Neo-Elitism at NIFT
When I compared the fee structure of fashion colleges across India a decade ago, NIFT clearly stood out with the best balance of quality and money. NIFT, being a government autonomous body admits students from myriad of socio-economical backgrounds, including reservations for not just the socially under-privileged sections but even the elite communities through management/NRI quota. I found myself amidst vast socio-economical diversity – from millionaires of Delhi to students who on vacations, returned home to remote villages. I faintly remember reading in Shefali Vasudev’s Powder Room that Rahul Mishra made it big from very modest backgrounds, a mud house in a village near Kanpur. But that’s one amazing super-talented Rahul Mishra…. Indian fashion runways otherwise command an array of talented names, many from NIFT, often with surnames that boast social status & point to wealthy families. But how do students from financially under-privileged or middle-class backgrounds fare in the college? What’s the plight of young Lee McQueens and Rahul Mishras in Indian fashion colleges? What do they do after college?
MONEY BRINGS YOU MARKS AT NIFT
This is not always the case but it’s not uncommon either. A prominent fashion designer, a regular at India Fashion Week in Delhi, was part of the external jury panel for the summer internship project I did in Bangalore. He literally asked me why my document was so thin (barely 50-something pages) when there were other assignment documents wearing the look of a telephone directory. Now he put that question to me even without going through the document, not even a rough flip. I bluntly told him I was financially broke, didn’t have the money to print as many pages (it costs about Rs.20-25 a side those days at Nehru place in Delhi) and hence compressed the same content in as many pages, it’s less cumbersome, friendlier to read & understand that way. Not that I ever expected him to buy those words but I was definitely curious to get a reaction from him – He gave me the dirts… And it turned out he also gave me the least grades. No surprise in that reaction. The marks at NIFT are often directly proportional to the thickness of the document and price of the material going into the assignments.
If not the money itself, putting in lots of time and detailing fetches you labour-sympathy marks. Regardless of how unoriginal/ordinary that idea can get, the fact that someone put in 127 hours of work on a 5marks fabric swatch makes the jury members wanna give them the whole pie when you’ll probably be graded a 3 or 4 because, the idea is great, whereas “execution” can be better – as if you’re being trained to become a kaarigar (craftsman) in a factory. There was a clear emphasis on the hard work itself than ideas, imaginations or creativity during my five-year stay at the NIFT New Delhi.
In many ways, the students are trained to toil like sweatshop labours who can later serve the export houses that violate human rights and pimp our local labour to international labels at throw away prices.
It didn’t take long for me to connect the dots & fill the larger puzzle. It didn’t take long to not care for validation in form of marks as long as I could get my degree and flee the rotting bureaucratic ineptitude I found myself in.
RITUALS OF JUSTICE INACCESSIBLE TO STUDENTS WITHOUT POWER & MONEY
I was debarred from writing my last exam & my examination hall ticket was maliciously taken away by NIFT lab assistant without my knowledge before my last exam in my second semester at college in 2009. They literally hid it & asked me to collect it from the Delhi Center Coordinator Mrs. Usha Narasimhan. Apparently, there were differences held between Delhi centre & Head office on whether I should be given a chance to write exams since my attendance was 8% short of minimum req. 65% in a subject which was earlier covered up on medical credits since I missed classes due to typhoid followed by chicken pox in January 2009. By the summer, I had already written all the final sem exams and there was just one more to go.
The centre coordinator of 1st year batch asked me to take the issue to the Director General of NIFT Mr. Rajiv Takru who was an IAS officer and tales were rife among students on how he apparently won’t entertain us as long as daddies are rich with political connect & predictably he didn’t entertain an audience with me even after writing 17 letters explaining my academic capability, how I was diagnosed with genuine health problems & how I still managed to finish my assignments & I deserved to give my last exam when I’ve already given all the other exams, for which I’ve put on extra efforts despite my health conditions. I would wait outside his office for weeks without food or water wondering who the fuck does this man meet if not students of this college? Phone calls, letters all in vain. The exams which I already gave, spending physical effort, time & money (NIFT assignments are expensive af), they were all scrapped. This meant my educational loan would be screwed, I wanted to drop out of NIFT, but I wasn’t financially equipped then to do even that.
I joined NIFT Delhi with All India Rank 1 in my counselling & now I had a semester back & it was the first time as an adult that I genuinely considered suicide as an option to put an end to this fight happening on uneven power disparities. I had the courage to do it but it didn’t rationally make sense especially when it’s people who cared for me who’ll eventually be affected. I returned home. That’s when I said FUCK NIFT & these incompetent corrupt people running the college & wrote actively on this Purushu Arie fashion blog to create a fashion realm of my own that’s unaffected by the powerful elites who love to put down & suppress students from less-fortunate economical backgrounds. Indian government run educational institutions are saturated with such modern day Dronacharyas who mercilessly chop the fingers of millions of Ekalavyas, while Arjunas buy their way up with political/economical/social power.
NIFT has financial assistance programs where they refund up to 75% of the tuition fee. The paper work involved is somewhat less favourable to students whose parents have salaried pay slip as opposed to someone with more independent channel of income and can quote independent income.
There are other financial schemes mentioned in NIFT websites and brochures, but I never managed to practically avail any those schemes simply because you don’t know who or where to avail it from, especially when one office points to another, till it boomerangs and you eventually lose patience and say: fuck this shit, I don’t have time to complete my assignments, forget this tiresome game of musical chairs leading to emptiness.
In fact, my refundable caution deposit amounting to some 4-5 thousands, supposed to be paid by the college in 2013 right when I graduated is yet to be cleared as of 10th April 2018, in spite of phone and email enquiries to NIFT officials. It’s a conventional sarkari office where you’ll have to wait forever but they’ll never ever have time for you. Beyond a point, I consciously stopped putting the time & effort to enquire that money, probably to write it in this NIFT insider story here in this blog.
I considered myself an honourable young man back then who found it superficial to write letters to the same administration I was cynical of & distrusted. In some way, it was stupid on my part to care for honour. At NIFT you don’t play for honour, instead you play to survive.
OVER-PRICED FOR WHAT IT RETURNS
Are you wondering why that dude’s selling regular cotton saris for Rs. 80,000? The designer probably learned the art of over pricing from alma mater NIFT. NIFT is on par with what IIT is to engineering or IIM is to management in India. In fact, NIFT New Delhi is the only Indian college to even feature in world’s top 30-50 lists in its respective field of expertise, and yet, the returns through campus placements at NIFT is nowhere in comparison to that of IITs or IIMs. Despite being a government run institution, NIFT is a very expensive place to study at. The assignments are expensive, most NIFTs don’t have structured hostel fee or mess fees for educational loans to cover up the living/food expenses. In spite of shelling out a bomb for education, what you take back monetarily through campus placements at NIFT is very likely to be less than what your fellow engineering or doctor buddies do. NIFT students are largely placed in Indian retail houses or export houses where they’re mostly overworked and underpaid. A few wealthy kids manage to launch a label of their own after graduation, and the richest of the rich gets to lobby at fashion weeks, and a handful perhaps, who make it there on credits of talent.
FASHION STILL SAFELY IN CLUTCHES OF ELITEIST HEGEMONY
Because in India, it is easier for a Bollywood star-wife oblivious to the knowledge of apparel design to become a famous fashion designer than the students who actually clear national level entrance exams to study apparel design. High-fashion apparel in India is a relatively young micro-industry within the larger textile industry. Textile sector is the second largest employer in India after agriculture sector. Much like in agriculture, the core heart of textile sector lies in rural India and yet the fashion industry is pretty much contained within the monopoly of elite society of Delhi-Mumbai. Thousands of fashion students graduate every year in India but it’s not necessarily the talented graduates but the ones with money who are largely welcomed & supported in the fashion industry (largely made up of power husbands, power wives, sugar daddies, sugar aunties, power tops, power bottoms), pretty much the reason why Indian fashion industry still largely draws parallels to silly sex filled free-booze gatherings of low IQ rich people.
Considering the costs involved in securing admission at private fashion institutions, it seems like NIFT is still the best and only bet for fashion aspirants from less-fortunate economical backgrounds in India and face the bitter music: Be extremely determined (& talented) and digest the fact that you need not necessarily be treated with the same fairness that the wealthy kids some baap-ka-naam will be treated. Life won’t be fair, 4 years will fly fighting, and it’s only then you’ll probably realise if it was worth it or not. Dronacharyas who discriminate students on virtues of birth or wealth have corrupted institutions of knowledge in India for years, but never ever let a small mind, regardless of age or socio-economical status or position of power convince you that you don’t deserve what you worked to earn.