Down The 'NITR Lane': Jyotishman Mudiar Narrates

Down The 'NITR Lane': Jyotishman Mudiar Narrates

Guest Author | Jan 11, 2021

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Jyotishman Mudiar, of the Department of Civil Engineering, class of 2015, chronicles a timeless journey at NIT Rourkela, moulding him for the larger world in this guest column. 

It has been almost 5 years since I graduated as a Civil Engineer from NIT Rourkela. To mention this has been an honour ever since. I still carry a part of NIT Rourkela deep inside my heart, although academically I have
switched streams. Both as an alumnus of NIT Rourkela as well as a student of history now, I often look back at my 4 years of under-graduation days at NIT Rourkela. It is in this personal archive of memories, I happen to discover many ruins that are active and yet unnoticed.

This column is an attempt to bring to notice some of these ruins that I believe need reclamation and redefinition. I hope I am not the only one to think in this way. The first thing I remember is the unofficial but popular ‘NITR T-shirts’ in blue and white. I understand the pride associated with the institution of eminence and wearing a T-shirt with the name and insignia of the institution may not be a problem. However, what warrants a critical take is the line written at the back. ‘Once again you are behind a NITian’ the T-shirts read. I sincerely hope this line has been abandoned. And yet, I think it deserves wider discussion. The statement was a reflection of vanity that pervades the social space of most engineering colleges. In part, it begins even before one enters Engineering Colleges; through competitive spaces of coaching classes and schools amidst a general culture of vanity. But at NITR I found extreme manifestations of
it. Or else why was there hardly any outrage against it. Not everyone wore it. But few protested. Even no professor discussed it with us. There was a huge social void created by indifference and apathy, where the most vane expressions were harnessed. It is this sense of narcissism, obscenity and banal individualism that I think we should be self-reflective about. The line on T-shirts may or may not have disappeared, but the underlying principle may be still socially reproduced. If that is true, it is time we abort them. The community of NIT Rourkela needs a conscious rejection of vanity.

The second point that often strikes me now is the obscurantist way in which AIRs (All India Rank) were discussed, mentioned and internalized. From ragging-introductions to hostel-conversations, AIR formed the
the basis on which the neo-caste system was constituted. I am not saying this without responsibility. The AIR was so important that it sometimes eclipsed the performance in NIT Rourkela. The topper of a stream might not get her due credit if she did not have a good AIR. Never mind the 9.5 CGPA, if her AIEEE rank was lower, she could be quite easily disregarded. And let us not ignore here, the brazen castism that was entangled in it. Most often than not, asking AIR was a more ‘civilized’ way of asking one’s caste. ‘Category wala’ was a phrase that found its way to conversations with shocking recurrence and acceptance. And all this was barring those blatant castists and racists whose obscene vocabularies mixed with misogynist remarks deserves more social outrage. And if anyone reading this feels that all this is normal let me say this is not. Although castism exists everywhere, my experience elsewhere has been much better. There is so much to reflect for us as alumni, students and teachers of NIT Rourkela. I hope I am not the only one who thinks so. The third point is gender. The social space I experienced at NIT Rourkela was highly masculine and sexist. The sexist slurs were normalized to a shocking extent. To my knowledge, there were no gender grievance redressal cells. The transgender community remained in the shadow of gender-sex binary.

Overall when I look back at my own days at NIT Rourkela, I discover insidious (and often blatant) male gaze constantly shaping its social space in the reproduction of gender hierarchies. The first step we can do is to acknowledge this. The multiple other steps needed thereafter will follow. The fourth point that deserves some attention is the culture of addressing seniors as ‘Sir’. Regardless of the close relationships that eventually developed between juniors and seniors; this was a despicable vestige of ragging culture. As a student of modern history now, when I spend time on studying colonialism and its methods to constitute hierarchy; the irony is not lost on me. The address of seniors with ‘Sir’ only reveals the tip of a ragging culture which sustained in insidious ways. I really hope that things have moved on from there. I leave it to the current and future undergraduates of NIT Rourkela to reflect on it. In my opinion, the ragging culture has to be jettisoned in its entirety. If anyone thinks that it would lead to limitation of social interactions, the fear is misplaced. Interactions without ragging are often much more interpenetrative across batches and regions; and diverse in its content. In short, the hierarchy of ragging besides its abusive content leads to psychological ghettos that divide us. So far I have discussed four issues that are mostly (though not exclusively) located within the student community. Let me end with an institutional and administrative issue.

The quality of education in classrooms was not satisfactory. A part of the blame lies in larger structural problems. Students reach Engineering colleges not because of their interest in it, but because Engineering,
especially IITs and NITs are instruments of glamour and status. They work hard for the entrance exam not because of the excitement of technology and science, but because of the mirage of labels attached to certain colleges. Consequently, most students would attend a class for attendance’s sake. One can only look at the attendance in those classes where the professors did not care to take it. In any case, I believe the compulsory attendance system at NIT Rourkela was quite futile. It gave unnecessary powers to the professors and did little good to the students. Other coercive methods like grade backs, internet blackout before 5 pm etc. were all regressive in my opinion. They only served a bureaucratic purpose with little value addition. I am not qualified to suggest concrete measures to make classrooms more attractive, but coercion is a self-defeating step. The methods to discipline and punish must be abolished as a prelude to a more creative re-imagination of our education system. I am sure the administrators, professors and students are more than qualified to do whatever it takes for that. My limited intention here is to flag the point that we all know- The quality of classroom education at NIT Rourkela is far from student-friendly and satisfactory. The coercive instruments that seem to hold it together are in fact wreaking havoc from within. We need a desperate shift away from it.

With these issues put up for self-reflection, I end my piece. My intention is far from lampooning anyone. I met extremely polite, caring and knowledgeable professors at NIT Rourkela. It was here where I met some of the loveliest and most intelligent students ever. It was in this inspiring space I lost about 100 pounds to discover a new lease of life for me. It was here I started a club with ‘Swaroop’ on socio-political awareness that laid my foundation for social science, which I now do professionally. It was here I met my guide Prof. Behera who made me realize that the past doesn’t matter as much; one can always fall in love with technical education. Despite my negligence in studies, I learned a lot from him. I owe all these to NIT Rourkela and its people. I remain indebted to everything. It is this love and respect that I consciously hold in my heart even while taking a critical look at things that deserve it. I consider it only one leaf of the larger autobiography of NIT Rourkela whose authors are all those who have ever walked this beautiful space.

Regardless of what I have conveyed to you, I am a part of you.

Cover Picture: Monday Morning

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