In a few months from now, a new batch of students will enter the IITs all over India. Amidst the hope and anticipation, one should also address the cloud of anxiety, especially in the context of the events of the past decade. Reports are rife about a large number of suicide cases in different campuses, intensive work pressure, and steep competition during every waking hour of an undergraduate’s life.
We have heard of the regional, class, and caste bias beneath the glamour of the IITs. Debates are going on within the IIT fraternity as well. While a perfect solution eludes us yet, the level of awareness regarding the above matters is increasing everyday.
The main goal of this column is to offer the prospective students a few suggestions that might reduce their anxiety a little bit. Let me start with a personal anecdote about Rohan (name changed). Rohan was a student in my 200-strong core course class in the first semester of 2022. He used to sit at the very last row of the enormous lecture hall for the majority of the first half of the semester. While it is difficult to keep track of one student in a sea of faces, I did seek him out after the mid-semester evaluation came in. He did not do well, and he confessed that he was having a really hard time focusing on classes for two reasons.
He was from a vernacular medium and that was leading to slow learning, he said. He added that he was experiencing trouble with his batchmates. During this conversation, Rohan was on the verge of a breakdown.
How did I solve Rohan’s problem? I did not. Rohan did it himself. It was neither magical nor overnight. He also did not suddenly come out with flying colours in all subjects or became the most popular student of his batch. However, Rohan is now in a far better position academically and socially. This is to his own credit. The two of us, however, did have a conversation that I would like to share with the readers. I take this particular example because I observed Rohan – who was previously diminutive, tense and defeated – grow into a reasonably outgoing and performing student, befitting the popular image of an IITian. What can a student do to achieve this after his first tremulous steps in the institution?
This seems like the most obvious step. However, it can be the trickiest part of acclimatising yourself to the IIT culture. One needs to remember that real learning in an IIT never comes from the classroom alone. This is true for the majority of residential universities, but given the pressure and expectation the average IITian has to face, being in a “team” is absolutely mandatory. This is also tricky because there could be traces of ethnic or regional bias amongst the students. However, the tradition of ragging is now near-obsolete in all the institutions, and the students from all social sectors have an increasing representation. Find your group. More importantly, find out the ever-helping seniors who will guide you through the courses, the faculty, the administrative systems and the pitfalls of a hosteller’s life.
Open up to the faculty
The reason Rohan missed out a lot of the IIT life in the first two months of his induction is his hesitancy to talk to people, including his peers, colleagues and the faculties. The aura of an IIT is often enough to deter a student– irrespective of his or her background– from engaging with the professors. India’s primary and secondary education system is somehow authoritarian and vertically downward, which is why students are often daunted by a specter of authority in the class. I remember the mix of surprise and relief on the first year’s students’ faces once I– as a faculty– approached them or sat with them to have a cup of tea. Such fears are baseless. The vast majority of the IIT faculty, especially the younger section, are eager to be approached. The professors are friendly here in spite of their workload. Please let go of the fear and come forward, and your issues will be handled with the greatest sensitivity possible. In fact, a whole support system consisting of faculties, advisors, counselors and administrators are waiting to address any problem for the students whatsoever.
Participate in extracurricular activities
Irrespective of the myths of the breathless workload, the IITs are the most fertile grounds of cultural activities. Even the younger IITs have established cells of literary, cultural, artistic and theatrical endeavors, all mostly run by students under the guidance of suitable faculty members. Spaces such as these are democratic, creative, informal and foster a bonhomie among the students. They are not only stressbusters, but can be the avenues of alternate career options as well, exemplified by the likes of Jitendra Kumar, Biswapati Sarkar among others. Even working backstage has its own sort of reward. The energy during the annual fest is infectious!
Believe in yourself
Personally, I feel this is the most important habit the fresher should inculcate. Irrespective of how efficient the work environment is, there will be obstacles of many forms in your time at the IIT. And no matter however many support systems the administration provides, your life is ultimately under your control. Ethnic, linguistic, regional or caste bias are the undeniable truths of any system, but they are surpassable. Do not lose hope. Find out the people who are willing to be your compatriots, because they are very much there. The more you let your guard down, the more people you shall meet and your vision shall widen. Within the IIT campus, one has the power to circumvent marginalisation of any sort, because you are all equal in the classroom. The established IITs have support systems for the LGBTQIA+ system, along with awareness campaigns on gender sensitivity and neutrality. I argue that right now, there is no better place to learn and practice social justice than the IITs. You just need to go ahead and grab that chance.
The IITs offer their students an unique opportunity that goes far beyond the rote learning of a set syllabus. The students can learn about life itself in the campus. The campus I teach in is blossoming in spring as we speak. The buildings are shining in the bright sunlight, the sky is a deep azure and the gardens are velvety green. One can almost sense the overwhelming hope, zeal and redemption in the air. We, the pan-Indian IIT fraternity, are eagerly waiting for the new batch to take their first steps in this environment of great learning. Let’s meet in the class in a few months, shall we?
Courtesy : The Indian Express