Stinging irony

Print edition :

Sandeep Gupta with the cardboard "awarded" to him instead of the degree. Photo: By Special Arrangement

SANDEEP GUPTA is a 26-year-old graduate in law from Benaras Hindu University. He belongs to the OBC-NC (Other Backward Caste-non creamy layer) section of society; this means his family earns less than Rs.6 lakh a year. He is from Hasua village in Siwan district of Bihar and his father is a landless labourer who used to sell vegetables in Jamshedpur before two heart attacks forced him to stop working.

With the support of a few relatives, Sandeep raised Rs.73,000 for the first semester of his year-long master’s course (LLM-Access to Justice) at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The course is designed to focus on social law, to get justice for Adivasis, landless labourers and others who need it but cannot access it. For his second semester, Sandeep raised Rs.46,000 from a non-governmental organisation trust. The rest he hoped to pay once he got a job on the basis of his provisional degree. But it was not to be.

At the convocation at TISS on May 7, Sandeep received his “degree” in an envelope like everyone else. “We had all been instructed not to open our envelopes during the ceremony or in the hall. But I was so excited that I peeped into the envelope and I was shocked to see a piece of cardboard on which was written that I had not paid my dues. I slipped it back in. I was so embarrassed that my friends would see it. In past years when students defaulted on fees, the institute gave a provisional degree and a mark sheet,” he said.

Responding to this, Dr P.K. Shajahan, Dean, Students’ Affairs and Placements, said: “Students who have not paid the fees are generally not provided the degrees. However, since the convocation is a once-in-a-lifetime event, we allowed them to participate in the convocation procession. While they are allowed to be part of the process, they do not get the degrees till they clear their dues. After the convocation is over and upon the completion of some formalities, they are provided certified copies of their certificates for getting jobs, etc. There are cases where we have given their original degrees if that was a requirement for getting a job or for admission to higher studies.”

Sandeep, however, has only received the piece of cardboard. The ironies here are obvious: Sandeep comes from a socially deprived background, and he studies an Access to Justice course at an institute that is apparently committed to helping the socially and economically underprivileged, yet he is at the receiving end of injustice. He is among the first generation to be educated in his family.

Sandeep now plans to get a job on the basis of his LLB to pay TISS and get his LLM degree and do what he really wants to: fight for the rights of those who do not even know they have rights.


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