Our campuses wouldn't be suffering if Modi, Smriti had gone to college

Not the five-day Yale degree kind.

 |  8-minute read |   30-04-2016
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Now, if only Prime Minister Narendra Modi and HRD minister Smriti Irani had studied in a university? Not the "distance education programme" or "external exam" or "five-day Yale degree" kind, but a fully-present, on-campus graduation course.

Modi’s educational qualifications is only getting fuzzy by the day – two weeks ago, Delhi University declined to give information on the prime minister’s BA degree (political science), through an RTI, citing its inability to provide information without Modi’s roll number.

Also read: University is not the enemy, HRD ministry. You are

Earlier, another RTI was rejected on Modi’s MA degree from Gujarat University, saying the mark sheet and other details were personal information. So far, no one has challenged his SSC high school certificate. As far as Irani's educational qualification is concerned, the matter is in court due to contradictory claims about her college degrees.

smriti-bd_043016052056.jpg The matter of Smriti Irani's education qualification is in court.

So, what if Modi and Irani did attend college and had spent five years in that hotbed of intellectual exploration and provocation? Of curiosity, protests, dissent, demonstrations; would they then have been more amenable, responsive and agreeable to students’ flaws and transgressions? Would they have been less autocratic, tyrannical and harsh in punishing students as has been seen in the last few months, from Hyderabad to JNU?

Here are five reasons to wish Modi and Irani went to university:

1. Take the latest order of the JNU administration rusticating three students, from one semester to five years; fining 14 students from Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 each; withdrawal of hostel facilities to two students, and barring two ex-students from entering the university.

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It has pushed the JNU scholars to go on an indefinite hunger strike ever since the order was decreed. To top it, there is the serious charge of sedition slapped against three students, which is still pending in court. All this, for shouting "anti-India" slogans on the Kashmir issue and commemorating Afzal Guru, who was executed by the Indian state.

Would HRD minister Irani have shrieked she will "never tolerate an insult to Mother India" if she had participated in the scores of student movements that challenge the state? Would Modi have allowed his home minister Rajnath Singh to issue dire threats to students for speaking against policies of the government?

hlec_043016051448.jpg JNU students screen doocumentary Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai  in campus. (Pic:Azhar Amin)

Student demonstrations have forced governments to rethink on a varied of issues, from lopsided development, Dalit empowerment, reservations for education; to fee hikes, student welfare, among others.

Aren’t campuses the battle ground of thought and ideas to be unleashed and channeled by young minds? Who didn’t engage, argue, arouse and awaken with viewpoints that were not just contrarian, even objectionable? It’s part of campus life, and the sole purpose of a university education; or would they rather have students thinking like sheep?

2. It seems Modi and Irani have not learnt their lesson from the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar in social sciences in Hyderabad University. Vemula hanged himself after repeated aggression from the university authorities, prodded by HRD ministry, which not just led to his eviction from the hostel (with four other Dalit students), they were forced to stay in a tent outside the campus.

Also read: Why does India have to suffer Smriti Irani?

Vemula’s stipend was not paid for over a year, he was finally rusticated and debarred from attending classes. His crime – Vemula actively participated in the screening of the documentary, Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai which rival ABVP says is a film against Hinduism, though it exposes the communal groups that tore the heart of western UP. He also protested the hanging of Yakub Memon, an accused in the Mumbai blasts of 1993.

The social boycott and expulsion came after a zealous Irani wrote three letters to the university vice-chancellor on the advice of her party’s MP who said Vemula’s student group, Ambedkar Students Association, was "casteist, extremist and anti-national."

Unmoved, a sympathetic JNU administration has sent a show cause notice yet again to Anirban Bhattacharya, for the screening of the documentary, Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai in the campus. Worse, JNU has stopped stipends for students, penalised them with hefty fines, even though many students come from impoverished backgrounds and far-flung places, and stipends and campus residences are their only sustenance and support.

Imagine if Modi and Irani had kept away from student politics? What if they had not given a carte blanche to university administrations to blatantly side with the ABVP and acknowledge every whim and complaint of the BJP's student group?

There would have been an electric atmosphere of energetic and creative exchange of ideas and thought, free and fair debate, and open discussion without fear or favour.

3. Already, there has been a brazen campaign in the media by Modi sympathisers where they have sneered at doctoral fellows calling them "overage and leeches who live off tax-payers’ money."

But facts belie this canard: many students have to overcome the ineptitude of village schools and district colleges of backward areas to come to liberal universities like JNU. Kanhaiya Kumar hails from village Bihat, in Bihar, and was 23-years-old when he enrolled in JNU for the integrated MPhil and PhD course in 2011, a five-year course, and he may just have to take an extension for a year.

On the other hand, 28-year-old Umar Khalid, is a resident of Delhi, but has given up prestigious fellowships abroad to continue to work on his PhD on tribal rights and colonial forest policy, and to campaign actively for disenfranchised people.

The third held for sedition, Anirban Bhhatacharya, is a son of a professor of genetics from Kolkata, and is doing his PhD on plantation workers. Typically, he too refused to go abroad as he believes his subject is in his own country.

How students with meager earnings can be called anti-national and leeches even as Modi’s government is writing off loans to industrialists of lakhs of crores of taxpayer’s money is beyond the pale, or literate?

4. Now, where in the world of prestigious universities would a faculty aligned to the RSS-affiliated ABVP come out with a dossier about their own students, titled, "JNU has become a den of organised sex racket"? If the loyal RSS pracharak Modi, and an ardent Irani, want to discredit JNU because of its dominant liberal and Left leanings, only an unschooled and simple-minded adversary would unleash such a low-brow propaganda about their own students.

The JNU faculty group led by Amita Singh, professor at the Centre of Law and Governance (god help her students), wrote that "over a 1,000 boys and girls have been fined for consuming alcohol, and indulging in immoral activities that include bringing sex workers to hostels, who not only lure girls into the racket but also pollute boys."

The dossier did not spare non-RSS professors either when it named them and accused them of encouraging separatism and legitimising JNU’s so-called "decadent" culture, putting them under the title, "JNU: The den of seccessionism and terrorism."

Of course, no one has forgotten BJP MP Gyandev Ahuja, who alleged that over 3,000 condoms and 2,000 liquor bottles are found in JNU daily.

Not surprisingly, there has been a bugle call for the closure of the liberal university.

The motive is clear: Modi and Irani would rather shut universities which do not subscribe to RSS’ idea of hyper-nationalism and Hindutva culture, than allow free thinking and a free flow of ideas.

5. So, it is not surprising that when Irani's diktats like "IITs must teach Sanskrit" to facilitate the study of science and technology in ancient Hindu literature are met with ridicule and she is mocked as semi-literate. Modi’s outlandish claims that genetic science and plastic surgery existed in ancient Indian times, citing Karna from Mahabharata, and elephant god Ganesha are yet manifestations of RSS indoctrination of an imagined history, rather than science and scholarship.

In their desperation to bring alternative thought to universities, Modi and Irani want to emphasise faith and obedience rather than pushing curiosity and exploration. If they had genuinely got a university education and experienced campus life, they would have focused on the present education policies and its relevance today.

They would have pondered on subjects like: Is education about intellectual reflection and development, or just about career prospects and job placements? Does our education policies fulfill any of this criteria?

Shouldn't free ideas, both controversial as well as objectionable, be at the heart of campus debate? And this applies to both Right and Left domination and boycott. Is social research, like the papers Kanhaiya, Umar Khalid and Bhattacharya pursue irrelevant?

Should education be only market-driven? Should social sciences be seen as a waste of time, while funding only scientific and technical institutes and research?

Is the old ideal of the scholarly life dead? These are questions that have engaged student bodies, academics and policy makers globally.

Now, if only Modi and Irani had gone to college and got an education.

Writer

Vrinda Gopinath Vrinda Gopinath @vrinda_gopinath

The writer is editor, altgaze.com.

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