It has been few weeks now that we have been watching the University Grants commision (UGC) and the Students’ differences unfold over the question of conducting examination in times of the Pandemic. The Supreme Court too has been invoked to adjudicate the matter at the earliest.

By all possibilities, even thinking of an exam, be it online or offline mode seems farcical. How can one forget that as the Pandemic continues to accelerate, as people continue to suffer in one way or the other, given different social positions , people have lost lives, jobs, homes and so much more.

This not only exposes the loopholes in our system but also in our understanding of “education” which we have in this moment collapsed into “examinations”, as we interchangeably use one word for the other. Some would say, let’s be “practical” , how would you have your education without getting a degree by taking the exams and life is all about competition and that I should keep my Philosophy to myself – this only shows our underlying intellectual bankruptcy, thanks to the idea of education with which we have grown up! Rather than facing up to life and questioning all that is wrongly placed, we are looking for means to evade it !

As the debates around exams continue to make it to the newsroom, I am forced to add some other points as well .

We have, for all these years conveniently forgotten the variable of “political conflict”, the site of which happens to be the Kashmir Valley, for so many years now.

How many times did it become impossible to hold classes, for how long the situation has never been conducive for education here, when survival becomes the primary question ?

How many examinations could not be conducted on time here, how many semesters had to be left suspended for the time and how often? Given the frequent internet shutdown here, how many online classes could be held, rather is the option of online mode of learning even available to the students here ?

These questions are not put up here to play the ‘conflict-victim’ card, as some people would like to believe- these questions are only a small reflection of the larger lived experiences and realities every student faces here,in almost every academic session !

How many times did we hear of a “twitter-storm” to highlight the plight of students here , how many times did it occur to the “concerned citizens” to register a protest to accentuate the challenges students face here , day in , day out?

How many times then did we hear of any concession or alternative measures or even a proper strategy or long term plan to help our students here ? We always had to work with some make-do temporary system (reducing syllabus at times, going for mass promotion the other times, working with home-delivered assignment at times) , letting things pass, thinking that the next session would be better !

Datesheet were pinned at the notice board, I remember in my student-days, without proper classes and even our teachers here would ask us to go by the “system” for the lack of any alternative and this continues to happen till date. Not to talk of the psychological consequences of the same for students!

However to even think like that was nothing but a reflection of the intellectual dereliction and administrative omission on part of the people at the helm of affairs and all the stakeholders who could have acted in a better way instead, learning from the experiences.

Yes, our students despite odds, have been excelling . But glorifying the same without accepting the structural injustices and systemic indifference to a certain section of the population adds to the process of normalising suffering . Applauding those students who succeed despite the odds only shows a reverse- failure on the part of those applauding, after letting the students suffer alone without any help and having to put up with the systemic challenges in the midst of all pervasive institutional apathy, all on their own !

In other ways it acts as a pressure point on students who could not do the same, or to put it differently, it sends the message that ‘well, suffering is okay, since you have people who can do well even with such difficulty, so doesn’t make a difference if you face it as well!’.

It is very late though, but such moments nonetheless call for a reflection on the exclusionary system that we all have accustomed ourselves to, which requires a Pandemic to wake us up and even then we conveniently forget those at the margins who continue to suffer.

It is due to the Pandemic situation that we see education disrupted, however let’s never forget, each year almost , the students in Kashmir face that education-disruption, and no one blinks an eye, as we all are equal but some are more equal than others !

Sana Shah is a research scholar and is currently pursuing M.Phil at JNU, New Delhi .


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