FEAR, LOATHING AND ENVIRONMENTALISM: THE SNAKES ISSUE
The issue regarding snakes on campus has been a serious one and this makes the lack of discussion on the same a cause for concern. This lack has not just been in the direction of a solution but even the more essential aspects of awareness and medical aid. The problem came into sharper relief while surveying the students on questions relating to the presence of snakes on campus, and their awareness relating to the same. In this vein, we have surveyed various interested parties and stake holders in college, who vary both in their temporal relation towards this college and their interest towards the college. The primary groups surveyed include a broad typology between the junior-most batches, the third years and finally the penultimate and final year students. Another perspective that we have explored is that of the administration and faculty.
The survey team first interacted with the juniors of the University. There were seven students from first year and second year who were interviewed and expressed their concerns regarding the presence of snakes in abundance. The importance of this group serves as a litmus test for the current attitudes towards snakes in the wake of the increased awareness on campus. They also form an interesting footnote that contrasts their levels of awareness vis-à-vis their counterparts in senior batches.
Most of the students didn’t expect presence of snakes at the college. For most of the students, encounters with snakes was an event that they had rarely, if ever faced before. Most of them never had any encounter before coming to University. The majority of students are scared of snakes, and the fear has triggered hate against snakes. One obvious cause for the same is lack of awareness.
During the interaction, all the students believed that all snakes are harmful. Most of them aren’t even aware of the names of the common snakes which we might encounter at the college. This is a very hazardous situation as identification of snake is the first information that is required before administration of anti venom or other medicines in case of a snake bite incident. The knowledge on identification is restricted to popular tropes wherein the surveyed persons were scared of all ‘hooded’ of snakes and judged threat from a snake based upon ‘hood’, color and length.
All the students said in unison that they will run away. A few first years said that they will call the seniors who have experience in handling snakes, or the guards around them. All accepted that they have no knowledge about the first aid to be administered after snake bite. A few tried to answer this question but their techniques were wrong.
Most of the first year students find the mails circulated for ‘snake awareness’ of great utility. To an extent, it also helped them in clearing their misconception about snakes. But interestingly, most of the second years don’t remember anything about the mails. This might imply that the frequency of such mails can be increased. Further it might also suggest that with time, the students accept the presence of snakes and don’t find it significant enough to educate themselves.
Most of the students were of opinion that the ideal solution would be to bring mongooses into the campus. One person, XY, further said,” In my opinion, snakes should be killed as soon as we see them. This is not for any ego issue, but for purpose of safety. Also, something must be done to stop their breeding.” One student says, “This campus is surrounded by forest, it is obvious that snakes will be present. Instead of killing them, we should get street lights in all the areas of campus, specially the path to the mess via lawn.”
They also criticized the administration. One of the student says,” I think we should definitely do what we are doing right now, but also have trained experts catching the snakes instead of students.” This statement is with regard to the safety of the senior students, who generally take up task of catching snakes and then releasing them in safe areas. It is these students who are informed at first whenever a snake is found on campus.
The majority of junior students are not aware of the medical infrastructure which has been implemented on the campus to deal with the unfortunate situation of a snake bite. They have no idea whether the facilities are up to any recognised standards or not. This further reveals the lack of awareness both on the part of administration and students. One of the students says, “Just because snake bite has not occurred in past, doesn’t mean it will never happen in future.” It should be kept in mind that real problem is not the presence of snakes, but the absence of knowledge, awareness, and proper facilities.
Eight students belonging to the third year were surveyed personally to arrive at the following observations. This group stands as a handy intermediary point between the ignorance of the first and second batches and the obsolescence of the final year students. As such, third years can be expected to have the biggest stake in addressing the issue due to a combination of factors of experience and knowledge
Firstly, the initial reaction of fear was expressed in one of two ways on encountering a snake. Either screaming and running or slowly backing away and locking the snake in if possible. Both of these were clearly conveyed as a reaction induced by the fear. Further questioning the basis of the fear did not show the presence of any previous experience of trauma related to snakes but were simply an instinctive reaction due to the perception of these creatures as venomous and life-threatening. The justifications, however ranged from classifying all snakes as “plain evil”, or ”absolutely disgusting” to an articulation of fear that was not specific to snakes, but a reaction similar to what one would feel towards any creatures that could potentially harm you. Thus the first reaction to encountering a snake seems to be, as one student put it, attributable to a desire to not die of a snake attack.
Secondly, a general reaction to the presence of snakes, even to the ones who have not directly encountered one, was sought. The responses were not vastly different as students were mostly terrified of the idea that snakes could be found anywhere on campus. The fact that “they are so quick” and “manoeuvre around difficult areas so fast and easily” were some of the reasons why the mere presence of snakes on campus was considered extremely unsafe by the students.
The students were questioned on the level of awareness they have regarding snakes with reference to either identification and/or first aid. They were asked also, if the level of awareness has increased after entry into the campus because, firstly, the incidences of encountering one have increased and secondly, there have been several e-mails sent to aid the students in identifying and employing personal safety standards, among other things. Being students of third year, the interviewees were expected to have had a reasonably long exposure to a series of such mails. The responses to the questions were mixed as students either claimed to have forgotten the contents of the mails, “retained only terrifying information like the fact that snakes can climb stairs” or simply not opened these mails and were hence at various levels of cluelessness. On the other hand, there were some students who thought that they were slightly better equipped, more watchful and have, most importantly, learnt that not all snakes are venomous and the non-venomous kind didn’t pose a threat. However, that would bring us to the next cause for concern; the fact that none of the surveyed students considered themselves able enough to identify snakes and would not, consequently, be able to differentiate venomous and non-venomous varieties.
The awareness with respect to first aid for snake bites were also lacking as the students had no idea as to any course of action, while one person said that they would tie a cloth over the bite to stem the flow of venom to the rest of the body but didn’t know further procedure.
The surveyed students were asked about what could be done to handle the situation better. The suggestions saw both extremes as some students wanted the campus to be devoid of snakes by any means whatsoever. Even as one student suggested that the college should get mongoose and “purge this place of the blessed creatures”, others felt that the possibility of safely removing the snakes from the campus and transferring them to better suited habitat must be explored. It was felt that the administration should perhaps get in touch with people equipped with dealing with snakes and employ them instead of relying on students to take care of themselves. The suggestion stemmed from the fear of absence of the two students currently equipped to deal with the situation, because an immediate corollary reaction to fear on encountering a snake is to call one of these students for aid and in their absence, there was no alternative safe solution available to the students. It was felt that it was “extremely reckless” of the administration to let students deal with the issue irrespective of how equipped they might be. Other suggestions included the purchase of anti-venom and safe modes of administering the same as well the oft repeated suggestion that an identification manual ought to be circulated among students to aid with awareness of what snakes they are encountering which also becomes crucial while dealing with the administration of anti-venom in case of emergencies.
It was unanimously agreed by all the students surveyed that the campus had absolutely no medical infrastructure that enabled them to deal with a case of snake-bite. Some students said that even if there was a stock of anti-venom, there weren’t any qualified medical personnel equipped to administer the same and this was clearly a serious issue as the misadministration of anti-venom could be as life-threatening as the snake bite, if not more. It was suggested that there should also be a few sessions on first aid given to students to inform them on how to act immediately after a snake-bite before seeking medical aid. And the obvious extension to this being that on seeking such medical aid, the same is available readily and efficiently so as to not distress the students further. The need for a qualified medical professional available at all times as well as a functional ambulance was severely advocated for unanimously.
The nest group that is being surveyed is a collection of senior students, drawn solely from the 4th and 5th year batches. It was important for us to target the said group in order to explore the temporal aspect to the attitudes towards snakes in college. These students, by virtue of having been on campus for 4 and 5 years respectively, have the gift of retrospection and form a handy litmus test towards how attitudes towards snakes have changed over time in college. Another insight that this group brings is that they are in a better position to judge the changes in awareness and preparedness on campus towards snakes.
All of the people surveyed agreed that they came into law school in their first years with attitudes towards snakes that were at best, mildly fearful and at worst, diagnosed phobia of snakes and other poisonous creatures (it is important to note that OurSchool is also home to many scorpions). However, they all broadly agree that in many respects, their attitudes towards snakes has taken a turn for the better. One student, AB, told us of how after attending a talk on the increasing environmental change around Shamirpet, she had been forced to understand the part that displacement played in pushing an unusually large number of snakes towards campus. More than half of those surveyed recalled the attitude in OurSchool towards snakes in their initial years. In the absence of any awareness, preparedness or skills, all snake sightings were inevitably met with panic and the inevitable death of the snake at the hands of the security guards of the institution. One interviewee, SB, recalled an instance where he personally witnessed a perfectly harmless rat snake being killed by the guards because of the prevalent attitude.
The attitudinal change came for many in the 5th year, through their interactions with their batch mates, who would hold forth on the subject and the harms of such an approach. For those in the 4th year such sensitization was primarily carried out through emails that were circulated to the batch. A clear and consistent response was that initially the increased awareness of dangers on campus, made most of them far more nervous and consequently cautious while stepping out. Secondarily, and variably, it raised the awareness and sensitivity towards issues of lack of medical awareness, the need to develop antivenom infrastructure and finally (and only in certain cases) the need to consider the ecological impacts and ethical costs of the indiscriminate killing of the snakes.
Needless to say, the senior students displayed, by far the most moderate attitude towards the presence of snakes on campus in college, with certain responses ranging from utter indifference to their presence, to a cautious state where the occurrence of snakes has become a normalized part of the experience of college. One particular student, who once found a snake in his cupboard, insists that this in retrospect is a fond memory, part and parcel of the more rooted nature of living in college alongside the clear skies, the lake and the fresh air. Furthermore, these students were all able to mention at least certain basic techniques for addressing the contingency of a snake bite and had moderate knowledge about anti venom and where to procure them from in case of an emergency
It is the general perspective of the student community that more involvement is necessary from the administration in order to manage the issue of snakes on campus. The faculty and the non-teaching staff of the campus are well aware of the issue at hand but also don’t always possess the level of awareness desirable to deal with the same. Thus it becomes vitally important to gauge their reactions.
On questioning the staff, it became clear that most of the problems that the students are grappling with also affect the members of staff who also acknowledge that they need to be better aware and prepared. This is especially true in the case of guards who inevitably happen to be one of the first ones who come to know of snake sightings. On surveying them, it was clear that they are also largely scared of the creatures and their first instinct is to beat them to death irrespective of whether or not these creatures are venomous and are actually threatening. On interaction with the guards, we get to know that they aren’t aware of the best method to deal with snakes. They do their job of trying to catch it and keep students and others safe. Safety of snakes is none of their concern. Hence they don’t hesitate in killing a snake. Once when a snake was found inside hostel, the students called guards, and together killed the snake. Afterwards it was found out that the snake wasn’t venomous. This is seen as rather unfortunate by those sections of students who advocate for the safe transfer of even dangerous snakes.
The above incidents shows that even the guards are required to go through proper training to deal with snakes. It is necessary both for the safety of snakes as well as guards. Snakes aren’t supposed to be killed. They being aware of right techniques and with proper equipments will be in a position to catch snake, and not to kill it. Further, it would reduce the fear from the minds of both guards as well as students.
Therefore, in order to deal with the issue more effectively, awareness and direct involvement of the staff of the campus becomes crucial. This duty includes not only being more aware and prepared personally but also in employing able personnel who would be able to provide aid in cases of emergencies and advocating and actively pursuing the goals of better awareness for the entire community.
The survey exhibited that the students and administration considered the issue of snakes on campus as one requiring immediate attention and also that nothing constructive was being done in this direction. Lack of better modes of creating awareness and, more importantly, lack of medical facilities are concerns that warrant swift redressal.