SVNIT Dean: Freedom vs Restrictions is a balancing act

Prof
H.B. Naik is the Student Affairs Dean at Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute
of Technology (SVNIT), Gujarat. In the absence of a full time Director at
SVNIT, he is the sole manager of integral student welfare decisions at the
institute. In an exclusive interview with PaGaLGuY, Prof Naik spoke about
various student issues like ragging, cultural shifts, student elections,
women’s empowerment, etc.

1. What
kind of changes have come about in student welfare after you were appointed as Dean?

Earlier, the students’
council (StuCo) was selected by faculty members. In April 2014, SVNIT held
student body elections for the first time in its history. Last year, the entire
college voted for the Student General Secretary, Student Representatives and Hostel
Council. In fact, I was always of the opinion that there should be an elected
body in place which handles all student related activities. It was the decision
of the board of governors to have elections. We were expecting some sort of
confusion or chaos during the election process, but thankfully, everything went
smoothly. The new system of elections has led to the formation of a StuCo that is
very coherent. Groupism based on language, state, interests, etc. has also
reduced.

Currently, we
are only short of a Director. Once that matter is solved, there are several
welfare activities that I shall be implementing in the coming months.

2. Are
there any gender biases or cultural rifts among students?

Engineering usually
sees fewer female students than other fields. So gender rifts are not very
uncommon. In our institute, we have 650-700 girls against a total strength of 4500
students, which is good ratio to maintain. As for cultural bias, this institute
is a melting pot. On a mass level, all students interact with each other
equally.

3. What kinds
of measures are taken for women empowerment or protection?

For the women students’
protection, there is a special helpline. Students can email their problems to
the helpline which is accessible to only 3 people / faculty members. The
helpline was started 3-4 years ago as a result of a directive from the Ministry
of HRD. As of now, there are no women’s empowerment groups or activities. While
there hasn’t been any demand for such groups, the institute does not deny their
incubation.  

4. Are
there any incidents of ragging? What measures are taken to control ragging?

Until 2010, there
were several cases of ragging on campus and in the hostels. There is enough awareness
about ragging in the institute. As a measure of anti-ragging, senior students aren’t
allowed to meet freshers or enter their hostel buildings for atleast 6 months
without prior permission. This system has been in place for 6-7 years and
students haven’t raised any issues against it. I personally believe that a
system should be such that it promotes freedom and fewer restrictions. However,
when ragging incidents take place, students don’t like to experiment with
liberalisation. These restrictions were quite productive at a time when
students felt insecure even in their own hostel rooms. We would now like to
alter these restrictions on seniors meeting freshers, and we also have the
opportunity now that there have been no cases of ragging in the past 5 years.

5. Why
is SVNIT the only NIT that doesn’t provide a non-veg mess?

The culture of
Gujarat (the state hosting SVNIT) plays a huge role in this decision. Most
people here are Jains or vegetarians and hence the demand for non-veg food is
very low. When I joined this
institute in 1984, there was a strict no non veg food policy. However, over the
years, we have altered that policy to make it more accommodating to those who
eat egg based food products. When I went to IIT Bombay, I noticed that Jain
students used to eat boiled food on the same table as students eating non veg
food. Thus, we can work towards bringing tolerance among students relating to
their eating habits. But such changes need time and the presence of a full-time
Director on campus.

Read Next