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Regional political dynamics 'leading to' institutional violence in SAARC University

By Sandeep Pandey* 
South Asian University is a university set up in Delhi by member countries of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Maldives – which is open to students from all these countries. However, as SAARC is receiving little attention these days because of regional political dynamics, it appears as if SAU has lost significance too. Because of the hiatus in peace process between India and Pakistan, the Board of Governors of this University is dysfunctional.
In October 2022 students had to go on strike demanding (1) increase of INR 2,000 in Masters scholarship (the University had actually decreased it from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 4,000 a month), (2) parity of Ph.D. scholarship with University Grants Commission Junior Research Fellowship, (3) blanket extension for Ph.D. scholars due to COVID as done by UGC, and (4) student representation in institutional grievance redressal and other committees.
The administration paid no heed. Students decided to occupy the administrative block and were there for about a month. It is unbelievable that students were sitting there continuously on the fourth floor of Akbar Bhawan on campus in the national capital of India at a prominent elite location in Chanakyapuri, known for housing most foreign embassies, and the university administration allowed this to happen without engaging the students.
Instead, they called police in an attempt to intimidate the students. Out of approximately 150 protesting students the university administration chose to take punitive action against five students – Umesh Joshi and Sahil Kumar Singh were expelled, Ammar Ahmad and Bhimraj M were rusticated and the only non-Indian student Sudeepto Das, from Bangladesh, was suspended without issuing any show cause notices to them.
The abovementioned five were told on 4 November to vacate their hostel rooms. The SAU administration was informed about the psychiatric condition of Ammar by Umesh Joshi in a meeting on 16 November but still the proctor kept sending notices on 16, 17, and 18 November causing further mental agony to the students.
On 21 November Ammar received another notice stating that non-compliance with previous orders to vacate the hostel would lead to severe implications. He met the acting Registrar the same night and pleaded before him about his adverse family situation of father facing psychological issues and why the degree from SAU was important for him. No decision was taken to allow him to sit for the examination.
On 22 November Ammar sent an e-mail to the President of University expressing regret for the inconvenience caused to administration in the course of his exercise of democratic right to protest on collective cause of students. He requested for revocation of his rustication order as he had his examinations in a few days and he was concerned about his academic future. The registrar merely ‘acknowledged’ the receipt this e-mail without elaborating on the action university would take.
The University kept repeating in written communication that disciplinary action was taken based on record maintained by the administration and the SAARC intergovernmental agreement, rules, regulations and bye-laws without specifying what the act of misconduct was.
On 22 November itself in response to the invitation for a meeting of students Ammar said he couldn’t come as he was in darkness and said that his future was in their hands and requested them to remember him in their prayers. He signed off ‘Noone’s beloved Ammar.’ In response to another whatsapp message ‘Wanna grow old together?’ he said ‘Actually, I’m planning on dying young.’
The same night he over-consumed prescribed medicines and alcohol and early morning suffered from seizures and cardiac arrest. He was admitted to Primus Super Specialty Hospital and tested positive for Tetrahydrocannabinol (marijuana) and Oxazepam (Benzodiazepine). 
First time under some pressure, University changed his rustication order to a suspension but continued to warn an unconscious student in hospital of strict action on recurrence of such action in future and that he would be responsible for it.
Instead of addressing the issues raised by the students and procrastinating university authorities indulged in sadistic behaviour
SAU agreed to bear the expenses of hospital treatment above the insurance limit of Rs. 1,50,000. However, the insurer Star Health Insurance Pvt. Ltd. withdrew from its commitment stating that there was a history of drug abuse by patient and that management of self-inflicted conditions and its complications were not covered under their policy. 
SAU too refused to make any legal payments upon rejection of claim by insurance company. A personal payment of Rs. 4 lakhs was made by the University Vice President Venugopal Senthil. But when the VP and Registrar went to meet Ammar in hospital, he suffered another epileptic seizure and relapsed.
Meanwhile, Ammar was referred to All India Institute of Medical Sciences but could not get a bed there and was taken to Al-Shifa hospital and then to home care for financial considerations but continues to battle for survival. His colleagues are raising funds through crowd funding to meet the expenses of his treatment.
The students’ resistance has suffered due to movement of University to its permanent location in Maidan Garhi. University went back on mitigation of punishments for two students and expelled Umesh Joshi and Bhimraj M. again on 25 November.
Pertinent question is whether Ammar’s condition is ‘self-inflicted’ or caused by SAU’s intransigence, arrogance and sheer inept mishandling of the situation. The university has not only scarred his academic career but also endangered his life.
Instead of addressing the issues raised by the students and procrastinating they were indulging in sadistic behaviour issuing repeated notices for hostel vacation by the five students. They even issued show cause notices to five faculty members who disagreed with calling the police on campus and not following due process before taking punitive action against the five students. It appears that the University was more interested in throwing out the five students than resolving their issues.
The two students expelled again have not been allowed to enter the new campus of University. They have knocked the doors of court. Entire administration of SAU right from the President down to Proctor should take responsibility for what has happened to Ammar Ahmad and must step down to make way for more sensitive people to take over if the University and more importantly the spirit of SAARC has to survive.
We would like to see SAU flourish like a welcoming place for students from all over South Asia and beyond. Sadly, incidents like what has happened with Ammar will dampen the spirits of potential bright students.
---
*Magsaysay award winning social activist and academic, general secretary of Socialist Party (India)

Comments

Sandeep, grave concerns in the students democracy. good read also.

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