Chances are that if you have not been spending your semester in the jungle, you would have heard about the incident regarding the belly dancers at the Mood Indigo orientation. The scene was pretty much as you can envisage – belly dancers were brought in to attract the impressionable freshmen and create an aura of awe and wonder about the ‘Biggest Fest of its kind in Asia’.
Unfortunately, external media bodies got wind of the orientation and published an elaborate article highlighting the views of Delhi College heads and how they would never allow such a ‘blasphemy’ to take place in their college. Following this, a certain Mr. Ranjan Zed, President of Universal Society of Hinduism, asked for launching a thorough enquiry into this episode and demanded a public apology from the Director.
How did the Institute Respond?
In previous years, no action was taken when belly dancers performed at the MI All Team Meet.
However, this time around, the institute docked MI one pronite. The then Dean of Student Affairs, Prof. Gopalan told us that “the involvement of my office was merely restricted to signing the permission forms. Post that, the orientation organizers were deemed responsible for their content. We took a lenient view and never raked the content sheet, as it was very difficult for this office to micro-manage the orientations. However, as the issue spiraled out of control, the Director wanted to know how this could have happened, bringing adverse publicity to IITB. Since MI never took an official permission for this event, it was as if they sneaked this in. The discussion between me and the Director led to a penalty that had to be imposed. Monetary fines had been imposed in the past, but had proved ineffective. We wanted the whole team to resign, but that was deemed impractical, so we decided to scrap a pronite. Also, post this fiasco, all the bodies holding orientations will now be required to fill up a content sheet detailing the sequence of activities, to get permission. Also, I had written a letter to the Director when I was the Dean, saying that IBs have gone overboard, and that he should look in to the matter, to limit the number of orientations to a bare minimum.”
The scrapping of a pronite, though hard on the organizers, will certainly hurt the crowd more. Not only would the festival lose some of its sheen, it would also deny the public the chance to experience another enthralling night through no fault of their own.
Whose fault was it and who did they punish?
The administrators have to take note when the institute’s reputation is on the line, but put yourself in the shoes of the MI core team and things look slightly different. One would assume that since previously they had belly dancers in their All Team Meet and Salsa dancers at their orientation, their actions this year would have been legitimate as well. To declare an activity a crime after it has been committed, is a form of retrospective prosecution – something that almost no constitution in the world allows.
The new DoSA, Prof. Yajnik responded by saying that the Dean’s office does not believe in micromanaging orientation proceedings. They give students a free run, trusting them to regulate the content wisely, at the same time assuming that they are responsible enough to do so and will not abuse this trust. The Dean’s office only steps in when it believes that the reputation of the institute is at stake. Belly dancers at an orientation are a gross contradiction to the academic setting and decorum of the campus and hence, such severe action was necessitated.
The Dean’s model gives students freedoms until someone abuses that trust; in contrast to a ‘license raj’ wherein we have to obtain permissions for every activity we do, this model is mindful of the fact that we are responsible adults and places in us, this implicit faith. This will help maximize student liberties in the long run as long as we act responsibly and not sully the institute’s name. Some students though are still not convinced whether belly dancers at an orientation is such a taboo.
Taking a bird’s eye view
Entering IIT is a life changing experience for most of us, which often entails living in a new city with minimal parental support and leaving behind an established friend circle. Furthermore, freshmen face a plethora of activities that they can now pursue. They have pre-conceived notions about life at IITB, often from tutors at coaching classes or family and friends. Such information tends to reflect the personal experiences of those individuals to a great extent. Case in point is the notion that IIT graduates earn an astronomical pay. The synergy between massive social change and information opacity leads to freshmen being extremely impressionable. As a community, we have a two-fold obligation to ease this social transformation and to bridge the information gap which exists. This should be the goal of orientations and mentorship programs, but some faculty and students hold the opinion that orientations today have gone astray.
An Orientation in Ethics
As seniors organizing orientations for freshmen we must keep the above two obligations in mind. The opportunity to hold an orientation comes with the responsibility to provide balanced information to the audience. Unfortunately, instead of becoming the guiding lights, they have become flashy, advertising tools to lure gullible freshmen. Some orientations tend to overshadow others, which tends to create an illusory pecking order. Orientations can be made more balanced by removing performances which are not intrinsically linked to the event one is speaking about. A dance performance at an InSync orientation is acceptable because the club actually affords the student the opportunity to perform such an activity. But participation in MI’s dance competition is not contingent on you working as an organizer; in fact the work of an organizer is very different, hence a dance performance at the orientation might seem out of place. Like all ethical matters, there is a flip side to this one as well. Overall Coordinator of MI, Swapnil Chichani defends the dance act by saying that he needs to tell the audience what MI is all about, first, and this they do by inviting performers and artists from last year’s MI; the actual specifics of the work involved are dealt with later in the All Team Meet. To put this view into perspective, MI has a range of alternatives, like look back videos, photos and experiences of charismatic ex-organizers which it can use, so it’s not a case of “dancers or nothing”. One might still argue that MI would not be able to represent itself in the best possible way or that its popularity among the freshmen would fall. But one must ask, “Are orientations being held to ensure that Fests are popular or to provide balanced information to the freshmen?”
Too much, Too soon?
Another issue objected to, is the disproportionately large amount of time consumed by these orientations, which adversely affects students’ academic performance. A possible solution can be to follow a minimalistic philosophy of laying out the structure of the cultural, sports and technical bodies. Each club would then have a minimalistic time slot to talk about their club. This information is sufficient to inform freshmen about what is on offer and what steps they should take if they want to participate; more information if required could be imparted in the club’s first meet. On suggesting the same to the MI OC, Swapnil, insisted that MI would accept the idea of smaller and fewer orientations, provided that there was uniformity across the board and each and every department of MI be treated on par with other clubs and that each department of MI be given the same time as an institute club to present itself to students.
In line with the above mentioned priorities, we laud the recent measures which restrict the distribution of freebies in orientations.