This article has been written by Anonymous. While this article deals primarily with issues concerning DISCO (MH) Quirk welcomes submissions about DISCO (WH) too, and is looking to publish a second part to this article dealing with the same.
Unlike most other college campuses, NLSIU is “lucky” to not have its hostel life intimately interfered with by the administration. The price we pay for not having a warden live amongst us is the DISCOs (Disciplinary Committees) in both the Mens’ and Womens’ hostels. Members of these bodies are appointed by the wardens and act as their student representatives, doing their job of ensuring that hostel occupants comply with Hostel Rules and Regulations. From the first year on, we’ve been told that we should be “thankful” for the extensive power given to the DISCOs, since the alternative is the tyrannical rule of wardens who will enter hostels regularly.
What is the Problem?
While a facially beneficial arrangement for hostel residents, the exact scope of the DISCO’s powers and functions are not codified. With the threat of an absolute doomsday situation (the wardens enforcing hostel rules themselves) looming, this has allowed the DISCOs to usurp increasing amounts of power to themselves – as long as they remain slightly more benevolent than the “horrible wardens”, the student body will logically be okay with ceding more power to them. In addition, the DISCOs remain answerable to no one – since they derive their authority from the wardens and not the students, no hostel resident can question the manner in which they choose to exercise their increasingly large power. This has meant that the DISCOs can act as arbitrarily as they want. The acts that they punish, the procedure they follow and the final punishment that they accord to a “delinquent student” cannot be questioned at all.
Let me explain this with an example. In the boys’ hostel, groundings used to be a rare punishment, accorded only to those who had repeated an offence multiple times, had refused to cooperate with DISCO MH (SDGM, as it was called then) and, most importantly, had caused serious discomfort to fellow hostel residents. Now, however, quite literally every offence, from smoking a cigarette in the corridor to being “caught” consuming any other intoxicating substance in your room carries a punishment of grounding. Furthermore, because the DISCO’s power to give groundings as a punishment is entirely uncodified, the length of these grounding sentences has risen in an alarming and unchecked fashion. 4-5 years ago, the maximum conceivable grounding punishment was 10 days but nowadays, many boys’ hostel residents spend entire trimesters grounded for offences. If this is not a raging mental health problem breeding on our own campus, I don’t know what is – how “mentally healthy” can you expect someone who is forced to spend all their time past 4 PM locked up in their hostels for an entire trimester at the hands of one of their batchmates to be? What’s even worse is the targeted nature of these punishments – once the DISCO Boys’ committee members have latched on to a “habitual offender”, they just “catch” this person again and again to ensure that they spend increasing amounts of time under “grounding” sentences. Groundings have become the new normal – first year students have been handed month long groundings for the simple offence of missing room check a couple of times!
Why are we purportedly okay with this? Because the alternative is the warden catching these people and DARICing them, leading to a possible expulsion or year losses. The question, however, is whether that is enough of a justification – should the power vacuum between the warden and the DISCOs mean that we sit back and allow a few students to wreak havoc on the lives of others? Even if we believe the University’s rhetoric of “substance abuse” being a problem on campus, is giving arbitrary power to a few students to lock up such “delinquent students” for an entire trimester going to solve the problem? Quite obviously, the answer is no.
What can we do about this?
In its ideal form, a student-run mediator between the administration and the students should perform two functions. First, it should preserve as much autonomy as it can for students and only curb those actions that may harm or cause discomfort to others. Thus, smoking a cigarette (or anything else) in your room (as long as your roommates are okay with it) should not be DISCO’s concern, but throwing alcohol bottles from the terrace into the quad should. Second, it should shield students from the administration in order to preserve this autonomy. This would require a re-configuration of where the DISCOs source their power, so as to ensure that they become answerable, at least in part, to the student body.
Not all DISCOs have operated in as arbitrary and unfair a manner as the present one in the boys’ hostel. Past DISCOs have recognised this twin role and acted to actively shield students from the Hostel Rules’ moral impositions (don’t drink, don’t smoke, is this what your parents sent you here to do?). Unfortunately, because the DISCO’s powers are unchecked, the character of those who lead and are members of the DISCO in any year can change the way it operates. Thus, the DISCO of 2018-19 is fundamentally different from past DISCOs/SDGMs, with the present one merely enforcing the Hostel Rules’ moral impositions on students in a tyrannical fashion instead of shielding students from them.
The only way to ensure that DISCOs uniformly act in accordance with the aforementioned twin principles is raising our voices. Four years ago (in the AY 2014-15), a General Body Meeting called by the student body to challenge some obnoxious moral impositions proposed by the SDGM co-convenors of the time during Strawberry Fields forced them to moderate their stance and recognise that they cannot act contrary to student interests. Quite similarly, the time has come to recognise that the unchecked exercise of power by the DISCO has caused serious problems in the lives of many hostel residents. What we need, therefore, is a similar GBM, where we frame and agree upon a set of broad principles that will govern the manner in which the DISCO functions. As a united student front, it is then possible to engage directly with the administration and have the vast, unchecked powers of the DISCO moderated. Some indicative areas of interest are:
- Ensuring that the DISCO operates in a manner that protects student autonomy instead of curbing it
- Ensuring that the student body has some elected representatives on the DISCO/gets a say in the appointment of DISCO members.
- Ensuring that a proper process is followed by the DISCO in “raiding” rooms and collective evidence of “misdemeanours” by students.
- Framing guidelines on the quantum of punishment to be accorded by the DISCO for different kinds of offences.
- Ensuring that the DISCO follows natural justice principles and, most importantly, records its reasoning for according a particular punishment in writing.
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, and I honestly don’t have a concrete plan for how we will go about curbing this problem. My primary aim, through this piece, has been to expose the concern to the student body at large and start a conversation about the physical and mental effects the DISCO can have on many hostel residents. Sadly, the DISCOs have a history of simply refusing to engage with Facebook and mail threads on their actions, so it seems that a GBM and a united student front before the administration is the only option. As a final note, I want to address the fact that I am writing this anonymously. Unfortunately, I don’t have a choice. I occasionally choose to engage in some “fun” activities and I don’t want to invite the wrath of the DISCO overlords by identifying myself. My hope is that in the future, we have a system where people like me don’t need to hide behind anonymity to challenge the actions of the DISCO and live in a hostel environment that is free for all and conducive to healthy, personal choices.