Caregiver’s stress or psychiatric emergency

On Saturday, the past week, a woman in her early forties, came with her mother and child to see me. The person who needed a counseling intervention was her mother, who came in with a deeply disturbed state of mind. I felt her inner fabric had been suddenly jolted due to a shock and catapulted her into a state from which she could not recover, with her own means.

According to the description of the daughter initially, and later corroborated by the mother herself, possibly two significant events in her life had lead to that. In the distant past, she had lost her spouse, in 2009, which possibly triggered off a grief which could not be duly addressed, or if it was it was not assimilated properly. However, the lady lived a fairly active life despite that, with one of her other daughters, in Bombay. In the recent past, the daughter who accompanied her to meet me, moved from Bombay to Goa, with her family, in response to her husband’s need for better work prospects. That set off another degree of anxiety in her heart, which remained unarticulated.

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All of a sudden the daughter became unwell (she had a bipolar diagnosis) due to adjustment stress in a new situation, whilst otherwise she had been quite stable for long years and off medication of any sort. The news of her daughter falling sick made the mother panic, and her anxiety took a turn for the worse- pushing her off the brink and rattling her fragile balance significantly.

When she came to meet me, for her daughter thought the next intervention required would be counseling/therapy, her discomfort and constant talk made me immediately decide that this was not someone who needed counseling support but immediate relief from her ‘symptoms’. The talk was ceaseless, she was frantic, tearful, anxious, repetitive, and kept saying that she would not take any medicine. The daughter was trying her level best to seek out any intervention that would work for her. I decided within five- seven minutes of listening to her that she would not have any effect of counseling, and requested her to take homeopathy, which she had been taking earlier as well.  But it had not been effective of late. I even referred my own doctor to them, lest their doctor have a limited repertoire, which is mostly the case with homeopathy. Before coming to meet me they had tried other ‘treatment’ options of reflexology, possibly reiki and other things.

I called up my doctor and also made her talk to him, and requested him to intervene, give a prescription which would be followed here in Goa. This is not something that we do frequently- because every doctor needs to meet their patients face-to-face. Doctor sa’ab was kind enough to relent, seeing the lady hysterical, and reporting lack of interest in anything in life, suicidal ideas, and several other indicators.

However , the catch in the whole picture was that she kept saying, that, if my daughter (indicating to the woman with her) comes back to Bombay I will be fine. This was a peculiar situation, because her deepest attachment seems to be with her daughter who is already married with a child of her own. The mother is so deeply attached to her, that it is almost like a parasitic attachment.

They stayed with me for over an hour, but since I had decided earlier, I did not put a bill on the exercise. What is the point of taking money when the recipient is not ready for what you have to offer- I cannot be a mercenary like a ‘professional’ if I remain untouched by human suffering, and focus just on the money that my practice can bring me. The more I thought about it, the more ethical I thought my decision was. Of course I could have told them to leave quickly, but considering they had come a long way, I just let them stay and talk about how to go about it and of course explaining to the daughter the medicines the doctor  had prescribed, since it was me who had spoken to him not her.

The Next Action

Today is Monday, and according to me today the whole routine would have fallen in place. However the daughter called me up today before noon and said her mother was refusing to take the medicines and had gone back to her earlier prescription of homeopathy. She reported a further hardening in the head and was unstoppable. I felt anguished to hear that. I had seen the mother to be a headstrong lady and I could see she was making it difficult for everyone around her to deal with the situation and only making it worse, in every possible way.

That brought to mind the last resort of psychiatry. I thought there was no option but to sedate her to calm her down. It is a very sad thing when I myself have to recommend psychiatric medication to anyone, because I try the best that nobody should be pushed into it. But if there is no alternative left and the person is adamant, what else can the family do? Her behavior must be causing a great deal of stress to her daughter also, poor girl, who was bravely facing it, both in front of her husband and in front of her mother- keeping a calm exterior.

I thought for the time being the best option was to anyhow medicate the lady and help her calm down. Over time when things stabilize and she has had some sleep due to sedation, possibly she would look for other ways to deal with her stresses and the triggers. For now her franticness would only make others spiral into the same. Her daughter said she was herself thinking of the same, as nothing else seemed to be working for now. In other words, the difficulty a family faces, pushes a person into forcible psychiatric intervention. The only trick is that at a suitable time the person has to be weaned away from psychiatric medication, because psychiatrists themselves will never prescribe it!

On that note we parted over the phone- me with a resignation that only when people are willing to get well and be compliant to recommendation of any sort, does an intervention work. Some people make difficult patients- they resist everything, for they know the better of it. I cannot but feel sorry when people have to be administered psychiatric medication, but I always hope that it would be a short term measure. Of course if the patient is complying, like me myself, homeopathy can work very well.

I do not see any recourse except for a devious manner of giving the medication or per force- which actually amounts to a human rights abuse. So that brings in the ethical dimension, as well as the dilemma- what could have been done alternatively? What can be done now? I am not sure today and I leave this post with this query.

Everyone will have a different response to this situation, but how does one decide. I do not know if they will come back to me, because they need not. But I will be around to support them in future, if they choose to. The mother certainly needs counseling to help her deal with the sense of loss that she is suffering from, and to help her focus on what is present in her life, rather than clinging on to adult children, who need to fly away from the nest, towards greener pastures.

I also hope that the daughter would not be unduly troubled by her mother’s suffering, as it creates a scope for her own suffering to surface once again.

On the last note, I am also wondering whether the mother’s suffering is not another face of the caregiver’s burden of looking after a child with bipolar and being tuned to her needs in an obsessive, fussing manner. But there is no way to find out about that, because I had no time to talk to them about their life together. Only this much could be ascertained within the scope that we had, once I felt it would not be proper to dig further into her psychic matrix. Whether this is an ’empty nest’ syndrome, a psychiatric emergency or another form of caregiver’s hyper-reaction to her daughter’s situation, piercing through her own frame, it is difficult to ascertain at this stage.

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The power play in university departments

I ought to have written this blog post longer ago, but spinal pain did not permit me to sit at the computer, to last as long as a blog post (naturally the priority is always the emails first of all)

I want to share my dismay at the sheer play of power that I got wind of from a recent dialogue with a graduate student pursuing a masters’ course in psychology in a prominent university in India. As part of the course they are also being offered a six-monthly exposure to counseling (I pray to god, they don’t become counselors after that- it would be a great disaster). As part of that course, they are also invited to undergo their own analysis for the briefest possible span of time. I asked the student how much the time was and who was doing the ‘analysis’.

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I was told that one of their professors, (who is known to me as an academic and not a therapist) listens to their dreams and interprets them. So what follows is the memory of my dialogue with the young scholar, that left me troubled and anguished for many days afterwards, but I will share the reasons of that after the dialogue that I quote. I represent me as M and the student as S.

M: So your teacher went through a dream analysis session with you? And what was the outcome of that?

S: The outcome was nothing specific, he gave me an explanation based on symbols, which he said were universal symbols, and which were part of his repertoire.

M: By talking to him, did some clarity emerge in the picture or put is differently, did you benefit from his dream analysis?

S: Yes mam, I gained some clarity in some respects about the dream?

M: What does that mean? Did it leave some unexplained things as well?

S: Actually it opened up some unexpected parts, which were left unattended to.

M: Really?! But there was no further dialogue with the teacher on them?

I was angered, because an academic who is not an analyst is not supposed to interpret dreams out of context for a student. Just because they have the power to demand from students a certain accountability does not mean they can pry open the lives of their students.

Unfortunately, Indian students are very vulnerable and docile by temperament, more so women. They would never think of raising their voice against this sort of an intrusion, which has no accountability. How can a university professor demand that his students tell him their dreams in a sporadic manner and then leave the dreams with whatever interpretation he knows best? There is nothing universal in dreams, except for the imagery. A dream has to make sense and have relevance for the person who sees the dream.

I remember in years of my own analysis with my therapist, we barely discussed dreams on more than two three occasions. It was never the centrality of our dialogues- if I had a dream that I wanted to talk about we did. There was never a nudge from her to share dreams. But whenever I did, the explanations that emerged were very deep and meaningful. I always felt it had been worthwhile to talk it out with her.

But look at this blatant misuse of a teacher’s power in the classroom. Of course he did not publicly hear the student out, but nevertheless when he was not an analyst, did not know what all it takes to unearth the symbolism inherent in a dream, by simply interpreting it in some universal way, he just showed for once again the patriarchal nature of our education system…where the souls of students can be cut open without due regard to their humanity and suffering, without a qualm or a guilt as to what pandora’s box you are opening up for them. SHAME ON HIGHER EDUCATION in India. Will we ever become sensitive towards our fellow human beings?

Why family support is NOT WORKING in mental health

This article can be downloaded from here, and is one of the resources offered by Antardhwanee. In this location, this article is titled, Families and Recovery.

In societies where social resources in health are limited, families play a crucial role in the illness and recovery of people. In mental health the case is even more so. For long periods, it is the family alone that bears the brunt of people’s illness and disabilities. Sometimes this may amount of a lifetime, and then the parents/siblings, who are the primary caregivers end up with the massive concern of who will look after their loved one[1], after their own demise.

Here is a brief list of findings, that research leads me to conclude, in the context of roles that families are playing, which ensure that people remain mentally ill, rather than recover and reintegrate back into society. This list is not exhaustive and as study is an ongoing process more thoughts will get added to this. Here are the beginning ideas.

Learning to be helpless together

Sometimes when one person is given a mental illness diagnosis, the whole family is paralyzed by a fear that mental illness has crept into their gene pool. They feel  extreme pressure due to the diagnosis and the social stigma associated with it. They all feel helpless about it and the infirmity or sense of loss that accompanies mental illness diagnosis of one person, in fact impacts everyone deeply. Secretly, they all start analyzing their own behaviours to see whether some traits of it are also lying within them!

In such a case if another member of the family faces anything of a similar nature, they are very quick to take action and take them for a ‘check up’ as well.

Protecting the loved one interminably

I have seen personally families being so defensive about their loved ones, that they keep protecting them from the world around. At times it amounts to the extreme case of hiding them from view, or not letting their loved one engage in any social milieu by themselves or without supervision. It aids in chocking both the people or set of people very severely, as no new ideas can come into the ecosystem, which does not interact with the outside world in any significant ways.

I have even seen another extreme, which surfaces in scenarios of marriage. I am not sure if this happens in India, but I have seen it here only. I have seen multiple families ‘hiding’ the mental illness diagnosis from the partners of their loved ones. As a result people are not able to remain truthful in relationships, and the trust that could be there between married partners never develops fully, because one partner knows they are not honest. This protectionism of the parents does not allow the partners to be one another’s greatest support systems, which marriage was traditionally meant to be.

Hero worshipping

Paradoxical as it may sound, I have found in many families that parents or siblings talk about their loved one, with a great fondness and regard, often attributing their mental illness to a ‘high IQ’, superior intelligence, artistic abilities or anything else like that. Though there are studies that have proved that mental illness is more positively linked to artistic creativity, the reverse is not true. Artistic creativity does not appear out of the blue, just because you are mentally ill and therefore your intelligence is also more than the average person.

By making their loved believe they are ‘smarter than the average’, families bestow them with a sense of entitlement, which means, just because they are more intelligent, they have a right to have moodiness, depressions, or any other attribute. This even inflates their ego and self belief that whatever they do or not do is well deserved, because now they are ‘mentally ill’.

I have seen in many cases that these loved ones, even when they come into counseling are so cocksure of themselves that they do not believe they will gain anything from counseling. They don’t. Their own intelligence is such a barrier, which their parents have created around them, that they are unable to use that intelligence for their own betterment by seeking help from anyone outside the circle.

Families ensure compliance to Medication

Since families have a great amount of faith in modern medicine they do not believe that psychiatry does not have a cure for mental illness. In fact, I would go to the extreme of saying that in families where parents or siblings are doctors or scientists, the possibility of anyone recovering from any serious mental illness is quite remote. Due to their unquestioning faith in modern medicine they keep medicating their loved ones, without ever probing into whether medicines are really bringing any tangible outcome.

Families may become human rights violators

Nobody ought to be coerced or forced into psychiatric treatment, especially electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Families often believe doctors so blindly and rather innocently, that whatever the medical professional recommends is to be taken as a rule. ECT  is a very controversial procedure which has long term repercussions for a person. There is no need to administer ECT to anyone, but doctors do not educate families enough, who are anyways only too willing to follow what psychiatrists say.

Often people are given psychiatric medication against their will and in spite of having no need for it, even on the sly (by mixing in food for instance). Those with mental illnesses are not allowed to choose their treatments, because their families believe they cannot decide for themselves. As a result they keep medicating them and pushing them towards the edge, for the rest of their lives, till they reach their end! Sadly, the human rights violations in mental health are the most in any category of health, and the most part of it comes from families.

Fractured Communications

In  a whole lot of families people do not talk to one another- either properly or at all. As a result whatever support could come to all of them due to interpersonal communication, does not come about. Everyone lives in an emotionally marooned state, spiritually shrunk, cold, deeply fatigued, restless and wounded.

Even if one of them finds a solution to a problem, since their inherent communications are flawed, they are not able to convey that to others. In my own work I have seen many a family member, including people with a diagnosis, have been enthused to either meet me, encounter my work or hear about the sort of work we do. However, they have not been able to convince other members in their families due to a long term loss of trust, in one another and in the fact that any other ways could appear, leading them out of mental illnesses.

Not only in my case, but often due to lack of communications, people do not seek any other social mechanism to deal with mental illness, apart from free resources that the internet offers them.

[1] Throughout this writing I have used the phrase ‘loved one’ to refer to those who have been given a mental illness diagnosis, rather than calling them someone with a mental illness.

Therapy is not common sense- trust me

If everything could be achieved by common sense communication, then people would easily learn a few skills and resolve all their problems. But that rarely happens.  A vast array of problems start from communications, but to solve those problems we cannot often fall back on our own communication skills or abilities only.

People, particularly in India, often have a mistaken notion that someone who is therapist/counselor is talking from common sense and giving advice based on their intelligence. Yes, I agree, it seems like that, but reality is that is never the case. Let me start by saying that whoever has whatever level of intelligence, they have reached there in a complex distillation of ideas, study, immersion and of course years of work in the field.

I am giving this prelude to a recent encounter with a family that I want to talk about. It was the brother who approached me through a social network, upon seeing my work in mental health in some way. He asked me a few things and over time that set the ball rolling. His concern was for his older sister, a woman in her early thirties, who had been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. In due course when I traveled to Delhi, they came nearly 300 kms to meet me, all the way from UP.

The woman, let us call her Sarita, came energetically and seemed charged with ideas, and full of enthusiasm and verve. I could see she was excited, and ‘high’ in some way. I would not want to see this ‘high’ as a psychotic high but there was a case of being sure of one’s self, and a bit of grandiosity- what would be seen as the classical ‘symptoms’ of a disturbance in the psychological wellbeing of a person. However, I never want to look at people through the lens of pathology or illness and therefore despite seeing the ‘symptoms’, which were truly subtle, I noticed her emotional fragility, anger and inner disturbance. After all I am not a peer for nothing, if I cannot discern how subtle the emotional fabric is.

At the end of the dialogue, which lasted a good two hours, I figured that the young lady had come to take a clean chit from me, that she did not have a mental illness and therefore did not require medication. Of course, I do not believe that anyone requires medication. But to move away from that stage where you do not have to take medication, you have to be cognizant  enough to move into the behavioural domain. I mean to say, that certain behaviours of those who are classified ‘mentally ill’ is ‘not normal’ by the standards of those around them. That is why they are taken to a professional- psychiatrist, therapist or counselor, or any other doctor.

Each one of these professionals acts in accordance with their  training. A psychiatrist believes that the ‘symptoms’ are due to a chemical imbalance and if the proper chemical is given, the person will become ‘normal’ or ‘fine’. Psychologists come with various kinds of training but they are mostly informed by the same set of principles as psychiatrists, especially those who go through clinical psychology courses.

I have a diploma in counseling. But more significantly also a lived- illness/recovery experience, to fall back on.  I fall back on my lived experience based knowledge pretty regularly to understand the suffering of others. People, like me, often work in the domain of social psychology and self experience puts my knowledge at an altogether different level. I am not arrogant about it, but trying to capture the difference. Just imagine a dentist who has never known a toothache. How can they understand the pain of a patient? Contrast that with a dentist who has had dental caries, been through root canal treatment, got a tooth extracted in teenage and has two cavities. How much more the latter would know about the suffering of their patient?

The Story I was referring to…

Coming back to Sarita’s story. After one set of dialogues the duo went back. There was a lot of friction with the father and that seemed to be a dominant motif that emerged. The younger brother played the balancing role in the family. Sarita was happy that I was willing to look at her beyond the psychiatric label of schizophrenia. After that assurance, she was sure that she did not need any medication, which in any case, she had been flushing down the commode.

A few days later, she befriended me on the social network, and I noticed a sudden spike in her activity. In a way Facebook serves me very well, especially for watching what is going on in the lives of those I counsel or generally engage with, because it warns me if something is going wrong. (I recently also caught another friend getting into the spiral of PTSD, and warned her, told her to go to sleep calmly for a few days. It seems she tided over that. She her admitted to all the ‘symptoms’ that I had seen, which made me raise the question with her in the first place). I found her trailing me on every forum and posting her own posts there, by joining a whole lot of fora where I was involved. I found this a very unusual behaviour and I asked her brother, if everything was ok.

He informed me that things were not good and Sarita was too excited about a certain new thing in her life. She was going on talking about it to everyone, in a manner which raised suspicion about her. I told him, to tell her to talk to me, if she would like to. She did, through a facebook or WhatsApp message! In what way can a professional help a client via a message?

Few days later, on the occasion of the World Mental Health Day, I sent a message to her brother again, hoping all was well. It wasn’t. Sarita was clearly ‘high’ by now and aggressive, offensive and charging her family, particularly father, with all sorts of things. All my exchange happened with the younger brother alone, via messages only. When it seemed she would not be interested in counseling, I told him to seek recourse to psychiatry, which I inevitably know, would forcefully drug her, sedate her and possibly give her ECT. I shudder to think of that!

The brother understood what the way out was, since the sister was unwilling to talk to me, or seek any insights into her life, or have any other way, but her own. She left a job that I had encouraged her brother to help her hold on to, because she wanted to float her own entrepreneurial venture. I told him how to win her over take up the government job, as she was adamant, that it was beneath her dignity to do so.

Upon my recommendation, the brother took her to the psychiatrist and sure enough, the forcible drugging, the sedation and the ECTs followed suit. Families will never know how they become the chief arm of psychiatric coercion and the biggest reason why people become permanently disable due to mental health conditions, that they can easily recover from. What could I have done in this case, even if the brother trusted me completely to guide them? If the person who needs to talk to me, and understand the situation does not understand it herself, what recourse can the family take?

My advice to any family would come from two options. One is the biomedical way, which is often forcible and therapy/counseling. The latter is difficult, and requires patience. No matter what medication they take, if you do not want to incapacitate your loved one for the rest of their life, they will have to seek therapeutic guidance and support, to deal with their situation/s. If you forcibly medicate them or give them ECT (which should be made illegal immediately), you are actually infringing on their human rights. Yes, you got it right- it is a human rights violation, which you are committing within your own home, with your own loved one. Sorry to say that, if it hurts your sense of justice, but I cannot fool you or me about this.

How could therapeutic work have proceeded after the first meeting with Sarita?

Ideally the first meeting is where anyone assesses a situation. You hear the two points of view or sometimes even one person, if they have come alone. First meeting or even a few meetings should be the ground that people have to understand one another. Entering into therapy is entering into a relationship and both people need to know another. Would you not like to know who your therapist is after all?

In family counseling it is always better to listen to everyone and talk to everyone concerned, because ultimately everyone in the family is impacted by one person’s condition, whatever it is. Narrative therapy goes even a step further to include even the next level of people, and open dialogues mean involving even the kinsmen!

In the subsequent meetings, one sets an agenda for action and a modus operandi. No therapy work cannot get over in one, two or three meetings. Often it takes many a meeting with clients, for someone to truly understand where the roots of suffering lie in their life.

In Sarita’s case, this could have happened-

  1. Sarita could stay in touch with me and talk to me, not more than once in two-three weeks. That would really help us understand what is going on in her life, which causes her frustrations and anguish, and which periodically boils up as temper tantrums and then accusations against her parents.
  2. The way to deal with any behavioural issue is to address the behaviour directly. I increasingly prefer to bring families into dialogues early, so that whatever we are talking with one person, could be known to others who would help in accomplishing the goals of that one person. Often family communications are deeply fractious due to forcible handling of psychiatric crises. Families need help with talking to one another gently, without causing further rifts.
  3. Ultimately, it is Sarita’s journey towards her individuation and she needs to understand that whatever expressions she has to express her anger, frustration and moods is not working with others around. She would have to develop a more reasonable and non-threatening communication which does not make her family and herself a social nuisance and laughing stock. Part of the anguish of her brother stems from this responsibility towards his parents and neighbours.
  4. Any journey towards finding one’s balance takes time. Most will not even attempt it in their lifetime. Only the ones who are deeply fractured seem the most appropriate ones to require a therapeutic dialogue. In reality everyone needs help, support and guidance.
  5. Equally as much as Sarita, her family needs the support, help and collaboration. That is why family therapy is the need of the hour, not individual therapy.
  6. Assuming that a client like Sarita would speak with me once a month, it will easily take her between two -three years to understand her issues in a more clear way. Though it may seem a lot, but what is two/three years compared to a life of psychiatric medication and who knows how much disability due to them? I must add here, that every meeting between a therapist and their client, has long term effects. So though once a month may seem very small a time, in reality it has a long lasting effect, almost like a butterfly effect, which touches many chords in their lives.
  7. In family therapy literature, it is said that within 20 sessions, most outcomes of a long term nature, would emerge. I agree with this. (In due course if we can create reflecting teams, that would be even more empowering and faster). 20 sessions can happen over a couple of years…is that not truly remarkable? I am not sure India is ready for it yet! Sad, but this is what I am seeing from multiple families.

What follows are some general ideas about therapy-

  1. Till those who are given mental illness diagnosis do not feel the need to seek help to change their outcomes, no change can happen with a dialogue between any member of their family and a counselor, like me. I have seen many a person in a family wanting to bring their loved ones for counseling, but find that they do not have enough trust between one another, to accomplish that!  It is truly sad for them.
  2. Therapy is not a day long affair. It is a reflection on our lives and how we have come a long way, with our behaviours. Therapy does not mean I am a therapist and you are a patient. Therapy is your attempt to heal yourself through dialogue and understanding that emerges from it, by learning to look at your life in a more balanced, philosophical and calmer way.
  3. Therapy means someone is helping you change your behaviour and assisting you become what you always wanted to- by holding your hand, while you gain that wisdom. It is not about guiding you at all. It is about letting you become the expert in your own life. But until you want to change your behaviour, nothing about your life can ever change.

Narratives as method in Law School

INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE

Introductory Narrative Methods is the course that Prateeksha Sharma, a classical musician who works in mental health and communications, taught a group of 24 students within a span of 11 days at our law school. This elective subject was offered to the students from the second year till the final year, fifth year, students. According to us, the elective was unique in that it was a one of a kind elective that had never been taught at a law school. With lessons that related law with narratives and also made the students interpret a few events in a holistic view the elective was offered as a one credit course to the students. We think ,the idea behind the elective was to enable storytelling – recounting experiences and using your own experiences to understand and relate to other people’s experiences. Also we felt that, the course aimed to develop the skills of expression and listening that are pertinent to the practicing of the legal profession.

 Our  survey will focus on the Introductory Narrative Methods classes itself and opinions from various group of students as well as the course instructor and will conclude with whether the course helped the students arrive at a synthesis to their thesis and anti-thesis and whether the elective was really something that should be advised for law students or not.

THE METHOD

 The primary method of collecting our data was through surveys. There are three different types of groups that were interviewed by us : the people who were given the opportunity, the people who were not given the opportunity and the course instructor. Within the people who were given the opportunity there were two different groups- the students who opted for the course and the students who did not opt for the course. Our  group of three allocated specific roles for ourselves and we worked towards reaching those goals and in the end everything was collectively edited and made. One of us interviewed the people who were not given the opportunity, the people who are in the second year including the second year students who attended the elective and the course instructor herself. One among us interviewed the people who are in the third year and the fourth year including the people who took the elective from those years; and the one of our member  interviewed the people who are in the fifth year and also the fifth year students who opted for the elective.

For this blog post a total of 40 students were interviewed by us and this blog post will cover all the different views and opinions shared by them.

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THE ACTUAL NARRATIVE:

People who were given the opportunity:

  • People who took the opportunity;
  • People who did not take the opportunity

People who were not given the opportunity: The first year students were not given the opportunity to elect this course. As the first years are not given the opportunity to take part in any electives they are the group that comprise of people who were not given the opportunity.

While interviewing the first year students, our member gave them a basic outline of what the elective is about and also showed them the brief description of the course, which was provided to the other students before the start of the elective. They were then asked whether they would be interested in taking part in such an elective or not and asked for their honest opinions about it.

We see that ,Nathan was not too excited when he heard about the elective. His goal is to work at a corporate firm and so he thought that the course would be of no help to him especially since it doesn’t even deal with any legal aspect.

“I don’t see any point in doing such a course which is not even related to law. I mean what more can this course teach me than the saying that there is always more than one side of a story?”

Willa replied to us that she did seem interested in the topic but the only drawback that she thought the course had was that the course instructor was a music teacher and had no legal background. She also mentioned “without a legal background I don’t think the course would be of any help to me because she wouldn’t know the laws that go behind let’s say arbitration which has been pointed out in the brief description given by the teacher.”

We got some other responses like , Kate did not want to be a part of any elective as she was already busy with all of her other credits and she did not think that she would be able to give enough time for the elective.

Shyaak told us that he did not want to take any elective, as he wanted to just enjoy life and live in the moment. He was satisfied with everything he has as a compulsory subject and he did not want to sit in a classroom for another 2 hours every day just to earn one more credit.

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We have also interviewed the second years to delve deeper into the reasoning behind the students’ interest in the Introductory Narrative Methods course. We have divided the second years  into three categories to gauge their opinions. The groups were:

  • Students who applied for the course but later dropped down.
  • Students who applied for the course and continued it.
  • Students who did not apply for the course.

Neil told us that he opted for this course as it was took relatively lesser time and efforts when compared to other law school subjects.He even felt that he developed a new perspective on law school and legal writing.

After speaking to Emma we felt that she was exposed to newer forms and techniques in writing. She wanted  to take this learning further. She also said that the course instructor introduced her into a new world.

Armaan said that taking this course was an enriching experience for him. He put down his unexpressed thoughts onto paper with the self-narrative writing task. He also felt glad that he interacted with a varied set of people.

Sara applied for this course. Later, she opted out of it due to some health issues. But told us that she was really interested in doing the course and would have done it if she had been feeling well.

Zayan attended the first class and later decided not to do the course because he was expecting the course to be more law oriented. The course did not appeal to him because it was mostly arts oriented. We understood from his words that he felt wanted to do a course which would be  more in consonance with what he was studying at law school.

We had some unique response too.Sasha’s was one such. She expressed that the course description was too abstract for her liking. She felt she might not give her best to the course as she was packed up with a lot of other work. The writing task mentioned in the description also did not interest her.

And Juliet  replied to our questionnaire saying that she heard about the course before it started and found it interesting. But she chose not to do it as she had booked her tickets to go home. And she wanted to spend time with her family during the festive time.

We found a contrasting opinion in Jennifer’s response , she said that the course description was not appealing. She also disliked writing tasks and so did not choose the course.

The third year, fourth year and fifth year students mostly overlapped in their criticism and appreciation of the course. This is what we could comprehend from their responses. As far as the assignments are concerned, a few people were a little uncomfortable at the personal nature of the self-narrative. Even people who are open about their thoughts and feelings draw the line at people they are close to and comfortable with. They even shared that, the foundation of the course being connecting with people and finding your comfort space, people were not willing to extend their personal space to people they otherwise don’t interact too much with were reluctant in taking up the course. With the self-narrative, there were concerns as to how they could be completely honest about their experience in narrating it to a stranger. Secondly, an experience has no objective standard of grading. How then will the self-narrative be graded as an assignment? How can a third person evaluate your story? And if the point was just to enable one to write his/her story/experience, it comes down to it being a personal choice of values.

Some students replied to us that, if the course was to be conducted earlier in the semester, they would have enrolled for it as October being the month of submissions, exams etc. tends to get quite hectic.

There were others who didn’t sign up because they didn’t find the course relevant to legal studies or to their choice of field.  A few others feltthat this sort of learning need not come through a course. Some people were just not open to the idea that this course might bring in something new in terms of learning and did not consider it important to their goals in law school. Some people were busy with other things and could not take out time for this course even though they desired to do so. The timing was an issue for quite a few people because after full day class, an extra class can be quite exhausting. Logistical issues were quite prominent among the issues people raised. We observe that apart from the first years, the students from other batches had expressed similar concerns.

This was the aggregate of the opinion collected by us from who attended the course.Among people who took the course, apart from those who raised concerns about their personal space and thus not being able to realize the purpose of the course, it was described by a few as a fresh course that was fun and extremely relaxed. The new activities and ideas that the course introduced them to was a welcome distraction. Prateeksha Ma’am especially was appreciated for her kindness towards the students and her own openness. Some people feel that even if they are not sure what the learning from the course is at this very moment, they can keep drawing from it in the future. The course wasn’t one with a definite end, but is about ongoing experiences.

THE COURSE INSTRUCTOR:

Prateeksha Sharma was invited to University of Law to teach the students. With a specialization in mental health she wanted the students understand that every word such as “criminal” and “victim” have more than one way people can view it. Since she works with stories and since stories have a lot of possibilities. Moreover, law is also full of stories include law Introductory Narrative Methods was the course to teach. To see your own story as an outsider was an objective that the students were to understand during the elective. The first year students should have been given this opportunity as it would help them make the connection. It will make the students more sensitized. While we felt that she was expecting a little more stories and interaction from the students, Prateeksha found the class a little dampening and thought that the students were looking at the elective through the lens of academics and grades and no fun. However, she was happy to see a few people’s earnest effort to write. She also found the 4:20 to 6:20 timing a littleodd, as the students were burnt out by the time class started.

Prateeksha had to take a 3day leave from her daily life to come to our college and teach us. The repetition of such an elective occurring next year is not plausible as it takes a lot of her time and she would prefer that students come to her and learn, which could be done during the semester breaks or during a 3 or 4 day break within the semester.

After an interaction with her , we could get  more useful insights about the course from her. She said that it was  a ‘challenge’ for her to mould her research experience into teaching of narrative methods. Her experience in teaching prior to this course was mainly in the field of music. But she has been constantly working in the realm of narratives in mental health. Her efforts were to bring narrative tradition into law school. We understand that her main concern after beginning teaching was that this course should be introduced as early as the first of law school. She even believed that a teacher’s learning undergoes fine tuning with teaching. We comprehend that she meant that she was learning with us too. She even had to try hard to link the subject to real life narratives , as this would make every student engaged in the lecture. We felt that this was an appreciative way to evoke responses from the students. On being asked about where she found motivation to teach. She replied to us that she felt it as a responsibility to carry forward the energy and efforts put in by the students. That’s what kept her moving.

Reaction to the course

Me: So why did you think narrative methods would help us law students?

Prateeksha: See basically I work in mental health and I’m always looking into stories of people. If I look at people from the same framework as society is labeling them, is that enough- like when I say  like “criminal”. Is that all or is there more to it? Do I want to listen to the label as a finality, or should I look at their subjective experiences? I am interested in looking into the stories of other people and since I do I thought whether it could be related to law. I had a choice of choosing whatever I could do here. She (the academic convenor) said I could do something which would make students understand life with a new perspective, which made me look up ways to take my knowledge into a law school; and I read a paper of how law is all about stories. So I thought of teaching this course.

The Course Material

Me: So about the course material. Did you teach everything that you have expected to teach us?

Prateeksha: I came with the idea that I should give an introduction into what narratives are. When I thought about the course, I structured it mentally as an exercise which produces a reflective attitude within learners. When we work in stories and mental health anybody who becomes a therapist should learn to look at their own story in an objective way first, otherwise one never develops a distance from one’s own subjective reality. Should lawyers not be open to this and see justice and injustice first within their own lives? Learn to see their stories as outsiders or should they see everything without delving into their subjective truths, which are always changing? One of the key objectives for me was to help students develop a self distance from their narratives and believe that they are experiences that belong to a human domain, not just their personal truths.

  • Shaemus thought that the course material hitting the objective of what was supposed to be taught in a narrative methods class.

“The course material was, see it was good. Good as in substantial as in it was relating to narrative methods. It was hitting the target.”

  • John was happy when we asked him about the course material because it had actually helped him in writing a better narrative.

“The course material helped me in understanding how to write a narrative but since I was absent I can’t comment over its application in law.”

CONTROVERSIES:

Our interaction with anumber of students has reiterated the fact that there were no controversies related to the elective course “Introductory Narrative Methods.”

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CONCLUSION:

The conclusion is an amalgam of our convictions and our learning . introductory narrative methods course was a unique elective course offered in a law school. After doing this course we have learnt a new of way of viewing every legal issue. For instance, in every single legal case there are various perspectives, and each perspective is a narrative. As law students we would be benefitted by the knowledge of narratives to understand various existing narratives.Though the course seemed to be off track, the element of law was not absent. The essence of law is language. The impact that words can have through writing was highlighted to us.This could be taught to the law students in their initial years at law school. They would be hugely benefitted by it because they will develop a holistic perspective in viewing everything. Most of the students were impressed by the course description. But some of them could not opt as they had time management issues and other workload. Most of the students who have taken the elective course found it to be a rewarding experience. They even expected to have contours drawn and a framework to be set to the course as the intended results would be delivered better then. They even opined that the given course time could have been used more a effectively and productively to imbibe more valuable information from the course instructor. We felt that the  sessions were highly interactive and the course instructor was flexible with the students too. We even learnt that every issue in law has a social , penal and legal perspective to it. This made sure that elective course was not cumbersome. So all together, it was a joyful learning experience for us. We would also like to express that there was a legal angle to this course which was not noticed by many. It might have been underplayed. But trying to understand the legal aspect of this course was the main objective.

Note from examiner: The responses that have been included here from me, prateeksha, are changed from the original submission, without affecting the grades of those being marked for them. I thought it was best to write my own language here, because young students may not be able to represent what I am saying to the extent I can do so. But that need not impact on how anyone has to respond to this narrative. 

Sorry, due to my inability to do so, I am unable to upload video clip.

FEAR, LOATHING AND ENVIRONMENTALISM: THE SNAKES ISSUE

FEAR, LOATHING AND ENVIRONMENTALISM: THE SNAKES ISSUE

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Introduction and methodology. 1

First and Second Year Students. 1

Awareness about snakes. 1

Personal Responses. 2

Utility of awareness mails. 2

Suggestions Provided. 2

Presence of Medical Infrastructure. 2

Third Years. 3

Reaction. 3

Awareness. 3

Suggested Solutions. 4

Medical Infrastructure on Campus. 5

Awareness. 5

attitudinal change. 6

Acceptance of risk and awareness of medical infrastructure awareness. 6

Administration and guards. 6

Conclusion. 7

Introduction and methodology

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.

First and Second Year Students

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.

Awareness about snakes

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.

Personal Responses

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.

Utility of awareness mails

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.

Suggestions Provided

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.

Presence of Medical Infrastructure

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.

Third Years

 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

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Reaction

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.

Awareness

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.

Suggested Solutions

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.

Medical Infrastructure on Campus

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.

SENIOR STUDENTS

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.

Awareness

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.

attitudinal change

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.

Acceptance of risk and awareness of medical infrastructure awareness

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

Administration and guards

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.

Conclusion

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.

HIERARCHY, and campus life

  1. Introduction

The present narrative aimed to study hierarchies within a small community of a residential university. In order to study these structures, we asked the student community questions about the various forms of hierarchies that they have noticed and been affected by on the campus. We surveyed around 80 people, across batches of the undergraduate and postgraduate courses, roughly in the age group of 17 to 30 years. Though we had initially considered including the teachers, administration and non-teaching staff of the college as well, we decided to restrict the scope of our research only to the student body so as to make the scope of the study narrower and more streamlined.

The research methodology we followed was empirical, i.e. we collected first-hand information from students by putting a fixed set of questions to them, noting down their responses, and then collating the information gathered to see the commonalities and differences based on their position on the hierarchy.

The questions varied in terms of structure- while some merely required a yes or no answer, others were subjective requiring the respondents to elaborate on the reasoning underlying their answers. The basic questions we put forward centred on whether people noticed hierarchies playing out and how they sought to explain these. We enquired as to what parameters contributed to the formation of these hierarchies, and suggested options such as socio economic background, age/year of study, caste, region, language, etc. Where respondents identified factors beyond the ones we listed out, we took note of the same. We spoke to people about how their behaviour, or the behaviour of others had changed due to their relative positions in the hierarchies. Ample opportunity was given for respondents to exemplify their observations as well. Respondents were questioned on what they perceived to be the reasons for such hierarchies to exist, and how these hierarchies affected people socially and psychologically. Finally, we asked respondents whether they perceived hierarchies to be a necessary element of student life in their college, and whether their perception on the necessity of the hierarchy changed as they moved from a junior to a senior class.

  1.     Types of Hierarchies Identified

Hierarchical power structures manifest themselves in various forms. In a University context, the power dynamics could be perceived in the subtle differential treatments awarded to students from belonging to different race, language, region, class, year and course of study, those having lower CLAT ranks and CGPA et al. Survey participants have identified the existence of a hierarchy in these broad areas and not even one among the 80 odd responses received, denied the presence of positional power structures in college. Hence, the egalitarian ethics that we swear by as students of the law seems to have been perverted by the active perpetuation of power asymmetries and positional relationships. For the sake of clarity, we can study the hierarchical relationships at three levels: within a batch, across batches and the intra-college power imbalance.

Intra-Batch Hierarchy

CLAT Rank:    Based on our personal interactions with the students, we can say that this type of hierarchy is very subtle in its manifestation. Students who have lower CLAT ranks are silently excluded from certain peer groups and study groups, at least in the initial period before they can prove their merit in an exam. Those students with higher CLAT ranks conceded that they sometimes felt like they deserved a place in a premier law school more than those with a very low CLAT Rank. However, a sizeable number of people dismissed this conception as unfounded in reason and logic.

Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA):   Exams aim to grade people based on their intellectual capacity, though the ideal is often not achieved. This gradation more often than not, penetrates into non-academic spheres of social life like peer groups. Several participants said that they felt ignored or excluded by certain people who were arguably ‘smarter’ than them. A small number of people, refused to accept that such divisions existed.

Race, Language & Region:     Students from the Southern and the North-eastern parts of the country, during personal interviews, said that they felt cornered on this basis and silently discriminated against. Apart from being called offensive names, their lack of fluency in Hindi (the unofficial ‘national language’ of the country) was a major reason why they were singled out and ridiculed as ‘pardesi’. As they pointed out, this hierarchy also affects their social life though they try to hide it and escape it as much as possible.

Inter-Batch Senior-junior Hierarchy

Year of study:  It is common to see the students in the first year being positively interacted with (read ‘ragged’) by the senior batches, at least in the first few months of college. Hence, the target is the freshmen who are victimised through intimidating questioning and demand of embarrassing favours that could run whole gamut from ludicrous performances of dance and singing to the more serious expressions of the inner perversions of the seniors. It was surprising to record that some first years were genuinely labouring under the delusion that such positive interaction (read ‘ragging’) is for their own good.

Intra-college Hierarchy

Course of study:          In a law school, the students from non-legal courses like MBA are alienated and the majority of the mainstream LLB treats them badly. Surprisingly, the postgraduate students of law are also ill-treated by the undergraduate students despite their seniority in terms of age and intellect. The participants in the survey have confirmed this social common sense of the law school students. However, it is only true about the abstract conception of the ‘law schoolers’, which evades definition but has empirical support. During direct questioning on individual basis, several students said that they ‘do not mind the MBAs and the LLMs’. hierarchy-image

Fig: Intra-college and Inter-batch Hierarchy

III.     Perceptions of Hierarchy

It was observed through the survey and interviews conducted that the student body did not have a homogeneous view on the issue of hierarchy. Opinions on reasons for the existence of hierarchies varied greatly across batches as well as within batches; while some identified benefits arising out of hierarchies, others deemed them completely pointless and unnecessary.

Why do Hierarchies Exist?

Every person who took part in the survey agreed that hierarchies do exist in the college. Several underlying reasons were cited, the first being tradition. The hierarchy is not something that has established itself over a short period of time; it has been there from the very beginning of the institution and ways of behaving have been passed on or imbibed through batches, over several years. In that sense, even the unpleasant implications of the hierarchy such as ragging have been legitimized as a part of the law school experience that one first tolerates and then (in most cases), perpetrates. The rightness or wrongness of the tradition is of course debated. For instance, one respondent said, “While this hierarchy is neither sensible nor fair, it is still unavoidable.” Another said “The hierarchy is tradition; the way in which it is exercised by specific people determines whether it is a good thing or a bad thing.” The second set of reasons that emerged deal with notions of power, superiority complex and insecurities. Most students from the 1st and 2nd years seemed to believe that a lot of the seniors who ill-treated them were doing so just because they had the power to do so.  Over the years it has been observed that the 2nd years are most enthusiastic in ragging the juniors (not to say that the other senior batches are not interested) and also the most aggressive. One obvious and repeatedly cited reason for this is that having recently moved up the social ladder, they seek to impose their superiority over the juniors. On being asked to elaborate on insecurity as a reason, a respondent said “People are so insecure about their own standing that they feel the need to intimidate others to feel better about their own selves. Hence, they perpetuate convenient hierarchies.” Third, in stark contrast to the other two reasons mentioned, it was also argued that the hierarchy helps in the acclimatization of the juniors to law school. While interactions start out in a field of intimidation and some discomfort, there are subsequent benefits that emerge from these interactions with relation to projects, moot court competitions, internships etc.

While most of the abovementioned reasons were cited with the hierarchy within the undergraduate students in mind, reasons such as the need to establish one’s superiority and self-validation were common for other hierarchies such as those based on courses, caste, CLAT rank etc. The next section discusses in some detail, the pros and cons of these hierarchies.

Do These Hierarchies Serve Any Purpose?

Contrasting opinions came to fore on the issue. A marginally larger fraction of the respondents believed that hierarchies are not an essential element of student life at the university. In fact, they argued, these are just remnants of unfounded practices, conveniently dubbed as tradition by those who support it. A 2nd year student said “It is nothing more than the desire to do to another what has been done to you. As we move onto subsequent years, we tend to say that our juniors have had it far easier than us; it’s a way of rationalizing our own irrationality”.

On the other hand, those who believe that there is a purpose that the hierarchy achieves contend that it is a harmless introduction of first years to a protected yet more real-life atmosphere as compared to high school- “Hierarchies are prevalent everywhere. Even when we intern and subsequently get jobs in law firms, corporations or courts of law, we will begin at the base of the hierarchy there. Relatively, those hierarchies are far more ruthless and the prior experience at college is actually preparing us to deal better with future situations.”

Transformation of Perceptions

A characteristic feature of the seniority-based law school hierarchy is that today’s alphas were once at the very bottom of the same hierarchy. Through our survey, we also sought to discover if the views of the students on hierarchy have undergone any transformation over the years. Almost 90% of the respondents said that their views had changed while a few claimed that their first-year disapproval of the hierarchy has only intensified with time. The responses quoted below appropriately represent the bulk of responses we received-

“Yes, I have become a perpetrator of the violence that is an inevitable result of this hierarchy.”

“Yes, my perception on the requirement of hierarchy has changed. In my first year of college I was not in favour of this hierarchy probably because I was at the lowest strata but as I moved to my second year I myself started enforcing and justifying this hierarchy maybe because I was no longer lowest in hierarchy and had someone below me in hierarchy to enforce it on.”

“No, it has made me all the more careful about not doing the exact same thing that was done to me. It is only hypocritical if I end up doing the same. Hence, there is a conscious effort to not reinforce the said system of hierarchies, which is not only unfounded but also unfair. My perception of this requirement has been the same and has rather become far stronger.”

  1. Socio-Psychological and Behavioural Impacts of Hierarchy on Students

It is often considered that hierarchy is a mere control of behaviour or conforming to a particular standard. However, from the responses it was evident that this hierarchy a deep socio-psychological impacts on the minds of students, both short-term and long-term. Most of the responses of the first year students as well as of seniors acknowledged this factor. One of the most common hierarchies faced by first year students is that with the senior students. It hints towards the socio-psychological impact that instances of ragging can lead to. These impacts could be of varying degree.

Many instances like giving nicknames, making fun of, etc. were narrated by the students which had socio-psychological impact on them. However the major impact that was highlighted by the students of the first year was that they started judging themselves from the perspective of others. Students started trying to conform to a particular set of standards without even considering whether such conformity to set standards of behavior is correct or not. In this process the student loses his confidence and in this web of hierarchy he or she starts pretending to be that which he or she is not. Students may start using abusive language, drinking alcohol, dressing in a particular way, etc. all to fit into particular groups considered superior in the hierarchy. More drastic instances narrated by a student included facing depression and inferiority complexes. Thus, this conformity to hierarchy leads to loss of individuality of a person.

Does this impact remain confined to socio-psychological or also impact the performance of a student?

This impact of hierarchy does not remain confined to the socio-psychological impact, but as a considerable number of students have pointed out, it affects the academic and co-curricular performance of the student as well. The feeling of imposition and need for compliance to a certain norm places a deep burden on the thinking of a person and distracts him. Their focus on studies gets lost due to these other issues which they face under the hierarchy.

For first years, these hierarchies impose an extra burden on them beyond the problems they already have to face like adjusting in new environment, home-sickness etc. It ultimately affects the performance of the student in academic and non-academic activities. A further issue is that in most cases the family members or a third person do not see hierarchy as a factor of bad performance. The whole liability of the underperformance is usually placed on the student. His merit is questioned, worsening his situation. These factors collectively contribute to the performance of the student. Thus the hierarchy has a substantial but hidden impact on the academic as well as non-academic performance of the student.

  1. Conclusion

We started off with a premise of exploration. The aim was to document the hierarchy that exists in the college. Frankly, we didn’t expect quarter as many responses as we received. And it is not just the volume of the responses that surprised us, but the quality of the responses itself. As we set out on our path, being apprehensive of the culture on campus, we didn’t expect people to write in responses which highlighted the manner in which the hierarchy plays out. An unspoken proposition that we placed reliance on was that of the fifth years being the alphas of the University, incubating and perpetrating the hierarchy that exists on campus. To our much expected surprise, it turned out to be of complexity that this exercise cannot fathom to achieve.

Certainly as the responses show, hierarchy exists on this campus. It exists not only amongst the batches, but as has been highlighted, follows the contours of the larger societal relations like caste, class and language that exist in the real world. And while the ‘real world’ was used as a standard to enforce this hierarchy, except a few responses, not any highlighted the problems with that culture. The culture of oppression that breeds hierarchy in the society was left untouched by many, a fact that is worrisome. Hence the recognition acknowledging the culture that exists within the university did not extend to the oppression that is perpetrated as the system reinforces itself. The problem exists with the entrenchment of the culture within the student body, as was rightly pointed out by several respondents.

While several responses pointed out the psychological impacts of the imposition of hierarchy, those could not be explored in detail. Yet as has been noted, personal conversations with individuals highlighted how the hierarchical impositions in the form of ragging or subtle coercion can and do have long lasting impact on people. This does not necessarily replicate in the action being repeated, though instances of the same do exist. The problem exists not with the action itself, but the normalization of the same. This hierarchy is not seen as an exception to the culture, but rather an element of the student consciousness.

Certainly the exercise stops short of exorcising the ghost of this cultural problem. But that was never the aim. The aim was to document the existence of the hierarchy and to build a narrative around it to enable further steps to be taken in this research. We hope that we have achieved that objective, and acknowledging the shortcomings of our exercise, realise that much more needs to be done in order to understand the interplay of hierarchy in the student body. Alas as a 5th year noted, this culture embeds itself into the peer groups of the students resulting in a hierarchy of popularity. The question we should be asking then is, what is the job of the university and the students within it? We have stopped short of exploring ourselves, expressing dissent and cultivating thought. What we have achieved rather is the bondage of oppression.

(this inquiry was a joint effort of- Dipankar, Pallavi, Rakshanda, Lakshana and Vedant)

The Incongruity of ‘Yoga Day’

Yasmin gyaate sarvamidam gyatam bhavati nishchitam[1]

Tasmin parishramah kaaryah kimnyat shastrabhashitam II 18 II

‘When by knowing this (Yoga-sastra) all others are clearly known, of what profit can it be to labour and find out what the other sastras say?- 18’

From younger days I have been exposed to yoga at an emotional and spiritual level, as a practice that integrates and unifies the human organism. I never believed it to be anything but an allowance for developing an inner discipline. That is the most significant thing about it- inner discipline; not an outer enforced discipline which comes due to the authority of another and not from self motivation.

Even though I was exposed to yogasana early in life, I never took to it easily, because of plain laziness. But I always remained interested in the other sides of yoga apart from asana, in particular to understand pranayama, and other aspects that signified withdrawal of senses and becoming more still. It was a difficult road considering the extremely difficult mental states I traversed. However, it never took me away from the theoretical interest.

In 2010-11, while staying in Faridabad, I came in contact with Subbarao-ji, who had been a great yoga adept and taught generations of students at the NSD, in Delhi- both yogasana and voice culture. He took me under his wing and decided to teach me. For the first time, I formally learnt yoga under the direct one-on-one supervision of a learned person. Soon thereafter he moved to Hyderabad, and my contact with him terminated. By then I had consolidated all the knowledge of yogasana I had from younger years and he added a whole array of breathing exercises as well as other exercises for voice culture etc.

Over decades of my life, by assimilating ideas from many convergent direction, if there is one thing that I have learnt about yoga, it is humility that must accompany it. In fact the very word yoga is such a big idea that it carries with it deep philosophical connotations, which are lost on most who keep using the words yogasana and yoga interchangeably. They are not interchangeable. They can never be. Yogasana is the mere start of the journey of yoga, especially if we see the eight-fold path. Asana or physical exercise is done for  one’s own wellbeing and  the purpose of one’s  body is not conquest of others. It is about cultivating a disciplined, principled stance towards life, society and the world at large. If we do not care about our body, how will we take care of anything else?

But equally significantly, yoga is not about showing-off or about marking days in the calendar year, to signify the presence of yoga as a form of knowledge, which is Indian or belongs to a particular part of the globe. All knowledge is universal and belongs to the human race- and any part of the human race can be the place of its origin. A place of birth does not hold proprietary claims, but in fact becomes responsible to take the knowledge wider- to the whole world, as an offering to the human race.

I feel amused at the efforts at the noise and the self-congratulatory back-patting in the recent media reports about the acceptance of 21st June as the World Yoga Day by the United Nations. Crores of rupees are spent in meaningless exercises by official government machinery in planning and creating events to mark it. School children and government employees are being roped in huge numbers, across the country to come, participate in yoga day exercises and displays. Why, why, why?

I cannot but see the futility of it. Instead of creating a school system in which health is a natural concern of the child, giving them ample room to play and discipline the body through various forms of exercise while at school, the government decides to institute a day to mark its commitment to public health. Why not increase the area allotted to schools and let them build spaces within them where indoor auditoriums can be built, or more public parks be created in which there would be spaces for exercising, running, playing, doing any form of physical exercises? Will one day take care of their need for the rest of the year, or be enough to inculcate a habit on a long term basis?

Does anyone remember how people live in inner city spaces in any city in India? Do you know that children have never entered a public park on ten consecutive days in their lives? Millions live in jhuggis and slums where it is not possible for ten people to stand side-by-side and exercise in any manner, where children go to open spaces and garbage heaps to defecate and they are chased by dogs, pigs and vultures? There is no question of women exercising anywhere- millions of women. I am not referring to the ones who can go to gyms, jogger’s parks, and privileged spaces demarcated from the rest of the population. I am talking of humble, hardworking, toiling girls and women, who walk out of Muslim ghettoes, of Hindu slums, of Catholic vaddos, and who only know the joy of their body when they come to dress it up for festivities and weddings. Would they ever find the space to do yoga, where their lives are so saddled with disproportionate work and responsibility?

Some might say, oh, why get cynical, this is only a start- more will be embraced by this wave. More people will start exercising and doing yogasana- in future surely.

Right, I get it, World Yoga Day is only meant for those who can  afford to take the time off or be forced into it by authority figures in their vicinity to partake of a government program. Yoga is not meant for the man on the street, because being the man of the street he still has to live off the street. So he cannot give up his occupation and join the yoga crowd, because who will tend to his teashop, bookshop, kiosk, fast food shop, or any shop on the street? Who will tend to your home if the domestic help decided to do yogasana? Okay one day is fine, but what if she gets serious and starts it everyday?

I  get it: we do not need more public spaces where people can do yoga, because as long as they know the significance of yoga, they will do it anywhere, including in their jhuggis which have garbage accumulated close by, or open drains, crisscrossing their paths, making pranayama difficult no doubt, but possible nevertheless. As long as the government can spend crores of rupees on advertizing about it and then feeling proud that a day has been marked in honor of the yoga day, we all have reasons to be proud of something which, in any case, is a part of our lives, even without this governmental effort. How we embrace it and whether it changes anything that now there is a World Yoga Day is something I am not even going to ponder about. It does not. 

It does not change anything. Oh yes, the taxpayer had been made a little proud that his/her hard earned money, is being expended in ventures where they did not have a say, without any public goods being created by way of parks, spaces, jogging tracks, conversion of lands from wastelands to green parks or anything, or even spending the money to pay yoga instructors, who would go into community centers and such public spaces and teach people yogasana for free. At least it would have created more employment!

The institution of the yoga day is actually a repudiating of the very spirit of yoga, which is not about yogasana alone, nor about dominance of yogasana over other any other path of living. The word yoga, signifies union- meant to be a union of the opposites within a person, the evolution of an integrated self, by overcoming through diligent hard work the duality, we are all torn by and emergence of a unified being. It is not meant to be a dominance of any religious belief system over another, in a bid to make them look lesser, or insignificant.

Yoga is about overcoming one’s own lower nature by letting the divine aspect within express by conquering the lower mind, instincts and tendencies. This is the attitude with which I have followed the path of yoga in its different forms, and tried to comprehend the diverse streams of bhakti and karma yoga. To feel the need for a World Yoga Day is the sign of mind having an egoistic attachment to fame and need for adulation, in which we want to drive home the point of our knowledge to other countries, instead of trying to offer it to our own people in ways that they can access it easily, safely and joyfully.

If only more people remembered that Hindi song from the film Guddi-

Hum ko mann ki shakti dena, mann vijay karein; doosron ki jay se pehle khud ko jay karein.

‘Grant me the courage, that before seeking to conquer another, I conquer my own (divided) self’            -the real essence of yoga will come alive for a whole civilization.

It is reasonably doubtful whether 21st June will accomplish the same. India does not need to ‘sell’ yoga further, but become a land of real knowledge seekers, who live the spirit, not mere salesmen, alienated from the soul of what they stand in the market as their wares. It is a world market, let us sell something else now. Any ideas?

(It seems India repeatedly needs to  project its ‘soft-appeal’. Now from a land of snake charmers, holy men and elephants, we are the official salesmen of yoga. Thank you baba Ramdev- but you only came in the line of scores of gurus, before you, nothing special. I remember in my childhood watching Dhirendra Bramhachari. You have sold yoga well, starting from the Astha Channel. But what was your contribution to it, which others did not make? You only came in a time of the media boom, that is all!)

[1] Ghosh, Shyam (1980). The Original Yoga. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi. p.6

Losing sight of your Self

A few days ago a friend left a message saying he wanted to talk, over the chat box of fb. After a little effort of a few days we got together to talk. He suffered and I could see that, but having known him for a couple of years I could not connect the dots- though I never under-estimate anyone’s ability for suffering.

I sensed there was a dejection of the spirit and a pressure which probably had built over a long time, especially seeing one’s peers well established by a certain age and him struggling with holding on to a job. I think there are many people who need to find the groove they fit into before they can be in the groove for long enough- and for some that may be a difficult road to try out several grooves before you land up in the right one.

I have been seeing him for a long time and this is the sense I always got from him- that he was in search of the right groove, which would fit into his soul and unlock potential lying within, making him happy and feel fulfilled. The reality of life is a very funny thing. It seldom offers such linear solutions- so we have to constantly find our balance and adjust with whatever we have in our hands- that is what is called ‘compromise’! ALAS!

Anyhow, while counseling I look at everyone as someone who has momentarily lost sight of who they are, or is unaware of who they are in general. But with those who are in depressions, I particularly see that they have reduced themselves to self-hurting talk, that goes on inside ceaselessly. Instead of he telling me how he was feeling, I offered this  perspective –

I think you are feeling very overwhelmed by what you are faced with in a new job and also seeing yourself viz.a. viz, your peers and classmates and thinking they are all doing so well, while you are still searching for the right job. And possibly all the past hurt is also accumulated and giving you an overall sense of failure, that seems too large to handle. Plus in the new job that you are, you feel pressured to rise upto the levels of expectations others have of you and you fear you cannot deliver.

He agreed this was indeed the case. Of course about the new job I am only quoting his insights, for he felt that the goals were too high for him to acheive and he was closeted inside himself, instead of being able to interact with others around, for that made him feel insecure, as though they would be able to judge his lack of ability- while he of course has the ability. He just forgot this for the inner talk that went on inside him, made him feel like a loser.

And this is what I shared with him then, and my words to any who has momentarily lost sight of who they are-

what you are today is a culmination of all your past. Your past is not just made up of your failures, because even failures are new knowledge. You have a lot of strength, based on which you have been hired in the first place. Do not push yourself but be gentle and remember that what is your current goal, and which unnerves you, is already within your reach- that is why this goal has been set for you by those who hired you. They know you can do it.

Life is not a summary, it is an unfolding, in which we move from the past to the present, integrate the learning from our failures and successes, act in the present and lay foundations for the future. Do not see any of these as though they are complete within themselves.

Of course what I told him, was also in particular said to him, which was that

Even if you are not the way others are, of your age and among your peers, I feel you are on the path of finding an authentic expression of your soul, that is why this confusion, this search for gurus and teachers and new jobs and new colleagues, a certain restlessness. For most people a job that pays and takes care of their bills is all that they want. For ones who want a little more the price is bit unusual- so do not compare yourself with those whose yardsticks of living and measuring success are not determined my your scale.

I asked him how he felt after that. He said, he felt a lot lighter, and his spirits had lifted already!

This is what I work like– to just bring light into the darkness, in which a suffering spirit has encased itself. This entire dialogue happened within 20 minutes, and I knew my dal, that was cooking on the stove, would then burn, so I just pushed him away- but not before I was certain that the psychiatric diagnosis had been laid to rest. There was no depression that needed a cure- just a reminder about the divine that hides within and asks for recognition– a play that I always love.

I also put this under the head of relational leading, for had it not been the trust he had in me, to call me up to seek this insight, i could not have shed this light on the situations around him. His instinct lead him to me, but my instinct about him and his suffering lead him into a ‘clearing’ – the goal of the therapeutic dialogue accomplished for the moment.

Me- the collaborator 🙂

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