A Crisis of Unity: Who Supports The Support Staff?
As mildly petrified freshmen at Ashoka University, we somehow find ourselves in possession of boundless energy and excitement. However, this Red Bull gives you wings-esque zeal that we have owes infinite gratitude to the contributions of the most integral members of the Ashokan family — our very own Didis and Bhaiyas. It is they who welcome us with utmost warmth and, let’s not forget…dazzling smiles that would put even the Sonepat heat to shame. Needless to say, the imprints of their conduct constitutes the backbone of Ashoka’s legacy. No number of words would do justice to their contribution.
In the two years that I have called Ashoka University home, I have witnessed our Didis and Bhaiyas extend hands of companionship and care to each student…while combating dire circumstances in their everyday life. For instance, some members of our support staff are the sole bread-earners for their families and are hence faced with severe financial constraints; some are compelled to leave their children behind at home in order to earn, whilst others are subject to appalling social atrocities. However, despite such challenges, they express bucketfuls of empathy towards us students. Furthermore, it is almost as if their fearless spirit with which they do so inspires us to carry forth Ashoka’s legacy.
This brings us to the all-important question — what do such wonderful Didis and Bhaiyas deserve? At the very least, an enabling and conducive work environment with a stellar support system, an abundance of recreational activities, and the general assurance — as must be demonstrated in action — that the institution they are working for will always stand by them. Unfortunately, these conditions do not prevail in reality.
It is a known fact that our Didis and Bhaiyas have been subjected to troubling circumstances on campus, particularly in the recent past. These circumstances do not only decrease their faith in the Ashokan integrity that we are required to stand for, but also disheartens them on a psychological level. Needless to say, I am extremely thankful for the various student-run institutions both on and off-campus that bring these issues to light and work on them.
In fact, in the past as well as present, there have been a number of students and student-run institutions that have shared a close bond with our support staff. It is due to such a bond that heinous incidents against them could be met with swift action. Thus, as a member of the Ministry of Community Well-Being — which has long been dedicated to the cause of support staff welfare — the aim of this article is to inspire more and more students to establish familial bonds with our support staff members. It is my earnest hope that we may, someday, form a unified team of students and staff members who confront issues together.
Instances of interaction with the Didis and Bhaiyas have been anonymously described by some students as follows:
1. I really bonded with the Didi on my floor. I’d get her lunch from the mess sometimes — she absolutely loved dosa! We’d talk every day while sitting in the sun and even click pictures once in a while. I couldn’t say bye to her before leaving but I hope we can meet soon!
2. I fell really sick last year and had to be taken to the hospital every now and then for over a month. The only upside to my situation was that I bonded so much with the infirmary staff — the Didis and Bhaiyas who took me. They used to pamper me! We’d often get lassi or chole bhature or juice in Sonepat. I’ll always be so grateful because being sick and being away from home can be quite overwhelming — they really comforted me and I thoroughly enjoyed those mini road trips.
3. Times during which I have felt that my day has not gone well…or felt too exhausted with whatever has been going on in my life, an exchange of greetings with any of the support staff members and conversation about our mutual well-being has always cheered me up. What’s more, I have always felt that instant energy that I needed right at that moment to complete my work. I feel incredibly grateful for these exchanges.
4. This was when there were very few students on campus…due to which the whole summer break seemed very mundane. It was at that time that my friends I used to spend our evenings with support staff members, whether playing on the grounds or simply talking to them. Those were the moments that I looked forward to my whole day and the reason that, summer semester evenings became some of the most satisfying and fun moments of my whole routine. I can truly say that one of the most fun phases I had on campus consisted of the time when support staff members and students used to stay on campus and interacted frequently in mess areas, grounds, hallways, etc. No one can not feel magnetized by the energy many of them brought to the atmosphere and their boundless compassion towards us students.
5. It was barely any interactions because the staff on my floor changed quite frequently. But, I realized that I found myself waving at/saying hello to a number of staff members for that very reason — finding these friends in different places, acknowledging me with warm smiles.
If we form a united team of students and support staff members, we will be so much more effective in tackling the many issues that persist on campus. It is critical that we dedicate our time and effort to understand the issues that arise on campus on a daily basis — or might arise in the future — and work on finding solutions to the same. Not only is it important that we be of immediate help to our Didis and Bhaiyas, but also establish mechanisms through which various issues can be stopped from arising altogether. One such basic mechanism can be fostering more individual rapport among students and support staff members in the true spirit of togetherness.
However, the issue is that wardens and other members of the administration penalize support staff members for having conversations with students. This makes it extremely difficult for students working on issues of workers’ welfare to delve deeper into these issues — the support staff are terrified of opening up and having to face the administration’s dissatisfaction. We must take a stand. Let us all bond with our Didis and Bhaiyas till it becomes a norm not only in our minds but also in the administration’s — beyond their control.
Thus, our coming together as a united Ashokan community is important to the say the very least — not only to combat and curtail any and all atrocious incidents involving members of the support staff but also to demolish the deep-rooted institutional discrimination that traps the support staff within its web. It is no surprise that gender-based discrimination persists among support staff members. For instance, in the mess men tend to hold the position of Chef and cater/serve while women are made to wash utensils and clean. Moreover, with regard to the current catering company, managerial positions are held by men. To combat all of these issues, students’ active participation is required at a much deeper level to create adequate awareness about these issues and push for the required change. We can travel a long way together without even realizing the distance we will have covered in our togetherness!