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CSR: UGC Has Students Stuck Between the Devil and the Deep Sea – Not Done

Only a day ago, International Youth Day was celebrated. Social media, print media and electronic media were filled with inspirational messages and news with a popular message that young people are the future of every country. I have a question for our Indian government and our education agencies, whether Indian youth are being cared for in the time of the COVID-19 crisis? Do our government and responsible citizens have anything to do with their emotional state at this time? Addressing the emotional well-being of young India is a necessary aspect of citizen social responsibility (CSR).
The way the epidemic has wreaked havoc on a global scale has left our young people bearing the brunt of it. At the educational level, particularly for college and university students, this year has been one of the worst ever.

What did the Supreme Court say about UGC?

In a circular released on 6th July 2020, the UGC directed the universities to carry out the final semester exams by 30th September 2020. These tests can be performed online or offline, or both. This decision of the UGC was challenged by 31 students from various universities around the country and also by the State of Maharashtra in the Supreme Court. At a hearing held in the Supreme Court on 10th August, it was argued that only the UGC has the authority to amend any rules relating to the degree and that no state government can infringe on that jurisdiction.
Ironically, this remark was made at a time when the Nation is in a state of lockdown due to the Corona epidemic. Government offices and departments, malls, temples, local trains, which are the pulse of Mumbai, and also the metro rail are either closed or available only for emergency services. Schools are locked up and every person is forced to stay inside their homes. Is the decision of the UGC to conduct exams by September 30th justified in these conditions? The UGC states that the final year is the determining factor for children’s years of schooling. Exams are therefore important for their future. Further delays in exams would have an effect on the students’ next year of study. UGC representatives also said that students should not presume that the matter is pending before the Court, but should proceed to study for their exams.

Dictatorial terms of the UGC

UGC’s terms, rules and proposals are not in the best interest of students by any means. We are all well aware that social isolation is the best way to prevent a corona outbreak. As a result, all crowded private or public areas have been closed off. Minimum attendance standards have been laid down in workplaces, whether private or governmental. Fear of infection has pushed people away from each other. Human beings are hiding from each other in order to save their lives. The doors of the soul are locked even for loved ones. In such a scenario, would any parent have the courage to let their children go to the examination centre?
If the protection laws of the UGC are to be believed, full attention will be paid to social distancing and sanitization at these centres. From the day of public curfew till this date, everyone has taken full care. Despite this, the graph of positive cases for COVID-19 is going up every day. With a hike in the number of corona-positive cases, a new record is being created with each passing day. Is the UGC willing to take 100% responsibility for the safety of every student? Is the future of students to be decided within those 3 hours of the exam?

Exam directives unfair to students

The students are also in a dilemma whether to pick up books or go round the court and fight for their rights and their lives. It is unfortunate that the educational institutions that are ascribed the sacredness of a temple, who give shape to a student the way a potter works with clay, who are trusted to determine the direction of their future, are being sued by the same students seeking justice for their very lives. This is an outcome of our corrupt system. When the government elected by our votes ignores us, then this public outrage against the government and the system is expected.
Students and parents have been appealing against the UGC’s directive since it was issued on 6th July 2020. They tried to reach out to the government through various social media platforms, and every other medium available to them. But perhaps, the government also had its priorities. Instead of solving the current problems related to education, it was busy revising the old curriculum and education system. The students were worried for their present existence and the government moved to secure their future. The students kept counting the steps of the court and the government was busy with the preparations for the Ayodhya temple foundation, a government that supposedly believes that youth are the future of the country.
The situation of our country is in a terrible state. On one side, there is the threat of a pandemic, unemployment and starvation and on the other hand, there are floods in States like Bihar and Assam. Every eye is looking at the government with a hopeful gaze. Troubled farmers, shocked students and the shocked Indian public! Neither the present is being addressed nor any concrete plans are made for the future. No one knows, for how long these tragedies will continue.
Many countries of the world have changed their education policy and have announced online classes, closing schools and colleges for the entire year and postponing examinations for 2020-2021. Some schools opened in countries such as the US and Malaysia but were closed indefinitely within a few days as soon as children were found Corona positive. According to a recent report more than 97,000 children in the US tested positive for COVID-19 in the last two weeks of July. Despite all these examples, this obstinate attitude of the UGC is not in the interest of students from any angle.

Pan India online exams impossible

Our country is still not so technologically advanced that students from any part of the country can appear for exams online. What will the students do in places that don’t have internet connectivity? What will happen to the students who have returned to their remote homes due to the lockdown? For offline examinations, one has to go to an exam hall. In that case, what about the rules of social distancing? Would students who live in high-risk areas of the epidemic want to leave their homes? Regardless of the precautions taken inside the examination centres, how will UGC ensure that COVID-19 norms are followed outside the centres?
We saw the live broadcast of the Ayodhya Mandir Bhoomi Pujan. The rules of social distancing were well followed where the VIP guests were present, but the people outside that circle were being trampled. When such a high profile government event, which was also covered by most National and International media, witnessed the brutal breaking of the COVID norms, what can the UGC’s insistence do, we can easily guess.
The question is, what is the priority for our government? Their policies, rules, or people’s lives? The COVID-19 epidemic has not been controlled yet. With each passing day we only see a hike in the number of positive cases. Is it permissible to risk the lives of students in such a situation? Is one year of study more valuable than their lives? Are the three hours of the examination an experiment? Is it not possible that degree students be evaluated on the basis of internal assessment?

Indian govt. neglecting the youth

This battle of UGC vs Students is like playing with the future and the lives of children. Strangely, neither children nor the parents are being heard. If government officials are really concerned for the future of young people of our country, they have to break their silence on this very sensitive matter, else it might be assumed that the public is nothing more than a vote bank for political parties. The government has to keep in mind that this vote bank has entrusted the reins of the country with the utmost confidence in their hands by making them victorious with a strong majority.
The Prime Minister has given India a distinct identity on the world map with his efficient political policies and his strong personality. The countries called superpowers have also been forced to acknowledge the greatness of India. But our Government also has to keep in mind that India does not only constitute billionaires, capitalists and politicians. Our country mainly constitutes of 80% general public, who stand in queues for hours during elections to ink their votes in the hope of a bright future.
Our India dwells among the youth who, at the age of 18, get their Voter ID card so that they can feel the privilege of being responsible citizens by casting their votes. Youth is the future of any country. The same youth today stands before the Centre’s leadership, the State governments and the UGC, raising a question mark on their future and asking, what is important? Rules or Ethics? Life or Risk? To build the future by walking on the corpse of the present or, ‘Kaal Kare So Aaj Kar’ policy?

The author, Amit Upadhyay, is Editor-in-Chief of The CSR Journal 

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