More Than a Degree

There’s more to college than the girls. Its where we learn to survive with an empty wallet, discover the power of caffeine, weep over a crashed computer, perfect the art of the poker face, navigate our way through social mazes, explore every possible way to sleep in class and perhaps, if we’re lucky, get our hearts broken for the first time. That’s why surviving college is a bit like social guerrilla warfare. You never know when you’re going to get ambushed. But once the war is over, you have the most thrilling stories at a dinner table.

But its not always a pretty picture. Recent studies show that six out of ten university students suffer from loneliness because of financial trouble, conflicts in relationship and little or no psychological support. An NGO reports that seventy percent of phone calls to their helpline are from distressed teenagers. In 2006, close to six thousand students crumbled under the pressure of educational demands and took their own lives. The numbers are constantly rising along with academic pressure, in a city where the cut-offs increase every year, but the number of seats remain the same.

Then there is the disturbing rise in substance abuse among students. The Hindu has reported that, “With an overall fifty per cent increase in substance abuse among teenagers the world over, Delhi is no exception”. Its only a matter of time before a student feels the pressure to wear the party hat or stand outside the inner circle. Its hard to keep your hands clean when you’re swimming in dirty waters. The need for acceptance and the pressure to conform has broken the will of many a righteous man. You can be anything you want to be in college, but you are not permitted to be good. So much for a microcosm of free society.

But one of the most disturbing trends in Delhi today is the outlandish prejudice against the other and the outsider. The tragic suicide of Dana Sangma, the niece of the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, has unearthed again the question of student discrimination in the country. In an interview with NDTV, Agatha Sangma, (Lok Sabha MP, NCP, Meghalaya), describes her experience as a student in Delhi and Pune. Although she never faced institutional discrimination for being a student from the North East, she regularly endured racial slurs from people on the street. As far as she is concerned, there needs to be distinction between structural and personal discrimination.

Almost as if to affirm her experience, the Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, says, “As far as Delhi is concerned, a lot of measures have been taken. In 2012, eight cases of offenses against women from the northeast were reported. Seven of these have been worked out and 11 persons arrested. In 2011, seven cases were registered, six prosecuted and 10 arrested”. He denies that students from the North East are more vulnerable to discrimination than students from other regions. Perhaps he’s right. If we dislike our neighbors, we distribute our disdain, equally.

Its simplistic and idealistic, but people are the cure for their own wrongdoing. As much as our power structures are often blamed for the ills in India, students today have it in themselves to make a difference that brings a new age of maturity for the next generation of learners. The choices we make, shape the world we live in. University is the child of a marriage between two powerful words, Unity and Diversity. Its where we learn to celebrate the diversity of cultures, colors and tribes in this country. Its where we can learn to be one despite our otherness. Monotony is not a musical quality. No song ever topped the charts with a single note. We know innately that unity in diversity is essential to all things good. But we have yet to make it work in our relationships.

Every year brings the promise of undoing the past and rewriting our history. This is a day in which we need to relearn the meaning of university and unlearn our backward ways of drawing lines between our neighbors. Its a day that will prosper because of students who boldly refuse substance abuse, because they believe it takes more courage to set a trend than to blindly follow it. In the days to come, we could cure loneliness by pouring into genuine friendships and authentic community, instead of serving superficial social habits. This could be the generation that reverses the trend of academic and corporate slavery to birth a new breed of thinkers who follow their passion and build a better nation. Then, perhaps we would live in a day when our education gave us more than a degree.

Written for a handbook by Commotion to welcome freshers in Delhi University for the year 2012-2013.

Image Credit: my_new_wintercoat

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