Challenging Nagaland’s ‘Fine Culture’

Anjan K Behera

Research Scholar (Eng), NU

The main role of a punishment is to reduce an undesired behaviour, yet, there is more to it than that. Education is the primary ‘industry’ in Nagaland. What remains a trend in many of our educational institutions is the prevalence of the ‘Fine’ culture: collecting money from students as a form of punishment. Fines are collected for the most trivial of reasons as well, like having missed a class picnic, because apparently missing a day of fun and frolic with your classmates isn’t punishment enough. If students really understood the value of money, perhaps collecting fines would be a fool-proof punishment strategy, but they do not. In that case, just who is being punished by demanding fines? The students, or the parents and guardians who actually pay the fines? If an institution charges fines alone as method of punishment, they are actually cleaning their hands off the task of disciplining the student. My contention is that when students enrol in an educational institution, the payment of the tuition fees and admission fees is a binding contract with the parents/guardians that the student will be educated. And if we are under the foolish impression that education is limited to the completion of the syllabus alone, we could not be more wrong. The role of educational institutions go a long way, they are responsible for nurturing and training students in the right way so that they become responsible citizens of tomorrow, and the fees for that has already been paid. Asking students to pay more money so as to ‘discipline’ them does not make sense. It’s like ordering a plate of Butter Chicken and then being asked to pay extra for the butter.

 

Attendance was a matter of grave importance at Christ University, Bangalore, where I did my graduation and post-graduation. One must have a minimum of 85% attendance to be eligible for the end-semester admit card. During my first year there I decided to extend my Christmas vacation and join classes a week after the reopening date. The university tabulates attendance on a daily basis and when the January attendance reports were out, my percentage was low. This set into motion a series of events. First of all, I had to go for a counselling session with the university counsellor who wanted to know the reason behind the shortage and if I needed any sort of help. My parents received a phone call from them informing about the shortage in my attendance, and a formal letter was couriered to them. A note of warning was issued to me as well. All this showed the concern the institution had for us, the students, and at the end, I did vow to never allow myself to have an attendance shortage, and I never did. The hullaballoo following low attendance in the monthly attendance reports was enough to discourage students from bunking classes.

 

In most Nagaland colleges, attendance shortage translates into a hefty fine. There are many cases where parents come to know about the low attendance of their children only when their admit cards are blocked at the end of the semester. Unless the student pays the fine, the admit card is not issued. Of course, the whole idea of the admit card being blocked instils some amount of fear, but at the end of the day, it simply translates into ‘Attendance shortage? No problem! Pay and get your admit card’. What exactly are we teaching our students, that they can bribe their way out of any difficult situation? In the first place, students who understand the value of money for this punishment to actually have some effect are not the ones who end up with a low attendance. In this regard, I really appreciate the endeavour of C-Edge College, Dimapur. As per their NAAC Co-ordinator, Ms Wapanginla Ao, students with low attendance are made to attend remedial classes to make up for the lost hours. Only after they have attended the required number of remedial classes are they issued their admit cards. This is a wonderful initiative. Instead of just levying fines on the students, C-Edge is helping those with low attendance cope up with their studies so that their academic performance stays unaffected. The fear of having to stay back for remedial classes pushes students to be regular.

 

As per the June 2018 report presented by Dr Arenla Walling of the NTCP, Kohima, Nagaland is the 8th highest consumer of tobacco in India. Paan-spit stained corners of classrooms and corridors is not an uncommon sight in schools and colleges of our state. To curb this menace, many institutions conduct gutka checking regularly where students are punished if caught in possession of tobacco products. But sadly, the punishment for this in many institutions is limited to fines alone. However, the initiatives by institutions like Tetso College, Dimapur, need special mention. Ms Thungdeno Humsoe, head of the Discipline Committee of the college, reports that students caught in possession of gutka are made to give presentations to other students about the harmful effects of gutka consumption. This works well since those addicted to tobacco themselves research and learn the ill effects, thus discouraging them from continuing along the same path. Additionally, the students who listen to the presentations are constantly reminded that gutka is harmful, discouraging potential new users. The internal marks of second and third-time offenders are deducted, thereby creating fear which prevents future use of gutka.

 

For some reason, the Nagamese creole is looked down upon in educational institutions, perhaps a remnant of the colonial mentality where native languages were deemed impure, or perhaps because of its origin: trade with the ‘plain’ people. The fact remains that Nagamese unites Nagas and other diaspora communities residing in the state. I am absolutely appalled by the fact that many institutions in our state impose fines on students for speaking in Nagamese during the working hours. This is the most absurd reason to collect fines. By collecting fines for speaking in Nagamese, we are teaching our future generations that it is an inferior language which is to be disrespected. The English we worship today was once upon a time spoken only by the Anglo-Saxons, a Germanic tribe, and was looked down upon by speakers of the classical languages (French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew). Simply put, languages are a mode of expression. Instead of only imposing fines, let’s explain to our students that every language is to be respected; though they should speak in English during school/college hours so as to improve their knowledge of this foreign language.

 

We need to move beyond the traditional way of thinking and venture out to inculcate new ideas so as to accommodate the practical needs of the newer generations. Many institutions have a strict no cell phone policy in their campuses. I feel mobiles today have a great role to play when it comes to education. As a teacher, I always communicated with my students via social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and web services like Google Classroom, whether it be sharing of study materials or posting extra information about the papers being taught. Students should be allowed to use smartphones in classes which require them to research on certain areas, and self-study should be promoted. Charging fines for just being in the possession of mobile phones in today’s world sounds very stone-ageish. If a student is caught using the phone in a class where it is not required, the phone can be seized for a specific number of days.

 

It is gratifying to know that some radical educational institutions in Nagaland are doing away with the trend of fines entirely. Most CBSE schools in Nagaland are following this trend. Some schools use detention as a mode of punishment. In case of repeated disciplinary issues from students may forfeit their chance of participating in a co-curricular activity or sporting event. The fear of missing out on fun events persuades students to keep away from trouble. Many of these schools have trained psychologists available for counselling students with discipline issues. Counsellors can help students resolve underlying issues which might be the root cause of these problem behaviours. Perhaps in the years to come our state’s educational institutions can reduce the number of fines being charged from students for various offences. Fines are never an effective method to deal with such problems. Educational institutions need to understand that their responsibility goes way beyond conducting classes and organizing fests. I sincerely hope this ‘fine culture’ in Nagaland is put to rest. Today’s students will be tomorrow’s citizens. Let’s make sure we inculcate in them honesty, responsibility, dedication, and sensitivity, and stop painting a worldview for them where money can undo all wrongs.