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Debating Society: Road to WUDC 2021

July 7, 2021

The World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) is the world’s largest debating tournament, and one of the largest annual international student events in the world. With around 400 teams battling it out each year, the Debating Society of IITR is sending their first contingent to the tournament. Watch Out! decided to interview the members of the contingent: Deep Behal and Aditya Ramkumar about the function of the society and the stakes behind the tournament.

WO: What is the Debating Society? What do you guys actually do?

DebSoc: We prepare for a specific format of debating called Parliamentary Debating and in those formats, of course, there are sub formats and we prepare and then we go and participate in tournaments. These formats, Asian Parliamentary and British Parliamentary Debates each involve their own set of rules, however, their core principles stay the same, that is, you prepare arguments on some set principles and argue them over with other teams. On-campus, a lot of our work is geared towards preparing for these competitions. So you’ll typically find members of the debating society, twice or thrice a week sitting in the room and debating. We might be one of the only campus groups that actually participates in tournaments that are outside or which are inter-varsity in nature. Many other cultural groups do something in Cognizance or Thomso but that’s their restriction.

WO: Does your form of debating differ from the debates in school?

DebSoc: There are a lot of things that are different from the formats that people have debated in school. Typically in school, there are two types of debates that people have done or people usually do. The first is MUN, and the second is elocution based debating. In both these formats, the topic that is debated or discussed is given beforehand and evaluation is done by people who are decided from the start. In the case of normal elocution based debating, you have judges who are typically either professors or older people who have been invited to judge. In MUNs, you have people who chair who are also typically slightly older, and people who are experienced.

Thus, the difference between these debates and the debates that we do from these is that first, the topic is impromptu, which is we’re given the topic on the spot and we’re given time to prepare at that point, usually for a time span of 15-20 mins. And the second difference, of course, is that judging is not done by people who have been previously decided, which is that they aren’t people with experience. These judges are also university students just like us. They also compete with each other, in a system where they rate the speaking teams and the speakers rate the judges based on their clarity.

WO: What misconceptions do you feel are centred around the working of the DebSoc?

DebSoc: I think the first misconception is that we are opinionated and we shout a lot. It is potentially true that we are more opinionated than the rest of the people on campus, but apart from some, you wouldn’t find people in the DebSoc who are extroverted or would like to express their opinions very openly. We are not the group that typically gets into anything like opinion fights with people or make political statements. We are a group that likes to remain with each other.

The next misconception is that we’re Arnab Goswami. That’s not what we do. Rather, a lot of the debates that we do are on topics that can be rationally discussed rather than topics that are really, really close to someone’s heart and do not have a plane of discussion where people are unable to understand the other side. But more importantly, a lot of the debates that we do are not our own opinions but us trying to win debates by being logical and trying to push one side of an argument. So in a lot of cases, we have to actually argue against our personal beliefs, which is fine. Debating is, in some manners, a sport where we have to disregard our personal beliefs in favour of winning.

WO: How supportive has the admin been to the group?

DebSoc: The admin has been more or less supportive. We don’t require massive amounts of support in activities because that’s something we can or we have always been doing ourselves. What we do require support in, However, is incentivizing participation in tournaments. For this purpose, we are usually provided with reimbursement. The cultural society has been really helpful, thus the admin has been supportive too.

WO: How has DebSoc progressed since you first joined it?

DebSoc: I think that there is a very big divide in what debating used to be maybe four years back to what debating was one year back to what it is right now. Four years back, which is when I was in my first year, that was when Debsoc was made an official closed group. Before that, there used to be people who used to go to debates as part of an IIT Roorkee contingent. But because it was not a closed group, people did not have the ability to practice together or plan to go to debates together. So typically participation would be very, very minimal. Once debating became a closed group, we had the ability to understand where we lack as debaters and could refine our skills. We were also able to plan out the way that’s going to participate in tournaments, etc to see how we have performed. The unique difference that exists between last year and this year is the accessibility, which is, online debates are very accessible. We just have to sit from our homes and debate on a weekend versus offline debating, where we had to usually travel to places like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore etc. Obviously, accessibility here also has an international connotation, which is, because it’s online, we are able to participate online in debates outside the country. It would not be an understatement to say that nobody who has been associated with debating at IITR would have imagined that someone could participate in Worlds or broken in these many foreign tournaments had online debating not existed.

WO: What are these tournaments that you guys say you participate in?

DebSoc: Most of the competitions we go for are usually in a tournament format. These tournaments are Institutional, that is you do represent your college. The initial part of a tournament is called “power match ups” which is a league and then there are qualifications which in debating terms is called “breaking”. So, you do the league part and break to the qualifications and then its knockouts i.e., quarter-finals, semi-finals etc. Tournaments can be demarcated on participation and geographical locations. There are regional tournaments, like the ones in India are conducted by Christ, IIT Bombay, IVY, Nalsar, NLS etc. Regional major tournaments are usually continental. In Asia, ABP and UADC are regional majors where we typically see participation from almost all Asian countries. We also have Austarls which is the major tournament of both Australia and Asia. There are similar major tournaments in different regions like Africa, Europe, North America.

WO: Okay, so then what is the WUDC?

DebSoc: WUDC, or Worlds as it is colloquially referred to, is the largest tournament where you get participation from all over the world. Typically, Worlds is hosted offline in a specific country. Like in 2014 Worlds was held in India in Chennai. Worlds is hosted in a country where it is a week-long affair and is usually held in the last week of December close to new year’s. This year due to the pandemic the tournament has also shifted online and that is the reason it was postponed from December to July. Worlds this time is going to see participation from upwards of 400 teams. Worlds was supposed to be held in Korea but because it was pushed forward the team who was going to hold Worlds is now hosting the tournament online.

WO: Why is your participation in it such a big deal?

DebSoc: The reason why this is a big deal is because just participation is a very big deal for a small society like IIT Roorkee. IIT Roorkee officially became a debating society just 4 years back, before that we used to travel for debates. Just recently I was speaking to an alumnus who graduated in 2016. At her time, she was the secretary of LitSoc (quizzing, debating and some part of Kshitij). She told me at that time the maximum number of tournaments one would go for in their whole college life was 3-4. In their 3rd or 4th year, they broke at one tournament and it was the biggest achievement ever. Contrast that to the Worlds, where at this point cumulatively our society has 3-4 victories. Aditya and I have lost countless finals at this point. A lot of judging achievements as well. The reason why it is a big deal is that it happened in a span of four years. It is kind of an exponential rise in 4 years. In my first year, I couldn’t dream of going for Worlds. At that time, my teammate and I were the team that used to debate together so it was always our dream to do Worlds one day because why not but there never was a legitimate aspiration that we would be able to do good at Worlds or like we would do Worlds to genuinely take part in that competition. So, debating has shifted from a group of friends going to a location to chill and debate together to a group of friends going and achieving and competing well and now doing that on an international level.

WO: What are your expectations?

DebSoc: As I mentioned there are 400 teams, and we’re not even close to the best teams of the tournament. We are very very far off. The reason we are this far off is that there are people who have done Worlds itself more than 5-6 times and a lot of their typical path to worlds is they do Worlds school debating in their high schools, then they do university and are now doing masters. Thus, the people that we usually face are people with 8-12 years of debating experience, contrasting that to us with about 2 years of legitimate debating experience. Second, a lot of the people that we are going to face are people who have been trained to debate while we are self-taught, but because of the number of years that they have spent debating they also engage in a lot of training activities, while we are mostly self-taught. Our expectations are very very dampened. For us participating is the big thing. We are still far off from achieving something. It is not something we really expect right now.

WO: How are you preparing for this tournament?

DebSoc: Our preparation involves two major parts: strategy prep and matter prep. For preparing strategy, what we are doing is since the last two months we have been participating in tournaments from all over the world to acquaint ourselves with different types of judges. Doing high competition tournaments to understand where we really stand etc. I think in this path we have done 7-8 tournaments which are really really big. The largest tournament we did was Australia’s largest tournament. We have decided to not do debates in India as the Indian circuit is not that competitive. Then what we are doing is tracking our progress in each round so we are seeing how we did in each round. We have made a compilation of our notes from each round, which are used for preparing arguments on the spot. In the coming days, we will sit down and look at the places where we are lacking and put specific effort there. For matter prep, we read a lot. We read about specific topics in the domains of current affairs, international relations, philosophy, economics and so on. As an example, we could be reading stuff like Ethiopian elections or a new law in Hungary, to get some insight into what stuff goes on in the world.

WO: What kind of material does Debating actually use?

DebSoc: You need to be really well-read to do well in debates. There will be debates on social movements like Black lives matter, Dalit rights or feminism. There will be debates about international relations such as India-China or China and the US or what happens in the middle east. There’ll be debates about micro and macroeconomics, so debates about what is good for a country economically, in which they focus on a manufacturing-based economy, knowledge-based economy or service-based economy and things like that. There are debates about law, philosophy, tech; so debating is very broad. We try to identify these topics and then try to read up on what’s happening to have a base level of facts to be able to argue them. Of course, there are two sides to almost everything so you need to, in a debate, show why your side is more logically correct. For that, you need to have some facts and then use your logical reasoning.

WO: Do you feel that by virtue of IITR being an engineering college, the technical groups get more support from the administration than the cultural groups?

DebSoc: I know for a fact that it’s not that much of a big divide. I‘ve been a part of the STC as well as the CultSoc, so the divide isn’t as large. People may think that there is a bias in the heads of professors or the administration, which is not true. In Roorkee, it’s not as big because the gymkhana fund is divided and that’s quite transparent in the way that the division happens, so a lot of teams, clubs or groups within the CultSocas well as STC ask for budgets and then justify why they need that budget and in a lot of cases, you get pretty much what you ask for or maybe a little lesser. I think the issue is regarding outside the gymkhana budget. There are certain things like the endowment fund, one example I can think of, which is basically a fund that’s restricted to the participation of students in international tournaments or international competitions. Historically, that has always been given to tech groups. I think there can be a potential bias in the heads of certain people in the administration that tech is more important than cult, but I don’t think that’s a bias that students have to face the brunt of to be quite honest. I think Roorkee is quite helpful in the way that they push students towards more participation in these cultural activities.

WO: Deep, you’ve technically graduated. Does this affect the willingness of the institute to support you in this?

DebSoc: Not really, like the institution knows I’m in my fourth year and they’ve given approval for funding and so it’s unclear why that’s going to affect me at all but apart from Worlds, technically I haven’t graduated right? I’m going to graduate in October so there’s no reluctance right now, as on paper I’m still a student who’s studying in College so that is not a problem.