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Times of confrontation: campuses, both public and private, have become political battlefields. But is it a fight for the reduction of academic freedoms or ideology? | India News


Academic freedom in India it is not only in danger, it is under siege
Supriya Chaudhuri (FOR)
Shortly before the widely publicized resignation of Pratap Bhanu Mehta from Ashoka University made academic freedom a topic of national debate, another event received less attention. This was the refusal of Errol D’Souza, director of the IIM Ahmedabad, to allow the Ministry of Education (MoE) to review a doctoral thesis approved by his institute.
A deputy from Rajya Sabha had objected to the BJP’s thesis description. The Ministry of Education demanded a copy of the thesis last year, but D’Souza responded that a thesis approved by a duly constituted academic board could not be judged by the ministry. The incident was indicated by the Ministry of Education to demand greater participation in the governance of the IIM; the Ministry of Justice dismissed the claim as incompatible with the provisions of the IIM Law.
We may hear more about this, given the recent forced departure of the director of IIM Calcutta. Mehta’s resignation and D’Souza’s refusal, seemingly different events, illustrate the dangers to academic freedom in India. They are not warning signs: they indicate that we are already over our heads, ‘not waving but drowning’.
Mehta was a public intellectual at a private university, voicing fearless criticism of the government in the national media, but driven to resign to save his institution from government discontent. D’Souza, director of a public institution, positioned himself on the first academic principles, arguing that the institute itself, and the judgment of its peers, are the only arbiters of academic merit in its field.
Mehta’s resignation, despite the subsequent confusion and setback, drew attention to the vulnerability of even a privileged private university to the revenge of a critic-intolerant regime. D’Souza’s refusal, backed by provisions of the IIM Law, demanded university autonomy, but in the face of harassment and government interference.
The incidents involve two types of academic freedom: participation in the public sphere on issues of politics and society, and the investigation of these issues within the university. They do not demonstrate the failure of Ashoka or the resolution of IIM-A, but they embody a whole series of attacks on academic freedom by the government machine, overt or covert, in a new India.
Universities and their constituencies (teachers, students, and support staff) have long been on the receiving end of government repression, directly or indirectly, against dissent, public criticism, and the defense of human rights. Long before Mehta, Rajendran Narayanan and two others who signed a petition on Kashmir had to resign from Ashoka University. Teachers and students are the targets of unpopular intellectual views, campuses attacked by regime-backed intruders, meetings under police surveillance, house raids, and seizures of books and papers.
Activists such as Shoma Sen from Nagpur University, Sudha Bharadwaj from Delhi National Law University, MT Hany Babu from Delhi University, Anand Teltumbde from Goa Institute of Management and JNU students Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Umar Khalid and Sharjeel Imam detained under UAPA as “urban naxals” who plot to overthrow the government by fomenting inter-caste or inter-community violence. Sharjeel Imam is accused of being “radicalized” by the books he read for his MPhil thesis on partition violence.
Every regime, left, liberal or right, tries to influence the nation’s world of belief. However, the freedom to question and argue, to examine the empirical foundations of knowledge, and to investigate scientific, social, and philosophical assumptions are key to intellectual life and academic worth.
The current assault is on the institution of higher education itself, seeking to destroy its structures and limit its investigative powers. I myself have witnessed how the candidates appointed by the government for the investigation committees closed (by official mandate) the work on castes, minorities or social inequalities. Study programs are reviewed, such as the new history course written by UGC; Research on the Gayatri mantra as a Covid cure is funded, while existing projects under RUSA are not funded. Appointments are manipulated, as in the Physics Department at JNU.
More jobs are contractual, which increases the precariousness of the staff. The new service rules cancel the right to freedom of expression, treating public universities as government departments and private universities as commercial companies. Government proposals to subject the University of Delhi to the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA, which allows warrantless arrests for “ violations ”) and to impose Central Civil Services (CCS) Rules of Conduct on the JNU they were apparently shelved in 2018. The following year, 48 JNU professors were charged with participating in a peaceful protest on campus.
At Visva-Bharati, another central university, CCS gag orders are in place to prevent professors from publishing the administrative persecution, with more than 100 staff members provoked, charged or suspended. Forget Kashmir: In 2018, the Manipur University standoff led to a five-day internet ban. In lesser-known colleges and universities, exploitation and abuse are rampant.
The relatively free and open space for debate, research and knowledge acquisition that we call the university is now lost, with academics and intellectuals in India subjected to intimidation, persecution and loss of rights in a climate of fear and repression.
Supriya Chaudhuri is Professor Emerita, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
A group of cultural controllers cannot intimidate us into thinking that we are not free
Makarand B Paranjpe (AGAINST)
Resisting the bully’s pulpit is also a way to exercise academic freedom. Therefore, the question is not whether academic freedom is under attack. It always is, one way or another. The question is what are we doing about it? Blaming the other side, the one whose ideology we don’t like, only shows our own intellectual ruse.
Let me offer you my own experience of more than twenty years as an English teacher at Jawaharlal Nehru University. I was constantly subjected to various forms of direct or indirect pressure because my views were unpleasant to the dominant ‘LeLi’ (left liberal) groups running the campus.
If I had to use more modern terminology, I would call it the five B’s of tyranny toolkit: branding, bullying, bullying, boycott, or none if this works, dummy **.
The first step is to mark someone or put a derogatory label on them. Sanghi, bhakt, fascist are the standard terms of abuse in the LeLi lexicon. Usually that alone is enough to remove the unwanted views.
You can add any number of whiplash expletives to criticize the ones you don’t like: Brahmin, Patriarchal, Misogynist, Hindu Nationalist, Hindutva-vadi, Chaiwala, Yogi, etc. They serve the same purpose. Like a whistle to bring out the “running dogs”, not from capitalism as the phrase used to be in the heyday of the Comintern, but from the thugs of the cancellation culture and other crusaders of political correctness who guard the global academy. . Not surprisingly, these activists and advocates of so-called liberal values ​​hunt in droves and are themselves an illiberal group. They do not tolerate the right of other people to disagree with them.
Think of how evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins was canceled after being invited to speak at one of America’s most politically active and radical campuses, the University of California at Berkeley in 2017. The reason? His alleged Islamophobia. A charge he has vehemently denied. Dawkins is critical of all religions, including Christianity.
Here’s another example closer to home, from the supposedly most cultured city in India, Calcutta. In May 2016, the Vivek Agnihotri screening of Buddha in a traffic jam at Jadavpur University’s Triguna Dev auditorium was canceled at the last minute. He was interrupted and attacked at Gate No. 8 of the university. A student put his hand out the window and called him “Rohith Vemula’s killer.” When Agnihotri replied, “Rohith was not killed. He had committed suicide, ”the student yelled,“ You bloody liar! He was murdered.”
When Pratap Bhanu Mehta resigns from Ashoka University, there are 150 academics from around the world who shout that it is an attack on academic freedom. But how many of them wrote letters to the rectors, directors or deans of the institutions where the Agnihotri film was banned or when it was attacked and interrupted?
Mehta and Agnihotri: apples and oranges? Maybe. But if one were to respond to one metaphor with another, what is goose sauce is, or should be, goose sauce. Unfortunately, it is not. And that is what happens to those who denounce the end of academic freedom.
Rashmi Samant, the first Indian woman to be elected president of the Oxford Student Union last month, was forced to resign despite garnering 1,996 votes (more than all her opponents combined), due to her social media posts. social of the past. Accused of anti-Semitism, racism and transphobism, her posts were considered practically enough to crucify her.
No one said they had the “academic freedom” to express them. On the other hand, an Oxford postdoctoral researcher who attacked her, Abhijit Sarkar, posted an abusive tirade on Instagram on February 17, featuring a picture of Samant’s parents, calling her home state, Karnataka, a “bastion of forces. Islamophobes. ”
He reportedly added: The extreme right desi forces … want to re-establish the sanatan Hindutva culture. Oxford students are not yet ready for the ‘Sanatani’ presidency. ”
So what is different? Only this. Now there is a setback. Sarkar himself is being investigated for hate speech and Hinduphobia. The so-called Sanghis, Chaddis, Hindutva-wadis, and what not, are not willing to accept it. They will react, even retaliate.
Of course, tit for tat will blind everyone, as Mahatma Gandhi said. Did I say “Mahatma”? Sorry. Bapu has also been canceled. Wasn’t he a racist, a collaborative imperialist, and a child molester? If Gandhi can be canceled so easily, what about lesser mortals like the rest of us?
That is why the question must be asked differently. Academic freedom is inherent in not being forced to say yes or no to complex questions like these, especially to entertain those who really care or don’t.
Our age demands that the voices of sanity, reason and conversation not be drowned out by the violent cacophony of hatred, polemics and political positions. We must not allow these forces to intimidate us into obeying or silencing us in the name of freedom.
A small group of cultural controllers cannot intimidate us into believing that we are not free. Instead of trying to score cheap points through a fruitless blame game, let’s take on bullies on all sides.
Makarand B Paranjpe is director of the Indian Institute for Advanced Study in Shimla. Views are personal
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