I am one of the several thousand students at IIT Kanpur, who were forced to vacate their hostel rooms and travel thousands of kilometers to reach back home, on a day when India reported more than 3.5 lakh new coronavirus cases.
The campus had closed down last year during the nationwide lockdown and all students were at their homes. Finally in January 2021, all postgraduate and fourth year undergraduate students were allowed to come back to the campus on a voluntary basis.
A large majority (around 3,000 students) did choose to come back to the campus. Suddenly, on 21 April, these students were forced to vacate their hostels rooms and travel back to their homes five days later, ie, by 26 April.
In case someone needed an RT-PCR test for travel, they were asked to fill up a form and a testing desk was set up. However, this was not mandatory, but only for those who needed it for their travel.
IIT Kanpur has always maintained that students are an integral part of the community, as much as the professors and the staff. Then why were we forced to travel back thousands of kilometers in trains, buses and planes, exposing ourselves and our families to a massive risk? It was extremely inconsiderate of the administration to have imposed this rule.
The decision was taken without any consultation with student representatives and was vehemently opposed, but to no avail. A letter was drafted, mentioning our concerns and alternative solutions. It was signed by more than 370 individuals, including students and faculty members and was emailed to the Director, the Deans, et al. The letter has elicited no response till date.
After a very large number of students rebelled, a committee was formed to look at special cases. The postgraduate students were asked to tell their advisors for extension based on any very special non-academic reason, who would then forward the request to the committee.
The committee rejected some requests and the acceptances were only granted on 25 April, just one day before the deadline given for vacating the hostel.
As of today, ie, 6 May, all of us have returned back home. No wonder, a very large number of us have contracted COVID-19, some of us have infected our families, some are grappling in hospitals and some of us have lost our loved ones.
How the Administration Responded
When a fellow-student raised these questions and challenged the decision in an email to the Dean of Student Affairs, Prof Siddhartha Panda, he responded by citing an undertaking we had signed when returning to the campus, which said, ‘I will fully comply with any measures/guidelines prescribed by the Institute in this regard.’
Moreover, the email was cc'd to the heads of the student’s department, who were asked to ‘take note of his actions.’ It is heart-wrenching to see responsible questioning and dissent being responded to by threats of academic punishment, in an academic space.
(The Quint has accessed these emails)
While the administration maintains that students were being ‘requested’ and not forced to leave, this is in contradiction to the situation on the ground. Security on campus has been forcing students to vacate their rooms.
The IIT Kanpur I have known for all these years is an institution responsible towards the society, sensitive towards its students and an open place for critical questioning and responsible dissent.
However, what happened seems absurd. One wonders, if the students and the faculty opposed the mass exodus alike, who exactly is the college administration serving?
IIT Kanpur’s Response to The Quint
The Dean of Student Affairs has responded to The Quint’s queries on the number of students who have returned and are still on campus, and the measures taken for students returning home.
“As on 21 April, there were around 2,600 students (20% of total capacity) – mostly senior PhD students and final MTech/MS students. As on 5 May, there are about 300 students still on campus. This includes those either infected or in isolation and they are under medical supervision. On full recovery, the student, if she/he so wishes, may travel back home. If in case they would face difficulty in returning home, they will continue to stay on campus – just like the other students who are permitted to be on campus.
All support has been provided to students traveling back to reduce risk of contamination but are not limited to PPE kits or RT-PCR tests. Railway and bus station transfers through dedicated institute vehicles have also been taken care of, and so also help with railway reservations.
If a student reported contamination post reaching their residences, the institute has gone all out to help them in getting medical and financial assistance through its alumni network. All those who tested positive are under treated on campus and are taken care by our Institute doctors,” he said.
Online exams are currently ongoing at IIT Kanpur. It will be shut for vacation from 15 May, followed by an online summer term.
(The author is a student at IIT Kanpur and wishes to stay anonymous. All ‘My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)