Getting into Delhi University just got more difficult. As if it wasn’t a herculean task to begin with. This year Delhi University will not open its door if you are artistically inclined, because it is dropping the Extra-Curricular Activities (ECA) quota. Rote learning is all that matters.
At this rate, Delhi University may as well stop taking pride in producing artists like Arundhati Roy, Shah Rukh Khan, and Anurag Kashyap, among numerous others.
While it has removed the arts quota, it has retained the sports quota for admission — that speaks volumes about Delhi University’s thinking.
Yashvardhan Shukla is a competent student who scored 90 per cent in his class 12 board examinations. But for Delhi University’s skyscraper-high cut-offs that hover around the 98 per cent mark for its top colleges, it was not enough.
But Shukla had a secret weapon — his creative mind. He got admission in Sri Venkateswara College’s Physics Honours programme in 2018, through ECA quota in creative writing, which earned him a a 7 per cent relaxation.
But many creative students like Shukla won’t enjoy the same advantage that were once up for grabs, since Delhi University decided artistic brains won’t be granted an advantage in the rat race to get into college. The University has decided to scrap the quota, citing their inability to conduct trials for it because of the coronavirus pandemic. Artists such as veteran classical dancers Geeta Chandran and Sonal Mansingh, who is also a Rajya Sabha MP, have written to the University to reconsider its decision.
Interestingly enough, Delhi University hasn’t closed off avenues for those applying for sports quota or through National Cadet Corps (NCC) and National Service Scheme (NSS), whose trials stand cancelled but the option for students to get admission on the basis of certificates remains.
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Every year, almost 10,000 students apply to Delhi University through the ECA quota. The category comprises 12 disciplines, including photography, dance, music, debating and acting.
Scrapping the quota denies all students excelling in these disciplines the opportunity to study at a college that could help them further hone these skills. The move specifically discriminates against this group.
According to Shukla, the reasons cited by the University is its inability to judge creative talent on the basis of certificates, and that virtual trials would be unfair to those who are underprivileged and access online mediums.
If that is the university’s stand, then it is contradicting itself. When DU puts its foot down and acts hell-bent on conducting open book exams online even after severe backlash from students, it conveniently forgets to factor in students who might not have access to fast internet, books or computer right now. Why isn’t it championing fairness and equality then?
Postponing or conducting trials remotely are some of the things DU could try to do, if it wants to.
Cheaper internet plans and wider reach of smartphones has democratised access to the internet, and has given applicants across demographics the ability to make videos. The now-banned TikTok was a delightful example of the means of expression that are now in the hands of the working class. Virtual trials and submissions, then, shouldn’t pose such a huge problem to those who have the means. However, the problem of elitism still remains.
But despite this digital divide, if Delhi University can insist on online classes and exams, then why can’t it offer online applications for the ECA quota?
According to Sankalp Luthra, a Kirori Mal College alumnus who years before had gotten admission through ECA trials, says all the university needs to do is stop interfering and leave the trials up to individual colleges.
“ECA trials happen in a decentralised fashion anyway and every college enjoys a certain degree of independence in screening students,” Luthra explains. “Some colleges short-list students on the basis of their certificates, and offer trials to those whose on-paper applications they liked. While others, like Kirori Mal, throw open trials for all applicants and choose the students they like the most.”
Scrapping trials would also rob this year’s batches of heterogeneity on campus, since birds of the same feather will then occupy seats that could have been awarded to students who bring something entirely different to the table. Absence of new talent will be a huge loss to DU’s thriving culture of arts, drama, music and dance.
Disdain for arts and artists
India is considered the exotic land which produces truckloads of engineers and MBA graduates every year, where one must study science but believe in the power of the cow.This thought rings true, but do we want India’s identity to be reduced to just this?
When waxing eloquent about India’s rich culture, its heritage, art, and culinary traditions are always emphasised. And yet, there’s an inexplicable disdain for those who pursue arts in the country.
The ease with which India’s top-most central university can take a decision to scrap a quota that fosters creativity beyond traditional academia exemplifies how averse we are to those who wish to pursue anything other than the ‘practical’ science, engineering or commerce streams.
An example of this toxic culture undermining the arts was evident when people were justifying Jawaharlal Nehru University’s fee hike on the assumption that good-for-nothing 30-year-olds were enrolled in the country’s premier educational institution with the sole objective of mooching off taxpayers’ money.
TV news anchors questioned the rationale behind funding subjects such as South African literature, or studying Russian as a language. Their argument was that the addition of such education to the country is negligible, as compared to commerce or science.
Arts and humanities students are equipped to develop a more well-informed and critical worldview. Perhaps, if we studied social sciences more we would be less racist, sexist and casteist.
To be fair, sidelining the interests of creative students seems completely understandable, since aspiring artists are often looked down upon for not instead focusing on important skills like mugging up their book word-by-word. But then Delhi University should stop taking pride in all the famous artists who are its alumnus, because its approach right now will not help it produce the next Shah Rukh Khan or Anurag Kashyap.
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