“The campus saw an unfortunate demise of Mr. Alok Pandey, a 33 year old PhD student in the department of Material Science yesterday afternoon. Mr. Pandey reported to HC with a neck and chest* pain around 2:15 pm. He was administered an injection for relieving pain followed by an ECG which indicated a severe case of heart attack. He was referred to the Cardiology Institute in the city and was declared brought dead there.
Since then, the campus has erupted into many protests and marches as it has been alleged that the demise was partly due to negligence at the end of Health Centre.”- Vox Populi report dated 10th August.
While many of us may not have known Alok, his sudden death struck the deepest of chords in our hearts. He instantly turned into a dear friend, whose bright face we could almost visualise in our heads. Not just his peers pursuing their PhDs, but even undergraduate students, professors and staff members found a face to stand for their own unpleasant experiences at the Health Centre (HC). “It could have been any one of us” – was the fear that echoed in their passionate demands to heal what some of the protestors termed as the “Death Centre”.
For fifty-three hours, protesters braved the blazing sun, merciless rain and sleepless nights to eke out words from the seemingly passive administration. Rarely has the campus seen such a huge non-incentivized crowd come together spontaneously. A collective conscience which resonated with someone else’s pain and the protesters’ own deeper insecurities propelled the struggle.
Tragedies, it is said, bring out both the best and worst in us. The mob encircled the Director and some other professors at the SAC chauraha for an entire night interspersed with rain. Disruption became the norm as the power was cut down and roads were blocked. Some students complained of facing derision from a section of protesters for not participating wholeheartedly. In the meeting with IAC (Institute Advisory Committee) in Lecture Hall 20, the administration was faced with the resentment of over a thousand attendees. Ugliness only mounted as some students shouted out unfeeling remarks to the authorities when they did not get answers to their questions. Perhaps, promptness at the end of the administration could have prevented the escalation of the protest to such an extent.
However, in the IAC meeting that followed, the four demands raised by the students were finally accepted. The first three pertained to the immediate concern of delivering justice to Alok, while the fourth one called for a comprehensive investigation of the functioning of the HC.
Alok’s demise and the ensuing protest pushed us out of our cocooned lives. Though the protesters dispersed contentedly once their demands were accepted, we mustn’t let the flame in our hearts diffuse, for the larger goal is still to be attained. While the protests saw a thumping participation from students, only a few of them chose to attend the following General Body Meeting (GBM) and Students’ Senate meeting which were called to discuss HC reforms. Students have to be stakeholders in this exercise as much as the authorities and Vox urges them to take up a proactive role in coming up with innovative solutions to the issues that surround us. We mustn’t retract to our complacent lives and should make use of the various platforms offered by the institute for us to drive changes in the system.
Once goodwill, empathy and transparency are fostered amongst the members of our community, we wouldn’t have to see blame games on sensitive issues, authorities hushing things up or ugly face-offs between students and administrators. Instead, we’d build a democratic community with open minded individuals, actively and rationally debating the affairs of concern and assuming responsibility for their actions.
Let Alok’s tragic demise not go in vain. Let this historic movement stir our retrieval from the quagmire of complacency.
*as reported in the director’s communique. It was claimed by some that Alok reported pain in his neck and shoulder.