I recently read an article on the Kafila blog–more like an angry, reflective rant–written by some students from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. To quickly summarize, the piece criticized the draconian views of the principal of St. Stephen’s College regarding curfews on women’s dormitories and his stymieing of his students’ democratic ideals of discussion, protest, and open criticism. More broadly, though, the article’s writers seemed to be speaking about the larger stagnant institution of Indian higher education, overseen by a class of rigid administrators represented by this sexist and bigoted principal, as described by the students. The students’ frustration was palpable in the text and their story felt to me like a perfect example of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Except Indian students are not an unstoppable force. Not even close.
In 2007, I was a student at St. Stephen’s College for seven months as part of a study abroad program offered by my home institution, Brown University. In as many ways as possible, I tried to become a Stephanian: I joined the football (soccer) team, acted in a school play written and directed by an Indian peer, performed in the school talent show, was a member of the Honors Economics Society, and went to several student events on and off campus. More importantly, though, I was a frequenter of the school’s cafe and enjoyed endless chai and butter toasts with my Indian peers under the monotonous relief of the fans spinning overhead. Most of my friends were third years, like me, and all of them were obviously very bright. I was curious about their plans after they graduated. With only a few exceptions, they were planning on pursuing second undergraduate degrees at foreign universities.