|Saturday, April 27, 2002||
I did not realise what my guide’s intentions were till such time he made an overture, and, in a very guarded manner, linked up his willingness to help me in my research work with my readiness to go out with him. Before I knew it, I was trapped in a relationship that may not have been of my own making but the benefits were too many for me to put a stop to it. Of course, I did end it but only when I had used the man as much as he had used me.
— Anusha, Ph.D scholar
My guide forced me to add his name alongside mine on the paper I had written for an international journal, even though his contribution was nil. I couldn’t say no because he could damage my career.
When my guide called me to his room at odd hours even when there was no need and lingered while checking my assignments, my sixth sense warned me. Before he could harrass me, I decided to change my supervisor. It meant more hassles, but I took the tough way out. I did not wait to be exploited.
— Radha, Research Fellow
I thought that he was my philosopher, mentor and friend. No wonder I was stunned when he propositioned to me... I gave him unqualified respect and he breached the trust I had reposed in him.
— Sujata, MA student
university is a place where the students are supposed to receive
knowledge and imbibe a value system from the teachers who are the
disseminators of both knowledge and morals. That is, of course, is an
ideal situation and life is rarely ideal, especially nowadays.
Teachers turning into predators is commonplace, and far from imparting
value-based education or moral grounding, they are revealing their own
moral depravity. On the other hand, some teachers claim that even the
students are not averse to sucking up to them for small favours that
invariably pave the way for bigger compromises.
The onus, of course, is on the teacher to steer the relationship on a course that is non-controversial and keep in mind the vulnerability of the student who is not only younger but also eager to seek approval and, more often than not, hangs on to each word that the teacher utters. The effort to define the parameters of the relationship and chalk out its modalities rests squarely with the older and more experienced teacher who can choose to act any which way. If the onus is on the teacher to imbue the relationship with a modicum of decorum and dignity, it is also up to him/her to give selflessly and wholeheartedly without holding back or manipulating the student who is at a vulnerable stage of life. This dependency is enhanced in a situation wherein the student has to rely on the guide for a period of three to five years. It is a make or mar situation and the teacher’s hold on the student is a virtual stranglehold.
As Preeti, an arts student in a local college, says: "No wonder it sounds so hollow when the very same teachers who exploit their students financially and emotionally talk of the guru-shishya parampara. One does not know whether to laugh, mock or cry." Sakoon, a research fellow in Panjab University, maintains: "There should be no barriers between the free flow and exchange of ideas. Teachers can command respect only on the basis of their knowledge and character, as displayed by their behaviour. The values that a teacher preaches and those he shows through his behaviour determine the students’ response and attitude towards him/her." Despite all the talk of erosion of values and moral decline, the teacher is perceived as an upholder of values and the students, howsoever irreverent, do look up to him for that semblance of guidance. He can never be beyond the moral/ethical pale—howsoever much the degeneration and decline.
As Dr Ramakant, an eminent Sanskrit scholar and occupant of the Kalidasa Chair, says :"The teacher-student relationship has become bankrupt. Jab acharya mein se achar chala jata hai aur shishya mein se shraddha nikal jati hai to aur kya hoga?" He goes on to add that the teacher has become a product of the system himself. He is no more the moulder of minds. This is a natural consequence of why people decide to be teachers. Often people join teaching for all the wrong reasons— limited work, few hours of teaching, a comfortable accommodation and more money. Moreover, the selection procedure is based on favour given and taken and more often than not the candidate-teacher himself has been exploited by his ‘mentor.’
When the teacher has entered the system by ‘paying a price’, he is most likely to view the entire relationship as a transaction and try to extract that ‘price’ in more ways than one. From sexual harassment to mild flirtations to using influential students to get work done—the range of an exploitative teacher or a guide is wide. The stage is now set for the nexus between political patronage, educationists and students who are either accomplices or victims. Very often, behaving like a feudal overlord, the teacher shamelessly makes students run errands and takes guru dakshina in the form of gifts that can range from dinner sets to ovens, referigerator and even a microwave, in one instance. "It is not merely the price of the gift that hurts but the cost of compromising on one’s dignity and being a slave that gets one’s goat," says Sunil, an MBA. His ‘research’ regimen included picking up the guide’s children from school, shopping for the wife, buying vegetables and paying phone and electricity bills. Adds Akshaya, a science research scholar,"I wish I was a girl. I would have then gladly smiled and fluttered my eyelashes instead of tiring myself out doing those menial jobs." Vicky, a public administration student, had to drive his guide around and pay court in various ways that included financing the guide’s summer vacations and buying him imported gifts. He could afford to do all this but what about those who can’t?
Reema, a medical student, feels it is better to buy a thesis because "it is a one-time cost." The constant humiliation and being an odd-job man around only erodes self-respect. "What is worse," says Rakesh, who had a tough time with his guide, "is that you have to praise the guy and boost his ego when all you feel like doing is socking him in the jaw." Small wonder therefore that the moment the transaction is over, the student doesn’t even give a damn to the teacher. However, there are some selfless teachers who are remembered for life.
According to Sagar Sharma, Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology,"The inspirational role of the teacher is on the decline because the students do not see much hope in the education system. Just as jobs have become delinked from degrees, there is little connection between career and classroom teaching. The students do not have a sense of affiliation with the teacher just as the teachers too fulfill their need for power through teaching. Academic performance has become subservient to fulfillment of other social and emotional needs. There is a difference between a popular teacher, who plays to the gallery, and an effective teacher, who can mould ideas and help the student to form enduring lifeviews." Ironically, an oft-repeated argument by teachers is that teachers too are human and have the same frailities as the guy next door. Why are they then expected to play God?
If the teachers do not want a larger-than-life role, they certainly do not, on the contrary, need to don the mantle of wolves and vultures to assert their need for power. Unless the teacher is not willing to emerge out of this miasma of power, he cannot hope to give and will only expect to receive.
The flip side, as a veteran teacher puts it, is: "This generation has an almost narcissistic, pathological need for attention and the students are willing to go almost to any extent to get this attention. Coupled with this is the utter disregard of means employed to attain their ends. They believe in taking short-cuts to fame, glamour, money, academic excellence and almost everything." He contends, "When some teachers feel that they are using students, in reality it is they who are being used. Their vanity is exploited very adroitly and often the students manage to garner favours that would seem unthinkable to any level-headed person."
Rana Nayar, Reader, English Department, Panjab University, says "In most cases teachers do not define the limits of their role. Self-definition is important because the teacher has to locate himself and ask, ‘What am I there for?’"
He feels,"Teaching is not a profession but a vocation and only those who have something to give should enter the profession. There is a process of idealisation that takes place at the level of the students and it is all the more important for the teacher to consciously demystify himself. And when they don’t , they lay the groundwork for an exploitative situation to emerge.Thus, the process of exploitation begins not in a classroom situation but in the manner in which research is conducted to make the student more vulnerable and dependent."
Shyam Prashad, Reader, Department of Economics, HPU, feels that the macro environment has to be changed. "We have a feudal mindset. Since it is a male-dominated society, women are bound to be more vulnerable. Exploitation takes place because it is a power equation with the scales tilted against the student."
A former Chairman in Department of History in HPU had misbehaved with a girl candidate. A case was registered and an inquiry committee was set up to probe the charges. Finally, however, the girl withdrew her complaint, succumbing to pressure of a students’body. The gentleman went on to become the VC of the varsity. Women activists had approached the then Governor-Chancellor Rama Devi to cancel the appointment, but she could do little due to the pressure from the Centre.
(Name of students have been changed to protect their identity.)
— Anya Sharma