In 1991, Pritha Basak, a young girl from Durgapur, didn’t make it through the first list of many colleges, leading to her almost abandoning her dream of studying English.
Jadavpur University became her saviour when she cracked the entrance test and got admission into the university. Twenty four years later, in 2015, her son Dibyajyoti Basak, managed to shift from science stream in school and get into the same course as his mother by taking the test. Jadavpur University gave them a second chance.
Innumerable deserving students managed to study subjects of their choice in JU only because of the entrance tests, even when their board examinations marks didn’t make the cut offs for other colleges. The university’s decision to scrap the admission tests for six humanities subjects for the first time in 40 years led to widespread dissent, protests and a coming together of alumni, teachers and students.
Hundreds of people have come forward with their personal accounts--had it not been for the Jadavpur University entrance test their lives would have been very different. This collation of voices include students who have made it onto other universities including TISS and Oxford. It also includes academicians, teachers and educators. All of them see this scrapping of exams primarily as the removal of a method which gave people a chance that wasn’t only governed by marks.
“This is too much irresponsibility on the part of the administration harassing 17,000 applicants and putting their futures at stake. We have been demonstrating since the 3rd of July outside Aurobindo Bhavan but the authorities refuse to budge from their decision. Today our alumni has decided to take out a protest march,” said Somashree Choudhury, chairperson of the Arts Faculty Students Union, and also a post-graduate student of International Relations.
“Our former teachers have already given a letter to the VC asking him to retain the existing procedure. We will be demonstrating till our demands are fulfilled. We will not hand over our admission procedure to corrupt entities and make sure that the scientific screening system is retained,” she added.
Taking this very medium away would put students back into those same rigorous standards that society usually judges them by, argued most students. At a time when the pressure to cope and attain high marks has led to an all-time increase in student deaths, this decision comes as a step back in time.
The protesting students felt that removing a process that works, and works well - and replacing it with a standardized medium is unreasonable. The direct line of communication between the administration and teachers, the dialogue between the student and the staff has been closed off. Tannistha Sinha, a post-graduate student of English Department said that the “decision feels like that the voices, people and chances don’t matter.”
The teaching fraternity at Jadavpur, too, are up in arms along with the students.
The proposed rule completely demeans the role and position of the external teachers who correct answer scripts. “The teaching community of JU are feeling humiliated and unmotivated. There was not a single case of allegation regarding conduction of the tests. We devote so much of our time and energy for this,” said Rochana Das, who has been a professor in the department of International Relations for the last 27 years.
Rimi B. Chatterjee, a teacher of the Department of English in Jadavpur University, stated how there are “multiple accounts of ex-students” who have narrated how they wouldn’t have made it into JU without the test. “But it’s pointless, because the entire process of admission has been removed from our hands - we get no control and no calls on what goes on in this admission process,” Chatterjee said.
Applicants are in a fix about what to do as well. Several had their travel arrangements made according to the previous dates of examinations as announced. "Yesterday one applicant from Vietnam and one from Rajasthan who had arrived for the entrances of the English department had to be turned down. Today 3 more applicants had to be turned down. Many had JU as their first option and had hoped to crack it. But they are now lost," said Angana Kundu, a post-graduate student of the Department of English.
The current teachers aren’t the only ones opposing the move. Ex-teachers, including noted poet Shankha Ghosh and author Nabanita Deb Sen signed a declaration vehemently disapproving of the decision taken.
Students of other faculties have expressed their support as well. “As a student of the JU engineering faculty, the government mentioning the so called 'merit list' eludes me because even our faculty has a standardised entrance examination. Furthermore, in order to decimate a successful system, you need a good enough reason, and there are no such reasons cited in the NAAC Report, which is in the public domain. Following this report, we were granted a 5 star University status,” said Souryadeep Basak, a fourth year student of Electrical Engineering.
This is not the first protest Jadavpur University has seen in recent times. #Hokkolorob was one of the largest student movements in India where a case of sexual assault and the University’s reluctance to take action led to campus-wide protests, and the eventual dismissal of the Vice Chancellor of the University. There have been a lot more. But there are very few situations where everyone, including alumni and teachers come together in solidarity.
The decision to scrap admission tests may have just been released, but the dissent against the decision has just begun.