MUMBAI: Until recently, for the authorities at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B), excessive computer use on the campus meant glazed looks and the occasional geek falling asleep in class. But now, students and faculty members admit that all-night (and sometimes 24/7) hacking competitions, gaming competitions, music downloading and file-sharing, chatting and blogging are taking a heavy toll at the elite campus-affecting attendance, grades and even personal lives.
Last week, fourth-year physics student Vijay Nukala, known on the campus as ‘Nuke’, committed suicide after being failed in three courses because of poor attendance. Regarded by all as the campus’ networking wizard, Nukala had not scored high enough marks in his IIT-JEE entrance to get into computer engineering, his first love. Nukala had to make a presentation on the first stage of his project report the day he hanged himself in his room. His professors were aware of the stress the boy was under-as a precaution, they had asked his father to be in Mumbai last week.
Each batch of students at IIT-B is assigned a faculty advisor who periodically reviews their grades and advises them. The campus has one full-time counsellor for students, two psychiatrists and one psychologist attached to the IIT Hospital.
When asked why Nukala had not been flagged off for counselling considering the intense pressure he was under, dean, student affair, Prakash Gopalan said his faculty advisors knew of his dropping attendance.
One or two instructors had offered to hold extra classes for him. We had alerted his father about the situation and had also asked him to be here during Vijay’s exams.”
Although peer counselling is widely accepted as an effective way of helping students, especially in residential campuses, Gopalan admitted that IIT-B’s ‘mentoring programme’ is primarily geared towards orienting freshers and preventing ragging. In fact, Nukala would have had to play the role of a mentor, being a fourth-year student.
Though shocked that Nukala, who commanded a lot of respect on the campus for his undisputed ‘geek skills’, had ended his life, students say excessive computer use is beginning to affect many a career on the campus. “Most of us have computers and internet connectivity in our own rooms. Though everyone chats, blogs and downloads music, it’s an addiction for some,” said a female student, adding that while chatting took up most of the time in the girls hostel, for boys it was gaming, downloading music and hacking.
“After a day full of lectures and periodicals, I feel I can let loose at night,” said a mechanical engineering student and self-confessed “gaming junkie”. “We have inter-hostel contests sometimes or it’s just with random people online. The more geeky guys here are into coding and hacking,” he added.
Admitting that he often found it hard to wake up and stay awake in class, he said he had done better in his first year than in his second year, when he began to game. IIT-B authorities are now forced to admit that it’s a problem. “It’s a very big problem. For the last one or two years we’ve been seeing these guys sleep off in class or be present physically but not mentally. But now they’re even not showing up for cultural activities or on the playing field,” said Gopalan. He admitted that restrictions in computer use could be resented by the students. “Any change from the outside will be resisted. We have been talking to groups of students to see if they can discuss this with other students,” he added.