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Amartya Sen recently during his book launch ‘Collective Choice and Social Wefare’ very aptly pointed out, “India does not have world class universities and the climate of fear (in Indian Universities) is detrimental to Indian Democracy.”

Sen’s statement comes at a time when Indian Universities are under threat to freedom of speech and expression. Coincidently, noble laureate Sen spoke about universities on the day when Ramjas College, a University of Delhi college witnessed violent protest where students, teachers and journalists were badly beaten and harassed.

Backgrounder to the recent uproar is, Department of English, Ramjas College organised  a literary event named ‘Cultures of Protest’. Umar Khalid and Shehla Rashid, both JNU students were invited as the guest speakers. The basis of their invitation was the academic credentials they hold. Umar was to address the session named “Unveiling the State : Regions in Conflict – the war in Adivasi areas”, based on his research on Bastar.

Both the speakers were not allowed to speak. ABVP disrupted the program by pelting stones and bricks on the venue. They put forward the claim that Umar Khalid was one of them involved in anti-India sloganeering in the event organized at JNU, now famously known as ‘9th February, 2016 JNU incident’. ABVP also claimed that students are being misguided by such seminars. The professors of DU and JNU together are trying to put forward agenda against the nation. The professors were enacting a policy of ‘divide and rule’ by inviting an ‘anti-nationalist’ like Umar Khalid on Campus.

Disruptions to the seminars and attack on speakers or organizers is gradually becoming the new ‘cultures of protest’, we are witnessing in the Indian Universities. Protests and ideological battles have been part of university spaces for long but violence and hatred is a dangerous addition. Attack on teachers is the new disturbing trend.  Shockingly, this is the first time when such fringe elements are being backed by the government in power.

This is quite evident with the continuous mishaps in the campuses. It adds to our disappointment when people in power seem to be more interested in the ‘type meat’ rather than punishing the real culprits (Mob lynching of Akhlaq in Dadri). Rohith Vemula’s caste continues to be a given priority than investigating the circumstances leading to suicide. There are no traces of Najeeb till date, yet the ABVP members remains to be questioned.

Recent spate of events and threat to free academic spaces in campuses represent the complete vicious cycle. It starts from RSS affiliated appointments at the top posts in institutions to the style of functioning.

Idea of University requires to be revisited

The incidences at JNU or DU capture more of lime light than other institutions around the country. However, many other academic institutions face similar turbulence. Head of the institutions resort to the authoritative style of functioning putting forth the agenda of RSS.

It seems Sangh cadre appointments in the institutions by the Modi Government provide an upper hand to ABVP. At times they prove to be working hand in hand. Involvement of BJP leader Bandaru Dattatreya in social exclusion of Rohith Vemula, entry of police in JNU campus and the dirty play of doctored videos in JNU to the lethargic attitude of administration in Najeeb’s  case reflect the collaboration of these two parties. ABVP backs JNU administration on UGC gazette to which large section of JNU fraternity believes would bring havoc to the research studies in the University. The institutions where space for student politics is limited, strategically the person on top post moves the agenda.

No different is the case in other institutions from Jharkhand University to Haryana Central University to Jodhpur University. Recently a premiere journalism school IIMC (regulated by Information and Broadcast Ministry) suspended one of its student for writing a critical piece related to institute on online media. Scholar Nivedita Menon, also a professor at JNU was slapped with charges of sedition for her ‘upside down’ notion of India’s geographical map. The other teacher Rajshree Ranawat who happened to be the organizer of same event was later suspended by Jai Narain Vyas University, Jodhpur.

Essence of the academic institutions is being ruptured. All has begun with faulty approach of the administrators. In the aftermath of FTII agitations, Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister when asked about appointment of Gajendra Chauhan countered the reporter asking if students would decide the director. He further cross questioned the reporter and asked if district reporters would decide channel’s chief editor. The binary created by the minister clearly rejected to recognize students as the major stakeholders of the institutes.

Its high time when students and teachers need to reclaim their academic spaces. Idea of university needs to be rethought. Our universities are places to debate and dissent. The campuses should be nurturing ideologies and several perspectives to a issue must be discussed and debated. Campuses had to be the tolerant places where argument met with argument. Vandalism and Hooliganism can never serve an academic atmosphere.

Peculiar Case of University of Delhi

I use the word ‘peculiar’ because I share strong bond with this University. DU has restructured my political and sociological understanding. As a small town boy, journey to DU had been like journey of life. I have witnessed the political culture of university closely. At hometown, when newspapers carried feature articles on DUSU elections highlighting upon the national leadership as product of DU student politics, it mesmerized me. But, soon I was disenchanted and the recent developments in Ramjas has left me disillusioned.

Money-muscle power has curbed the scope of advantageous student politics in DU. The way student outfits nominate their candidates is largely based on who can spend what amount. I have seen many members going bankrupt and still unable to get ticket. Luckily, I had friends in all the organizations ranging from ABVP to AISA. SFI and AISF have little presence in DU. Largely, the electoral battle is between ABVP, NSUI and AISA. More or Less, ABVP and NSUI function in very similar way. Leadership is based on Jat-Gujjar nexus. They garner vote via fun food and water park tactic. Caste based voting is plotted. AISA champions for the student issues but does lack election engineering. Undoubtedly, most DU students are indifferent to politics.

If at all, students at DU wish free academic spaces to be restored all they need is political consciousness. As we argument for responsible voting in elections, we need the same in Universities too. Universities also have to be the places for producing responsible citizens.

Coming back and focusing exclusively at the Ramjas incidence, where allegedly ‘Bastar mange Aazadi, Kashmir mange Aazadi’ slogans were chanted; it amuses me as a political science graduate from University of Delhi. Its nothing but creating a false narrative built upon slogans to get away with the real issue i.e academic freedom, as we saw in JNU. I believe Aazadi Or Freedom or Emancipation have several notions attached to it rather just literal meaning. One may have different viewpoint and context of sloganeering but how come anyone declare it as potential threat to disintegration of the country?

Till date, Delhi Police has not filed chargesheet in the JNU case and yet Kanhaiya, Umar or Anirban are to be proved guilty. But the pseudo news propagated by mass media shapes the first hand opinion which is tried to be established as truth. It seems if fake news business industry have changed the legal recourse of ‘innocence until guilty’ to ‘guilty even if not proven’.

My dear colleagues in Universities around India, craft your imagination. I feel proud on your ways to resilience to safeguard the academic culture of universities and restoring critical space for academia to flourish. Agitate and Study, Fight Back!

  1. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxQzfN-jEc8) (Gadkari’s interview)

Rohin Kumar is a freelance writer and a Political Science graduate from the University of Delhi. At present he is pursuing Journalism from The Indian Institute of Mass Communication,New Delhi.

 

  • K SHESHU BABU

    Violent crushing of dissent and physical attacks on students and teachers in many universities reflect disturbing trend in Indian education. This is not only unconstitutional as freedom of expression is affected but also undemocratic way of silencing critics. The controversies in educational institutes are causing grave damage to the reputation of the country. By corrosive patriotism and pseudo- nationalism, the right-wing hindutva forces are defeating themselves and smashing their own goals to the ground

  • David Kennedy

    Universities should be places where ideas are discussed, openly and freely. They are places where knowledge of the past guides studies of the present in order to predict something of the future. In this way, hopefully, society will advance rather than atrophy and decay.
    Dictatorial rules and excessive didactic teaching are not conducive to this open exchange of ideas on which so much depends, nor is the over-burdening of teaching staff with excessive duties and then expecting them to be intellectually fresh so as to stimulate young minds into innovative thought.
    Sadly, higher education, probably because of its initial cost, has fallen under the tight control of politicians who tend to see it only in terms of economic growth and the accountant’s profit and loss account. It has become regimented and is in danger of losing its ultimate purpose, as stated above. ‘Blue skies’ research and thinking can never flourish in such an environment, yet most of the major discoveries of recent generations has come from such ‘blue skies’ thinking. A radically different approach is needed that distinguishes enlightened education from career training, which is also essential.