Anecdotes from the lives of historic men and women have time and again proved that academics don’t happen to be the penultimate thing in life but the fact that the influence of academics in one’s life cannot be totally discarded also holds true. For the holistic and inclusive development of every child, he or she has to undertake a method of learning which couples both academic and extra-curricular activities involving sports, dramatics, debating etc. Delhi University has had the privilege of being repeatedly rated as the numero-uno university in India by various journals and magazines of national repute. The administration of Delhi University has always been a vocal proponent of the prevalence of extra-curricular activities and has skilfully managed to get it institutionalized and operationalized in nearly all of its constituent colleges and departments.
Every year the Academic Council in consultation with the Executive Council sets apart a huge chunk of money from the annual budget of the university for the sake of undertaking and promoting cultural activities among students. Over the years every college has developed a healthy environment for smooth and active practice of extra-curricular activities. All colleges organize cultural festivals in which students are given an opportunity to display their talent and compete with one another. Some of the cultural fests of foremost and heavyweight colleges of Delhi University like LSR, Hindu and Hansraj are able to attract participants from all across the country. The competitiveness level of these fests happens to be at the zenith and for a matter of few days they become the epicentre of all the talented people in the country. But the scenario is fast changing. Fests which once used to felicitate the skills of students have now become toast of capitalism and celebrities.
Things are not as plain and simple as they seem to be. The very concept of holding such fests seems to have been dismantled and a new culture has taken over. Every college considers its annual fest as its baby. As an event which provides them with a make or break opportunity. What is at stake is nothing but the reputation of the college. While the lesser known colleges try to eclipse past the honchos of DU, the established ones try to build up on their reputation and hegemonic-popularity among the student fraternity. All this seems to be fine but the games which are played behind the curtains raise many significant questions. Hosting a cultural fest means the necessary need of sponsors who could finance the event. But DU provides colleges with funds then what’s the need of sponsors? It’s because the funds which are provided by the University Head Office are not meant for extravagance and are limited. Sponsors pour in a lot of money which helps the host college in increasing the prize money of every event. The more is the prize money, the more will be the participation. The financial help provided by sponsors for the sake of building goodwill enables the host college to launch a marketing-blitzkrieg and effectively popularize the fest between students. This is nothing but the breeding of the mercenary psychology where we are encouraging students not to come and display their talent but to earn money. These wrong practices have had many unfortunate repercussions. Students don’t turn up to compete at those places where the prize money is low and show complete disregard to such events. Many colleges which don’t resort to fund gathering from corporations fail to orchestrate the success of their event since the participation remains low. Also, if a fest fails to get sponsors then it isn’t considered as a big brand event and is given a miss by the students.
A student of LSR and a member of the organizing committee of Tarang, the annual cultural festival of LSR, told me that the institution instructed girls to go on a sponsor-hunting spree. She said, “The teachers told us to arrange as many sponsors as possible by using the goodwill of the institution as a bait to woo them. The girls launched an onslaught and approached many corporations. They explained to them the benefit of being associated and funding a college like LSR. Many organizations readily agreed and sponsored the event. In return they set up stalls at the event inside the college premises and sold their products. But our over concentration on sponsors took a toll on the event. Tarang didn’t sail through nor was it aptly managed. Everything appeared to be in a mess and there was complete chaos. Competitions were conducted in a harum-scarum way.” An ace debater from SRCC agrees that his participation in competitions depends on the prize money. He says, “I usually participate in only those college fests where the prize money is high or else I don’t consider the event a worthy place to compete at as my efforts will not be properly financially compensated.” But he agrees to the ill-effects of this mercenary psychology. He says, “This has taken a toll on the quality of debating as well as the quality of debaters. Events aren’t as smooth sailing as they used to be. Anarchy prevails in all. So much of attention is given to other things that the students hardly prepare for the competition. They do not even organize the event in an immaculate manner.”
Another sinister thing associated with cultural fests in DU is the appearance of celebrities. The money which colleges accumulate via sponsorships enables them to hire celebrities, film stars and rock bands. They appear or perform at fests in exchange for money. The presence of a star figure happens to be a crowd puller and his performance is seen as the main event which easily surpasses all levels of excitement. Other events in which students participate are not given any importance and all eyes wait in eager anticipation of the main event. Colleges cash in on the celebrity’s popularity. They sell event tickets to students from other colleges who are willing to come and see the celebrity perform and hence rake in a lot of money from this exercise of selling tickets or entry passes. Many a times the situation goes completely ballistic and haywire. The crowd goes insane and stampedes result.
During the cultural festival of Ramjas College a major stampede resulted in the amphitheatre and the adjoining ground. The chaos soon spread till the metro station of North Campus. A second year student of Ramjas, recollected the unfortunate incident which resulted on that fateful day during her candid conversation with me. She said, “The crowd went crazy after seeing Honey Singh (a famous singer who performed at the fest) and started breaking barricades. Soon the police lathi-charged and a stampede broke out.” Educational institutions are the very temples of learning and discipline. During such fests breach of discipline and decorum has become a common practice which is facilitated by celebrities. During Ramjas’s fest, Honey Singh took off his shirt on stage. Many boys went on to replicate him and started acting in a hooliganistic way. Honey Singh happens to be an x-rated singer and he did not shy away from humming some of his explicit songs for the students. The songs were full of filthy words which were for everybody to hear when the students started screaming along with Honey Singh. Celebrities have converted such fests into cheap events. A student of LSR, told me, “A comedian had come to perform on our fest. He cracked a very lame joke when he said that Mayawati is very ugly and the only thing which she can erect is statues (pun intended).”
Fests are meant to honour student skills and encourage them to carry on with their talent. It encourages them to spare and devote some time out of their busy schedule to extra-curricular activities not to make them voyeuristic by running after prize money and by acting cheaply in an undisciplined manner. It’s time for DU to drive stars and sponsors out of college fests so that the essence of cultural fests remain unharmed and is not taken over by a pseudo-corporate-celebrity culture.