Saturday, March 26, 2016

Protecting our institutions of integrity

Protecting our institutions of integrity

Probal Dasgupta

        The destruction of civil liberties on 22 and 23 March at the University of Hyderabad, however unprecedented, has to compete for attention with the Brussels attacks, the violence at Ferguson College, Pune, the death of Johan Cruyff, the PDP-BJP coalition in Srinagar, and of course the T20 World Cup. Deadened by the information overload, we find it hard to register that a university administration chooses to deprive students in 14 hostels at a university campus of access to food, water, electricity, banking.
So 28 students and two faculty members get beaten by the police on campus, arrested and hidden from public view for two days, even from their lawyers. So a student, Udaya Bhanu, who tries to help the starving students by cooking, is brutally thrashed for the crime of ‘cooking in a public place’ and hospitalized. So all media, with the exception of Telugu channels politically aligned with Apparao Podile, are denied access. Podile is the prime accused in Rohith Vemula’s suicide and should have been arrested. Podile’s administration was also indicted by the MHRD’s fact-finding committee, and is under scrutiny by the ministry’s one-man commission—Justice Ashok Kumar Roopanwar is expected to submit his report in April. These circumstances make Podile’s “reinstatement” illegal, and he had to return to work under the cloak of darkness and conspiracy.
Fine, but you expect us to be shocked? We’ve seen worse. People in India don’t have rights; authorities don’t follow rules; some sections of the middle class used to be pampered; now they’ve stopped getting special treatment. As the policemen told the students they were thrashing, university students should feel thankful that they can sit around and get these fellowships while the police have to work for their meagre pay, work that includes this bashing up sanctioned by their higher-ups. We must stop whining.
I shall now meet you half-way, dear ‘hard-headed’ reader whose voice I have been mimicking. Here, for your appraisal, is a ‘realistic’ argument against your decision to shrug when the lumpens in high places undermine institutions in general and UoH in particular. UoH is home to an unusual foreign students’ programme called the Study in India Programme. Established in 1998, this flagship programme – long acknowledged to be the best in the country – now hosts a couple of hundred American and European students per year, mostly undergraduates. They get degrees from their home universities. Hyderabad for them is an academic excursion for typically one semester, sometimes two. These students are watching when illegalities are committed, and will convey their disappointment to their folks back home, damaging India’s image in the eyes of the world.
My dear ‘realistic’ reader, please put this on your screen when you imagine that the lumpens that you are tolerating or rooting for can get away with what they are doing thanks to political patronage. I thought you were interested in maximizing this mahaan India’s soft power, or did I get the buzzword wrong?
I turn now to serious interlocutors. Listen, universities are not the only institutions that fortify a democratic society by nurturing specialized enclaves that may look like luxuries to the hasty eye. We agree that the armed forces, the courts, software, banking etc. are similar core institutions. They all need training enclaves, protection from the general world’s naive scrutiny, and the key ability to represent all sections of society. The deterioration of many universities has made many of us forget that universities have the same needs—and more—because they are institutions that build integrity itself. A campus can embody ‘the idea of the university’ only if its teachers, including its leadership, sustain exemplary relationships with each other, with students and with non-academic staff at all times—and if their style of interaction acknowledges the inclusive demographic profile that has emerged in recent years, especially at an iconic university like UoH, and that needs to extend to other core institutions as well.
I am addressing you because the general public has to make this happen. How? Let me give you an analogy. Our cities are dirty. Nobody believed we could have clean metro stations. But our much-maligned urban public has demonstrated its potential in this domain. Keep them clean? Yes we can! All I’m asking is that those of us who care about the health of our nation should stand up and be counted. We must insist on keeping our educational institutions clean even when we unwillingly tolerate the intolerable in those sectors of our public life where we don’t yet know how to stop it. This is a deeper imperative than civil or human rights, which are essential everywhere.
Only if we push for this deeper demand will our institutions of integrity survive. One way to articulate its spirit is to campaign against the usurpation of the term ‘Education’ by ‘Human Resource Development’. That particular surrender to economism was a giant step backwards that has led to the evils now unfolding. We need civil rights in general; but at our educational institutions, designed to nurture integrity in students, teachers, especially their leadership, must exemplify it themselves. If instead students are attacked for exercising their integrity, we plunge into unimaginable darkness.


(The author taught linguistics at the University of Hyderabad for over two decades and is currently affiliated to the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata)

1 Comments:

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