Special ‘Quota’ for Kota Students Raises Questions About the Special Privilege
• Students and migrants from northeast in cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Pune are facing a double whammy: on one side is the lockdown and on the other is the abusive racial slur.
A 2,000 kilometre bus journey criss-crossing five states, a chartered aircraft and high level liaisoning - all form a part of a story of the return of 391 students from the coaching hub of Kota in Rajasthan even as tens of thousands of stranded students in various corners of the country still wait for their turn (or maybe ‘quota’) to return home amidst the ongoing lockdown.
“After a long journey from Kota 391 children are back, with smiles & cheers. To ensure they & their families remain safe, we are putting them into 14-day quarantine. Today around 3 am, I & @Pijush_hazarika received them and ensured smooth shifting at Sarusajai Sports,” health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) tweeted on April 26, 2020.
After a long journey from Kota 391 children are back, with smiles & cheers. To ensure they & their families remain safe, we are putting them into 14-day quarantine. Today around 3 am, I & @Pijush_hazarika received them and ensured smooth shifting at Sarusajai Sports Complex. pic.twitter.com/2kg0SrQqkG— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) April 26, 2020
Like these 391 students, a host of other students from Assam who are stranded in different corners of the country like Mumbai, Pune, New Delhi, Bangalore and other cities also want to smile and cheer once they touch base with their homeland.
A fervent plea from a mother on the health minister Sarma’s tweet deck reads, “I request your honour to kindly help me and my daughter in such a dire situation to get out from Ranchi to Guwahati by my pvt. Vehicle via state of Bihar and West Bengal. My 10y son in Ghy and on 13th Apr got injured near his chest and is under medication.”
The instant reply by Sarma was, “We will facilitate your journey once you reach boundary of Assam.”
There are several such tweets from stranded citizens and students from Assam in the tweet timeline of the health minister who are pleading for help to return to their loved ones.
Now questions are being raised on the yardstick the government is adopting in bringing back the stranded students.
A team of officials from the state were sent on a private learjet to facilitate the return of students from Kota - a town famed for its coaching institutes and which offers training for competitive medical and engineering examinations at astronomical rates.
“Why only from Kota, there are thousands of students who are stuck in places like Pune, Bangalore, Delhi and other places in the lockdown. What about them? Is the government taking any step in this regard?” questioned educationist Simanta Goswami.
One school of thought which is gaining traction is that special treatment being meted out to the return of the students from Kota is due to the fact that most of them are wards of influential and wealthy people of the state.
BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh was the first state to make arrangements for their evacuation; 300 buses were sent to bring back these students from Rajasthan.
However, Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, a BJP ally, had criticised the move calling it "injustice" to the lockdown and other people who have not got this opportunity.
In fact, students and migrants from northeast in cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Pune are facing a double whammy: on one side is the lockdown and on the other is the abusive racial slur.
On March 31, the body of 22-year old Aldrin Lyngdoh from Shillong was found hanging in the terrace of a restaurant in Agra where he had worked. His suicide note said that the owner had asked him “to leave the place.” He had no way to come back home and so suicide was seemingly his only option.
Even as this is being written, news comes that plenty of students are still stranded in Kota itself and for various reasons could not among the privileged 391 who eventually boarded the buses.
A student still stuck in Kota informed, "I had no information about the buses provided by the Assam government. When I learned about it, it was too late. They left the very next morning, that is, 24th April. So I am still living in the hostel."
However, another student from Guwahati of the same coaching institute had a different story to tell. "As far as I know, the Kota administration asked the coaching institutes to provide the list of students from Assam. My name was also given and then a Whatsapp group of all the students were formed. I believe there were more than one such Whatsapp group as my group was named Group 2. So the details of the journey were provided and the students finally left."
"I couldn't go due to some personal issues and I cannot confirm if all the students in the Whatsapp groups got to return home," she added.
When asked why her name was provided and not the other student from the same institute she replied, "I think there are still many students stranded in Kota from Assam. But I am not sure why we were all not included. There might be some criteria I am not aware of.
Both the students declined to be named for personal reasons. Moreover, students stranded in other cities also had tales to tell.
Vridhi Sureka, a student of event management in Kolkata, hails from Guwahati. Upon hearing the news of students being brought back from Kota, she too wished to ask the government for similar aid. Speaking to G Plus about being stranded in Kolkata, she said, "I had gone to Guwahati to celebrate Holi with my family and reached Kolkata on March 14 because my classes and events were scheduled. However, on March 15 we were notified about all institutions getting shut down due to Coronavirus. I have been stranded in Kolkata, away from my family, since then."
Vridhi is currently staying with her relatives at Raniganj, two hours away from Kolkata, since most of the people in her PG have gone to their hometowns.
While there are no estimates of the number of students from Assam studying outside the state, the numbers will not be small to ignore.
Another one student from Bangalore, Tanuz Nath from Duliajan in Assam said, "I have just passed out from my institute and was waiting for campus placement."
"Now that the Assam government is helping out students from Kota I think we should also be allowed to move back and I am ready to pay. However, it looks like the government is only looking at students pursuing education and not passed out candidates," he added.
He further added that the life is Bangalore is stricter than any other states and because of the lock-down people have become mentally disturbed having been confined to PGs and rented homes.
Given this lopsided situation, eyebrows are also being raised at the cost incurred in sending government personnel in a private Learjet to Kota to organize the bus trip home. The same could have been remotely organized. Also, the health minister personally supervising the arrival of the buses as late in the night as 3 AM are making people wonder about the huge privilege accorded to this select lot.
A worrying factor: Johnson Thomas, director at Aasra, the most used suicide helpline In India, said in an interview to a national portal, “There has been a spurt in calls from people from northeast. They include students as well as workers who feel cut off. They are not only facing discrimination, but also cannot go back home.”