Rajasthan— At a time when castes and religions are believed to be the root of growing intolerance in society, this educational institution in Udaipur, Rajasthan stands out as a model for its practise, though a very small step, in reducing the stereotypes based on identity. Vidhya Bhawan Polytechnic College imparting diploma, post-graduate diploma level and various skill development courses has done away with the age-old practice of surname usage in maintaining records. The last names stay only for the establishment purposes where the mention of surnames is mandatory in the upkeep of public records eg. admission forms, marksheet and certificates of the students.
At this polytechnic college, from the students, to the teaching and non-teaching staff, even the principal are identified by their first names only. “We call it the First Name First Initiative (FNFI) under which only the first name would be used for anyone who is a part of the college. Under FNFI, the surnames of students have been removed from the attendance registers and likewise last name of the staff too have been striked off from the name plates. We are all known by our first name,” principal Dr. Anil said in a conversation with The Mooknayak. (He insisted on not mentioning any surnames in the story)
The idea struck the principal in 2015 and with some initial inhibitions, people started conditioning themselves to the new mannerism. By 2017 the initiative was completely applied in the daily management of college affairs. The last names were cleared from the notice boards. New nameplates were installed outside offices with only the first names of the office bearers and faculty members outside their respective departments. Now after 5 years, everyone is finding the initiative a pleasant deviation from conventionalism.
"Casteism is so ingrained and conditioned in our system and all of us are somewhere tuned in for it. In a society like ours with varied cultures, diversity is a strength but when the difference leads to biases then the aspect becomes rather a hindrance and we do not want that our students too nurture such biases inside them,” Anil emphasize. The college has a strength of 500 students who are enrolled for mechanical, electrical, electronic, IT and civil engineering diploma courses and rubber technology post-diploma course. The teaching, technical and helping staff strength is 65 including 12 female workers. "Everyone talks of equality but in reality our community had been discriminated. But in this college, we are all actually equals. We don't have separate tablewares for tea and refreshments. Wish every institution and offices follow the suit" Durga, the peon opines.
Accepting the new way hadn’t been easy with confusion prevailing where pupils with same names happened to be in a class. "We found a way out and in such cases 'initials' of last name are used to confirm identities," Anil says. The FNF initiative has met 100 % success rate. The college administration even removed the surnames from the display boards of the merit holders of the institution. “We can’t do away with the last names completely as they have to be kept in the service records of staff members. However, on a superficial level, this initiative has helped to a large extent in changing the mindset especially of the younger generation and inculcating a feeling of oneness," said the proud Principal.
Another major change the Vidya Bhawan Society has implemented for all the 13 institutions run by it, is by doing away with the hierarchical way of keeping attendance records. Society president Ajay and CEO Dr. Anurag have made it mandatory for the affiliated institutions to maintain the attendance record strictly on alphabetic order. “This step has been taken to promote values based on equal respect for people of all races, gender, religion and socio-economic background. To develop a broad and open minded outlook on life, such baby steps come really handy," Ajay said.
All photos courtesy- Vidya Bhavan Society
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