta is, well, a somewhat lazily written mother. I would have liked to see her doing something other than conduct pujas and feed her son and try to tone down Mr Gupta's stentorian heat (all well-established Reema Lagoo territory). But within those constraints, she plays her part well.
And now for the P-word: Privilege. Laakhon Mein Ek has been created by Biswa Kalyan Rath, the up-and-coming stand-up comedian who went to an IIT himself; IIT Kharagpur, in fact (in the interests of full disclosure, so did this writer, and at the same time). And although the episodes are directed by Abhishek Sengupta, Rath has co-written the screenplay with Vaspar Dandiwala. In a recent interview, Rath said that one of the starting points of the show was his experience playing school-level sports: specifically, being expected to compete with moneyed CBSE schools while attending a government-run school which had practically no sports equipment, no ground, and no signs of ever improving.
This experience has definitely informed the Section A/Section D dynamic in Laakhon Mein Ek. When Aakash contemplates cheating in order to "jump" from Section D to Section A, we are told that nobody has managed this ever, in all the years that Genius Infinity has seen.
But Section A students are only Section A because they capitalised on their privilege to achieve higher Class X marks. Moreover, most of them have been attending IIT coaching classes since Class VIII, thus earning them a three-year head start on the Section D boys. And when you consider that their spacious living quarters, better food and passionate, involved teachers are effectively being paid for by the Section D parents, you realise what is going on.
This is a pack of hyenas, ripping off the flesh of the poor, offering most of it to the rich, predatory lions as jungle tribute — and gulping down the rest. But even here, Rath and co complicate the narrative further: almost-but-not-quite by accident, we learn that Chandu, the nerdiest, most annoying member of Section A, belongs to an unspecified lower caste, which he admits while being questioned by Bakri, a well-off Brahmin not particularly concerned about his IIT chances.
Suddenly, we see Chandu's supposedly annoying habits in a new light: he has to pursue his studies with single-minded fervour, even when he is humiliated for it by his "cooler" classmates, because the caste privileges that cushion the likes of Bakri are not an option for him. It is a casually brilliant moment, one which Rath and his co-writers should be very happy about.
And yet, this is also where I feel Laakhon Mein Ek should have done a bit more. How does caste feed into the insidious, one-size-fits-all idea of "merit"? How does this "merit" then translate into a convenient catchword that brushes just about any discrimination under the carpet? How do the likes of Bakri et al grow up into IITians treating their Dalit classmates like dirt? Manish Kumar from IIT Roorkee killed himself in 2011.
Madhuri Sale from IIT Kanpur killed herself in 2010. Mallepallu Srikant from IIT Bombay killed himself in 2007. In some of these cases, there were horrific posts by their own classmates that basically said, "We're sorry but this is what happens when you put IIT-level pressure on someone not 'meritorious' enough to deal with it."
In the case of Aniket Ambhore, an IIT Bombay student, his professors had said basically the same thing to his parents, in a letter written shortly before his suicide, suggesting that the Ambhores move their son to a "normal" engineering college.
Scenes featuring a non-Brahmin character's frustration at caste privilege are rare enough for an Indian web series — and I've already praised the show for it — but I can't help but feel that an opportunity was missed here. The Section D story is a much-needed step in the right direction, but why not go whole hog and say it out aloud, D for Dalit? Why not hire Dalit writers and actors to tell their own stories?
To sum up, I will say this, in the interests of fairness: The things I'm asking for are things that zero Indian shows have delivered so far. And therefore, measured in those terms, Laakhon Mein Ek is a success, smartly written, competently shot with a no-frills aesthetic, and brilliantly acted. Which is why it's all the more important that we demand these things of creators like Rath, of relatively new and unencumbered platforms like Amazon Prime.
Who else are we going to demand things from, Chetan Bhagat?

Stress toll: In a month 50 students kill self in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana - TNN

TNN | Oct 16, 2017, 09:19 IST

HYDERABAD: Students from the Telugu states might be at the top when it comes to securing IIT seats, but unfortunately , they are also leading the list when it comes to suicide.Since the beginning of the academic year, about 100 students have committed suicide. The number of student suicides in AP and Telangana has already reached 50 this month. 

While government is yet to respond on the issue, student organizations have given a bandh call in educational institutions on Monday . 

Activists blamed these suicides on the pressure to excel in studies and the absense of counsellors in colleges. Several educationalists blamed violent video games. 

"During 1995 to 2000, more than 1,400 students committed suicide and the government had formed a committee to look into reasons for these suicides. After thorough study, the committee recommended having counsellors in the colleges. But unfortunately, no college has implemented the recommendation and it's high time they do it as the current situ ation is more or less same," said P Madhusudhan Reddy, president, Government Inter Colleges Association. 

He further said as per the committee's recommendation, a criminal case should be booked against the college management. "These days, students spend a lot of time on mobile watching videos and playing games. Most of these games are violent and this in turn is making them violent, which is encouraging them to hurt themselves or someone else," said Amaranth V , an educationalist. 

Taking the recent case of an intermediate student leaving home due to academic pressure, child right activists said that criminal case should be booked against the educational institutions when a child commits suicide or harms himself.

Activists say the education department should act quickly as tens of students are committing suicide. City psychologists further said that forcing students to follow a `prison-like regime' will either make them aggressive or depressed and added that parents should seek help for their wards.

ABVP declares state-wide bandh

The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) declared state-wide bandh of corporate educational institutions on Monday following series of student suicide.

According to a media communique issued by ABVP, they will protest against the Telangana government's negligence towards the issue. "In the past three years, the government has been silent on the student suicides in corporate educational institutions. It is time that the government cracks a whip on these institutions to save future of lakhs of students," said Javvaji Dileep, Hyderabad city secretary of ABVP.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Harmless hostel rite or sadistic abuse? IIT-Kanpur suspensions put focus back on ragging - Scroll.In

The engineering college has suspended 22 students for ragging, 16 of them for three years.

Published Oct 13, 2017 · 06:30 am

                              PTI photo

Shivam Yadav’s bruises have long faded but emotionally, he is still scarred.
After dinner one April night in 2013, seven to eight senior students cornered him in his hostel room at Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya in Indore and rained blows upon him. Some used sticks, others their bare hands. One blow caught Yadav on the neck and left him gasping for breath. The attackers fled. That session of violent ragging ended with Yadav making a trip to the emergency room.
“But that was not the worst part,” said Yadav, who graduated with a degree in pharmacy last year and now works with a multinational food and drink company in Gwalior. “That was the mental abuse I suffered for the whole year leading to that night.”

He said that he was verbally abused, frequently beaten and received no support from university officials. “It ruined my career,” he said. “I was not able to focus and later, when I complained, college authorities were hostile to me. I stood up for myself but it changed me. I get angry very easily, even violent, if I feel someone is being wronged.”

Yadav agrees with the findings of the Supreme Court-initiated study, Psychosocial Study of Ragging in Selected Educational Institutions in India (2015). In Yadav’s case, some students were expelled from the hostel after he lodged a complaint with the anti-ragging helpline of the University Grants Commission – India’s higher education regulator – in July 2013.

On Monday, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, suspended 16 second-year students for three years, and six for one year, for ragging. First-year students had filed a mass complaint in August alleging, among other things, that they had been forced to strip. “This is the first time the institution has taken action against ragging in a decade,” said a senior faculty member who did not wish to be identified.

The faculty member found that there have been similar ragging cases in Kanpur and other IITs, which did not lead to complaints. Another student who graduated last year attested to this. “My friends told us [about the ragging] when were in third year,” said the student.

The ‘buzzer game’
A committee constituted on a 2009 Supreme Court order studied, for the first time, the prevalence and causes of ragging over 2012 to 2015. The Psychosocial Study involved a survey of 10,632 students in 37 colleges, most of them professional ones, interviews with 187 students and group discussions. 

The report, made public in August, observes:
“The fact that ragging occurs among youth means that youth-specific developmental issues such as the need to belong and be accepted within the peer world, and the excitement and anxiety about becoming an adult, including that around sexuality, play an important role in ragging.”  

This explains both the forms of ragging and the students’ reluctance to complain. The IIT-Kanpur student who graduated last year was told her batchmates had played “the buzzer game” in their first year. It involves stripping and answering questions. “If you give a wrong or stupid answer, you are asked to touch the other person [on the genitals] but only for a second, like pressing a buzzer,” she said. “But no one complained, and by third year everyone was laughing about it.” According to her, the ragging period, an initiation rite, lasts for about 10 days in an IIT.

For students like Yadav, it can last for months.
According to the study, ragging is most prevalent in medical colleges where 48.3% students reported they were ragged, including 3.8% who said they were “severely ragged”. Among engineering students, 44.5% said they were ragged, 4.6% severely. Also, 4.2% said they experienced beatings and physical punishments, and 1.4% reported sexual ragging.
The study found that while 35.7% students believe “ragging prepares students to deal with the harshness of the outside world”, about an equal number – 35.5% – think it has “long-lasting emotional effect”.

That the absence of complaints regarding ragging does not mean endorsement of the practice is evident from letters the IIT-Kanpur professor received in response to his posts on the practice on social media. Students and alumni of IITs in Kharagpur, Banaras Hindu University and Guwahati wrote back to him on the subject. “I saw the same description and terminology [in their letters],” said the IIT-Kanpur professor. 

Students reported that the senior who occupied the hostel room before them becomes their baap (father) and boss. “All new students spend one night in the rooms of their baaps,” he said. “They can be made to sit in the nude for hours, touch each other or roam the wing wearing their underwear over their trousers. I offered to file a police complaint on behalf of the student in Guwahati but he refused.”

Afraid to complain
Students and teachers said that in IITs, although first-year students are given the option to leave or even refuse to participate while being ragged, very few do because of peer pressure and the fear of being targeted later. Elsewhere, as in the case of Yadav, seniors react differently to disobedience.

The importance of seniors is impressed upon new entrants from the start. “Juniors fear they will become a joke if they refuse to participate, that their seniors will not help them,” said the IIT professor. “The promised reward is the friendship and help of seniors over the next three years.”

Students also fear a social boycott, a harrowing experience in student residences, added Gaurav Singhal, who studied chemical engineering at IIT-Kanpur from 1998-2002. He now teaches and volunteers with Delhi-based anti-ragging non-profit, Society Against Violence in Education, or Save.
Complaints rarely yield effective action.

Yadav, who joined his institute in 2012 had complied with all demands of song and dance performances. He started protesting when he was allegedly ordered to buy liquor and cigarettes and re-enact porn scenes. “This provoked the seniors,” he said. “They ordered a boycott, abused me and grew more violent.” Before calling the University Grants Commission, Yadav had complained to university officials multiple times. But he alleged that each time, they merely informed the perpetrators about the complaint who redoubled their abuse as payback.
The University Grants Commission’s regulations on ragging, framed in 2009 in response to another Supreme Court case on the subject, place the onus of both prevention and action upon the institution.
“We opposed this,” said Meera Kaura Patel, a Supreme Court lawyer and Save’s legal head. “The institution has vested interests. Its reputation is at stake and in many cases, they tell students to compromise and not file FIRs [First Information Reports with the police].”

The IITs have a different problem. “From about 2006, the disciplinary committees stopped punishments [for ragging] fearing suicides,” said the IIT-Kanpur professor

“Over 2006-’08, there were about ten to eleven suicides. Even in the couple of cases where termination [orders] were given [for other reasons], the concerned students were allowed to appeal after a semester and the senate allowed them to resume.”

Over the last decade ragging, a practice that had practically ended in IIT-Kanpur around 2006, has resumed. “In fact, the suspended students argued they had been similarly ragged, that it is the culture of hostels and that the faculty would not understand it,” said the senior faculty member from IIT-Kanpur.

Dropping out
But ragging has also destroyed careers. As lawyer Meera Kaura Patel explained, many victims abandon their studies, even coveted medical college seats, to escape ragging. She recounted a 2012 case from a public medical college in Tamil Nadu in which a second-year student, trying to protect a junior from ragging, entered into a fight with his senior. “Before he could file a police complaint, the senior students had already filed a false one [against him],” she said. “He was terrified and left.”
Another student, from the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi, is fighting it out in the Delhi High Court but had to abandon his studies.
“He had cleared the exam in 2012 after trying for two to three years,” said Patel. “He was made to perform physical exercises with bricks on his back and tore a ligament. He returned home in Jharkhand for treatment but fell short of attendance and the institute refused to let him write his exam.” His explanation and complaint of ragging drew no sympathy, said Patel. “And these cases usually have no witnesses because others have to continue in the same institution,” she said, adding that she believes IIT-Kanpur took action because students complained as a group.

Patel also believes that the only way to hold an institution accountable is by filing a First Information Report. “The UGC [University Grants Commission] regulation requires institutions to file an FIR within 24 hours of receiving a complaint which IIT-Kanpur did not,” she said. Activists from Save intend to lean on IIT-Kanpur to file an FIR too.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Marks still on notice boards as schools, colleges fail to see writing on the wall - New Indian Express

Marks still on notice boards as schools, colleges fail to see writing on the wall

By Express News Service  |   Published: 12th October 2017 

VIJAYAWADA: The number of Intermediate student suicides in the state has marked a startling rise in the last month and a half, accounting for 6 of the total 26 deaths in the last three years. Jolted from its reverie, the government has gone into damage control mode, promising to ensure the anti-suicide guidelines for colleges framed by the Chakrapani Committee is strictly implemented. The 2-member Committee’s report which was tabled in the state Cabinet on Tuesday listed out a set of Dos and Don’ts to check suicidal tendencies among students, including that their marks not be displayed on notice boards. But a quick visit to most colleges is enough for anyone to understand that the institutes have tossed caution and the guidelines to the wind.
The list included suggestions against frequently shifting students from one section to another based on their marks and conducting more than one exam per subject in a month.Similarly, students of Class VI to Class VIII seem to be struggling under pressure from career foundation and advanced career foundation classes. Here too, marks are put up on notice boards and tests conducted on a weekly basis.Sai Priya (name changed) a Class VIII student who attends the advanced foundation course told TNIE she is often stressed out. “I want to become a good engineer. That is why I want to excel in the course and score good marks. I felt very bad last month as I went down from third rank to 10th rank because I was ill,” she said.Students who excel in career foundation courses are sent to advanced career foundation classes, where they are rated based on their ranks on a weekly basis. 
The best students in the state are sent to the advanced group of their district, where they would be having integrated classes with both regular lessons and career foundation courses both at a go from morning 9 am to 5 pm.Meanwhile, Vijayawada Municipal Schools deputy DEO Durga Prasad asserts that the career foundation course is their most prestigious project. “We would like to prove that municipal school students have made it the civil services and the IITs,” he said. 
Inter student kills himself in Anantapur
Close on the heels of an intermediate girl committing suicide in the college premises by consuming pesticide in Nuzvid town of Krishna district, a 17-year-old ended his life by consuming sleeping pills on Wednesday. The incident took place at Sri Satyasai Junior College hostel. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

IIT Hyderabad hosts its first ‘Human Library’ Event - India Education Diary

October 9, 2017

Hyderabad: Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad hosted its first ‘Human Library event ‘ on Sunday, 08th October 2017.
The idea of ‘Human Library’ was conceptualized in the year 2000 by Ronni Abergel, a social activist, and was first launched in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was designed to build a positive framework for conversations that can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue. The Human Library now has above 600 book depots worldwide. The Hyderabad chapter was founded by Harshad Fad.

In the events organized by Human Library, individuals from stigmatized sections of the society that are stereotyped based on their ethnicity, religion, sexuality, disability, occupation, social status or lifestyle volunteer as ‘books.’ The readers are free to choose these human ‘books’ from a catalogue. The ‘books’ then share their life experiences with a group of readers and an interactive session follows.

Speaking about the event, Prof. Haripriya Narasimhan, Head, Department of Liberal Arts, IIT Hyderabad, said, “The Department of Liberal Arts endeavours to expose our students to different perspectives of our lives as experienced by ordinary people, so that they can locate their disciplinary practices and objectives within the larger society. The Human Library is one such event which will enable the young minds on campus to understand the deep-rooted prejudices and also how the human spirit allows us to overcome these differences.”

IIT Hyderabad hosted a total of 12 ‘books’ in collaboration with the Hyderabad Chapter of the Human Library. The objective of the event is to help facilitate understanding of individual differences and the dynamics of marginality among the student community.
The reading session comprised the books’ narration of their life experiences followed by an interactive session. The excitement of the students was perceptible as they lined up for the book reading sessions.

A total of five sessions were conducted and each session had approximately 5-8 readers per book. The books entitled “Chains of Freedom” and “Price of Smiling” were particularly popular with the readers. The book “Price of Smiling,” narrated the inspiring story of her struggle with clinical depression and her return from the brink of suicide. The session for “Chains of Freedom” was an amalgamation of engaging theatrics, intriguing propositions and astounding adventures. The book spoke about the politics of identity, nationalism and boundaries while justifying his vision for a world without borders.
The idea behind this event is that the readers should go back a bit wiser for having read these books and the books a bit happier for having interacted with such bright and enthusiastic readers.