The Dean of Students recently proposed that all hostels be banned from using Establishment-B Funds to fund ice cream nights and sweet distributions. The following is an Op-Ed written by the General Secretary of Mahanadhi Hostel on behalf of the General Secretaries Council arguing against the proposal.
Radical changes are being imposed in the Hostels by the Administration. This article is an attempt to present the complete facts to the students by the General Secretaries Council in the hope that they will express their support to us and oppose some of the changes that seek to curb what can and cannot be done in the Hostels.
The DoSt and the CCW have recently proposed to ban the use of Establishment B fund for conducting Ice Cream Nights and distributing sweets during festivals — in effect banning both these practices.
In a recent meeting with the General Secretaries of the Hostels, the DoSt and the CCW gave a definition of Establishment B funds which is reproduced below:
“Establishment B funds is the money paid by the Hostel Residents towards the infrastructural, cultural and social activities of the Hostel.”
I request the reader to keep this definition in mind as he/she reads this article.
Who has the ultimate say over what can and cannot be done with the Establishment B fund? This is what the Students’ Constitution of IIT Madras has to say about it:
“The General Body of the Hostel shall, in conformity with the decision of the Hostel Management, decide policies with respect to their own Hostel.”
Two things stand out. One, the constitution makes it very clear that the General Body decides what happens in its hostel. Two, the General Body can’t arbitrarily take a decision that is against the decision taken by the Hostel Management, the office of the CCW.
Point 2 raises an important question. Can the office of the CCW take any decision that it wants with respect to hostel affairs and hence dictate the policy that the General Body should follow? I don’t think so. Instead, I would like to interpret it like this: the CCW office provides the broad contours — the framework — on what can and cannot be done in the hostel. It doesn’t go into the specifics and leaves that to the discretion of the General Body. Any attempt to interfere otherwise would completely undermine the power of the General Body and render the Hostel Council useless; after all, it isn’t the CCW office that runs the hostel and some sort of a distribution of power must exist.
Let us consider the proposal to ban Ice Cream Night and sweet distribution from Establishment B Fund in this light. The argument of the DoSt is that there are many students from economically poor backgrounds living in the Hostels who will not be able to bear the cost of an Ice Cream Night (which by the way averaged out to Rs 36 per head in my hostel). He further posited that since everybody doesn’t get ice cream during the ice cream night, it isn’t fair for them to be charged that money.
The reason to ban sweet distribution from Establishment B funds is even more bizarre. The gist of the argument that he gave the General Secretaries was this:
“Some Hindus may not want to celebrate Christmas and some Christians may not want to celebrate Hindu Festivals. Furthermore, some of the students might be atheists and might not want to celebrate festivals at all. In such a scenario, it isn’t proper to charge money from unwilling people and hence a new system will be put in place in which those people who want sweets can register themselves and pay money. Sweets will be provided only to them. This is being done to ensure that hostels become more secular.”
Both these arguments can be questioned on multiple grounds. Setting aside the question of whether the DoSt has any locus standi in this issue, the very proposal for such a ban undermines the General Body. As mentioned above, the CCW office is supposed to provide the framework while leaving the details of the policy to the General Body. In this case, the CCW has already defined that the Establishment B fund can be used for social and cultural purposes, and sweet distribution and ice cream night clearly fall under these categories.
Furthermore, a vast majority of the students (90% +) living in the hostels want to continue having ice cream nights, as evidenced by the survey results reproduced below. It is impractical to expect hostels to discontinue a practice just because a very small minority claims that it doesn’t want to participate. The economic argument sounds far-fetched as an average of Rs 40 per sem for ice cream nights doesn’t seem unaffordable, especially if the students have scholarships.
While secularism by definition means that religion should be restricted to one’s private life (this was the logic used by the French to ban the burqa), in India it has a very different meaning. In India, diversity is celebrated and citizens participate in all religious festivals, irrespective of their religion. Instead of a separation between the State and the Church, the Indian state has embraced all religions. In such a scenario, a move like the one the DoSt has proposed will just split the hostel along communal lines. As of now, the General Body of the Hostel ensures that all festivals are celebrated without bias in the Hostel. What the new proposal will do is create new identities where none presently exist. Instead of being restricted to one’s private life, religion will now spill over to the public sphere, something that hasn’t happened so far in insti. This is excluding the practical difficulty that the Hostel Council will face in distributing sweets.
In light of this, we request the DoSt and CCW to reconsider their proposal and allow ice cream nights and sweet distribution during festivals to take place using the Establishment B fund as long as the proposed budget doesn’t cross the Rs 2000/- per student per year mark.
I hope that all students and professors agree with our stance in this issue. We hope that you will help us ensure that there is no undue interference in Hostel Affairs, especially in cases like these where a problem has been created out of nothing.
On Behalf of the General Secretaries Council,
The responses from the hostel surveys are summarized in the infographic at the end of this article.
Response from the Dean of Students:
“As long as some issues — how the expenses are dealt with, who pays for it etc — are sorted out, I have no problem with ice cream nights and sweet distributions. It is important to be sensitive about the difficulties faced by others, in this case the economically weaker sections of the Institute. In the case of sweet distribution, sensitivity is needed when dealing with religious occasions like Diwali and Christmas. We are currently working on a system where students can swipe their ID card to pay on such occasions. This should be ready in a few weeks’ time.”
On 28 October 2014, the SAC passed a resolution as follows:
“The SAC urges the concerned authorities to allow hostels to continue celebrating Ice Cream Nights and distribute sweets during festivals as approved by the Hostel General Body as long as they don’t exceed the cap set by the Hostel Management (Rs 2000/- per student per annum) and not bring any proposal that will change the status quo.”
Approval by the authorities is pending.