Marred by infighting, lack of funds and metro construction in South Bombay, Siddharth College struggles to hold its own against Bombay’s ‘Elite’ Institutions
By Anant Gupta
“Sometimes there is a very loud noise. It feels like the whole building is shaking. Everybody peeps out of the windows. Then we realise it is the metro construction. Even teachers get scared. It is very bad for our hearing,” complained Sandesh, a Kalyan resident and a first-year student at the Siddharth College of Commerce & Economics.
Metro construction work, in its third year, has blocked the road facing the college's front gate. Authorities had promised that all precautionary measures would be taken to protect the 126-year-old building from damage. “They promised that all repair costs will be borne by them,” recalled Mr. UM Maske, the Principal Incharge. But the promise remains unfulfilled.
History & Vision
“There were many educational institutes in South Bombay even when Babasaheb was alive. But those institutes had closed their doors for the oppressed classes. Babasaheb set up the People's Education Society to provide education to them,” Principal Maske said.
Chinmay, a resident of Ambarnath and a second-year student of the college described it thus: “Students lose the phobia of talking about Dr. Ambedkar here. That phobia exists because others assume your caste when you talk about him. But this college makes you confident. You know that even if non-Siddharth groups oppose you, your classmates will stand with you.”
Babasaheb Dr. Ambedkar's original chair kept in the Library
Sandesh pointed out that the college conducts classes for those who wish to learn Pali, in which Buddha's verses are, as in written form. “Buddhist Monks also attend classes in our college, as Buddha and Dr Ambedkar both see them as preachers and not as priests, they too attend classes and learn. The college wants people to be connected to those roots of Buddhism, as its name too suggests.”
About other colleges in the area, the Principal said: “H.R., K.C., Jai Hind, Xavier’s and Elphinstone College hardly have 10 percent of their students from reserved categories. They set their cut off marks above 90 percent but admit candidates who score even 55 percent through the backdoor. Donations of lakhs of rupees are accepted. All this happens in the name of ‘merit’.”
“Five years ago, Jai Hind College was in the news for collecting Rs 71 Lakhs from its students for WiFi services in a year. We don’t take that kind of money from our students.," He added, "How can we provide digital classrooms?” Mr. Maske asked rhetorically. Siddharth College charges annual fees ranging from Rs 240 to 740 for junior college students from different backgrounds.
“With this money, we try to provide the best quality education that we can. Our teachers are well qualified and have vast teaching experience,” Principal Maske said. Two full-time professors and several visiting faculties are our former students of the college. The Principal said this was part of Dr. Ambedkar’s philosophy of giving back to society.
Dispute Over Chair-personship
The principal refused to comment on the dispute between the high profile board members of the society over its chairpersonship. He said: “You will ask, “Who is the chairperson?” I don’t have an answer. I can’t even blame those who are fighting. Some are trying to save Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy from being hijacked by his enemies.”
In 2019, the Income Tax Department seized all the money — 53 Lakhs in total— in the college’s account due to its failure to file the return. The law requires an audit of the consolidated accounts of all the institutes, run by the People’s Education Society. Without a chairperson, this audit can’t be conducted.
"The students don’t care about the dispute. We want a canteen and new projectors in our classrooms. Our priorities are very different,” said Chinmay.
No recruitment has been conducted on 32 vacant permanent positions in the college since 2013. Without government NOCs (No Objection Certificates) no new recruitment can be done. So long as the dispute goes on, no NOCs can be obtained by the college.
Several employees have been hired on a contractual basis. Their salaries are paid by the college, not the government. “We don’t accept donations because that is against Babasaheb’s vision. We can’t increase fees either. So we increase our intake to meet this expense,” he noted.
Unique Problems, Unique Solutions
The college has adapted its infrastructure to the needs created by the increased intake. The auditorium has been divided into two separate classrooms. “A Floor has been divided to create two floors. The media room is in the upper half and a toilet below it continues to be used,” said Chinmay. A teacher, who did not wish to be named, described these classrooms as “khoofiya” (hidden), It is the Mass Media Department. Beautifully painted by student's Initiative to make it look creative and lively for the Media department.
“The problems faced by this college are very different from those faced by Jai Hind or H.R. College. They have no shortage of funds. Our problems have been created by those with an RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] mindset. Today those people are everywhere — from Mantralaya to UGC. But I can’t keep talking to you about all those problems. I have to solve them,” the Principal said.
Anant Guplta is a student of School of Media and Cultural Studies in Tata institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai