► WELCOME to www.IndianMuslimObserver.com -- India's Leading Muslim News Portal. ► Indian Muslim Observer has completed its over 10 years of existence. Your Patronage and Support will help us sustain for long. ► ADVERTISE & REACH OUT to the WORLD!! ► Redefining Community Journalism. ► IMO Motto: "Breaking Perceptions. Delivering Truth". ► Bringing you News, Views, Analysis and all that affects Muslims in India and worldwide. ► IMO Website BEST VIEWED on Google Chrome!!!
 
16 November 2012

Higher Education Under Attack in India

Bookmark and Share
By Sukant Khurana

While opinions vary on the performance of the first Indian governments in different sectors, higher education is a sector where India’s first steps usually evoke a positive response across the board. One can clearly see the success of secular advanced education that has paid dividends in India in a strong contrast to the other countries of the Indian subcontinent where either higher education was not given enough emphasis or was not secular in its character. Do not get me wrong, higher education in India has clearly not been an all-sunshine story, as India is far from its true potential but what I am trying to emphasize is that it is not a complete failure as yet. You will get to see that ‘as yet’ is the operational word, as we are soon heading down the lane of Pakistan and Afghanistan, courtesy of the dirty politics of New Delhi.

Let us take the example of the University of Delhi, one of the largest of the central government universities that once used to be projected as a pride of India. It is now suffering from the same structure that initially served it well. The University is structured such that power is in the hands of few people who are politically appointed, instead of entirely merit-based autonomous council that is outside the influence of politicians. The University of Delhi has a Visitor who in theory has the ultimate power. This Visitor is the President of India. Then comes the Chancellor, who is the Vice President of India. The president of India on the advice (but in reality on the dictates) of the office of the Prime minister and the ministry of Human Resource Development appoints the Vice-Chancellor. The Vice Chancellor (VC) is in effect the head of the University. The VC can act like the dictator of the University, if he or she wants to, with obviously no reporting to the constitutional namesake head of India – the President. The VC appoints his team that plays a role in deciding the allocation of resources, approval of course work, appointment of college principals, teachers and eventually all policy matters. Although certain academic bodies involved in decision-making, like the executive and academic council have some elected members, usually no member gets elected without a political affiliation and backing.

This structure is in a strong contrast to the free merit-based truly autonomous academia in the developed parts of the world. The reason this structure worked to some extent in the first few decades after independence is because educated ruling class understood that academia should be run mostly on merit if the nation has to prosper. Unfortunately the structure that was evolved depended on the wisdom of the Prime Minister but not a structure that was free from political intervention. This structure although constitutionally has some balances and checks in the form of some elected members in the administrative bodies and vibrant trade unions but to overcome this menace of democracy, Kapil Sibbal’s men have decided not to call any meetings of these bodies and rule by decrees. With Sibbal’s blessing, these men have forced academics to knock the doors of court on every matter if they do not like their dictatorial and inane decisions. One should wonder the wisdom of haphazardly changing the curriculum, introducing semester system without understanding logistics, pros and cons, whimsical twists to examination patterns, attendance policies that destroy precious years of young students and alter their career paths midway. We should systematically explore the various criminal actions of VC, various deans and heads of departments against educators, like blocking their promotion, holding back pension money and encouraging harassment of dissidents to score political points. In any advanced country with a rule of law, this kind dictatorial and incompetent conduct would get the criminals, not just the cronies but central government ministers and the ultimate puppet masters behind bars for decades. Only in countries where education agenda can be set by people with fake degrees and false claims of ties to Harvard and Cambridge that the business goes on as usual despite the ongoing rape of education and motherland in general.

The academically honest section of faculty has been attacked is by exemplary punishments ranging from everyday discrimination to blocking promotions, derecognizing existing promotions, blocking salaries and pension money. Instead of directly hearing grievances for even most serious matters, the Vice Chancellor appoints someone on his behalf for representation. This representation is not acknowledged in writing and minutes of meetings are never provided to the complainant to evade any legal action. Though such attacks have been on people with saffron background too but these attacks have been more focused on people with secular credentials, as these people would not let Sibbal use academia as place for communal electoral politics. Politicians are now using vote bank politics of appeasing fundamentalist demands of different communities and keeping Indian society divided from the stage of once sacrosanct academic settings. A recent look at sub judice cases on Indian academic giants will open eyes of anyone wanting to see the carnage by the bulldogs of 10 Janpath to enforce their corrupt dictatorial agenda. . I would clarify that my refrain is not in any way to honor the farcical judicial system but I do not want the victims of Sibbal to face additional pressure. After years of research in US, I spent one year (2011) in India to explore the current scientific and socioeconomic landscape of my home country and witnessed carnage of Sibbal and corruption of academia up close. While I am keeping detailed account of this experience for later, I would briefly like to point to the fact that corruption of academic culture enables significant portion of research to be plagiarized in India and original research to be below par – reminding me of a Samuel Johnson witticism “Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” This open politicization of education enables funding grants for non-existing research, denial of positions and funding to deserving candidates, existence of redundant institutions with zero productivity, harassment of researchers, violations of basic ethical codes of conduct, including the use of research facilities and funds for personal benefits, open solicitations in a supposedly blind peer review system.

If one is looking for obvious examples of this corruption, one can see a blatant hiring scam in the recruitment of several new teachers in some of the new colleges of the Delhi University. In a central university where everyone is supposed to be paid by the University Grant Commission (UGC) there are now many teacher appointments within the University of Delhi that are illegally paid from the chauffeurs of the state of Delhi. This constitutional breach of paycheck coming from state budget for a central university in its most optimistic scenario reeks of lack of any planning by the incompetent men and at its worst and more likely scenario, a tool to change demographic to less competent but more sympathetic to 10 Janpath. A simple look at the recent appointments of college Principals can show you the infestation of Indian academia by Congress honchos. For some merely accidental reasons (pun intended) an overwhelming number of recent College Principal appointments seem to be of young Punjabi female teachers who once used to teach science and are strongly affiliated with Yuvraj Rahul’s gang. I have nothing against young age, being a young scientist myself, neither against women, for whose rights, I have been fighting for all my adult life and nothing against Punjabis, which is my paternal ethnic heritage but I cannot stand having any other criteria than merit to decide the future of our country. What sense does it make to appoint a science faculty as Principal to a college with only humanities subjects, unless it is for simple political reasons? From over a decade ago, before I moved to top Indian research institution and then to top US research facilities, when I was young undergraduate student at this same university, I knew a very incompetent teacher who used to knit sweaters in our classroom, while reading textbooks verbatim. Her acts and intelligence could have made middle school teacher look Aristotle or Socrates in comparison, though she did order free tea for us in cold December months. In sympathy with other women, she frequently advised my female classmates against pursuing a postgraduate degree telling of non-academic compromises it took for her to get a Ph.D. The last I heard from her is when she became a Principal of a new college under this new administration because of proximity to Indian National Congress. Sitting in a U.S. research institution that has produced one of the most numbers of Nobel laureates in the field of Medicine, I have no problem pointing out some individuals in India but pointing few such examples would not solve much and it would be unfair for only one or two incompetent political puppets to be recalled due to my finger pointing while the epithet of corruption remaining the same. So, I will leave pointing lower level individuals for some later stage, just giving them chills for now but focus on Rahul baba, puppet prime minister, corrupt ministers and VCs ruining our education.

Few years ago at the University of Delhi, a collusion of BJP and Congress’s political interests, led to a laughable act of allowing astrology (no, not astronomy but dumb stone age astrology) to be part of its curriculum. After much of controversy and worldwide ridicule acclaimed intellectuals it was eventually withdrawn. One may wonder that after such infamy the government would not redo such mistake again but alas. The trend of non-secular intervention continues unabated. Somehow magically fundamentalist administrators, be it a Muslim, Sikh, Christian or Hindu whosoever suits Congress’s electoral play continues being appointed. Some of the ethnically focused institutions, whether for segments within minorities or majorities were created to encourage enrollment of students from segments who otherwise faced the danger of being left out without such privileged institutions. The goal was to create a modern alternative to inadequate and often sectarian madarasa or ashram kind of religious education that these youngsters might be turned to in absence of secure modern alternatives. To provide such education faculty from all ethnicities were hired and promoted. Now with politicization, somehow the faculty enrollment has started paralleling the bias in student enrollment, throwing the criteria of merit of faculty in the dirty ditch of politics. Such bias denies good quality education to target segments that these institutions were in the first place set up to provide for.

While a trip around the University of Delhi would bear out many such examples of decadence of this administration, I would like to point out a single notable piece of capitulation to religious fundamentalism so you can better see how appeasement of different ethnic group works for political convenience. Recently based on orders from Congress headquaters, the Vice Chancellor forced the University to withdraw ‘Three Hundred Ramayans’, a great text by AK Ramanujan that quite clearly captures the ubiquitous nature of Ramayana tales in the whole of Indosphere, even beyond Indian subcontinent like in the islands of Indonesia or lands as distant as Cambodia. The text educates to the fact that Ramayana has many local variants and it is a truly a tale of all Indic region with amazingly deep cultural penetration that has sway in shaping even an atheist like me, leave alone some orthodox Vaishnav Hindu. After saffron politicians stroke trouble objecting to this long-standing course material the talibanized RSS goons of akhil bhartiya vidyarthi parishad (ABVP), the student wing of BJP got offended to this whiff of knowledge. Their argument (or more accurately non-argument) was that Valmiki Ramayana is the accurate one. The claim that one version of Rmayana is celebrated more is correct, especially when viewed with strictly North Indian Vaishnav lenses but the argument is ridiculous, as the material was not taught as a course on religion. This text was not an effort to say one version is right or wrong or which imaginary fried should one believe in or which organize religion is better but a historical collection of different texts that exist in the Indosphere. Five exemplary texts that captured the largest heterogeneity were chosen to capture the diversity of cultural heritage. Congress did not want to loose Hindu fundamentalist votes to BJP, so to one up the idiots of sangh, Sibbal decided to use his bully pulpit to remove the text from the course work all together. This move, where history and literatures appropriateness is decided by the sentimentality of ill educated political goons instead of facts, is no different than banning some book because of a fatwa by some crazy Mullah in streets of Lahore, Ryadh or Kabul. Such yielding to pressure from religious bigots in general public life of India is not new and not even unique to Delhi’s Congress-BJP dominated politics. Who can forget unsympathetic treatment meted out to Taslima Nasreen by the stalwarts of left, the so-called secularists? What is new is the systematic attack on academic integrity by a demon of religious fundamentalism, corruption and dictatorship that is unleashed by Sibbal on the commands from 10 Janpath. This removal of highly acclaimed assay is being condemned worldwide and such acts continue to degrade the legitimacy of Indian education and validity of higher academic degrees. More than the damage to Indian image or to the validity of Indian educational credentials, the impact from such acts, if recurrent, will render an already barren Indian innovation and academic landscape to become completely sterile. A healthy academic culture, where one can discuss life stories surrounding the myth and reality of lives of Prophet Mohammad, Guru Nanak, Jesus Christ or Lord Rama, when in the context of history or of linguistic style, independent from the sentimentality of religion or conduct research on the impact of a particular pesticide on human health, independent of the connections of that pesticide company to the ruling party, is a necessary backbone of any country aspiring to innovate and grow. I am actually not much of a Nehru fan on most socioeconomic and defense issues but what I think was his singular undisputed legacy of sowing the seeds of higher education is now being destroyed by his own great grandson.

I also want to this article to serve as warning that if the state of affairs of Indian academia gets worse then international condemnations, signature by top academics including Nobel laureates, boycotts and derecognizing several academic degrees would have to initiated to stop this rot of academia in India. Such actions to improve India would not be entirely unprecedented for Indian expatriates. Recently, to stop the murder of the rule of law by Indian judiciary that was allowing indefinite detention of people without evidence, the international community including many notable Indian expatriates jumped into action, shaming India at the world stage. This external ridicule and pressurization is the least pleasant and most painful thing an Indian can do but when reform does not come from within then one is not left with any other option. One may be aware of the fact that many degrees from India are not recognized internationally and the list is not shrinking. If this corrupt management run by Sibbal’s cronies continues ruining the quality of graduate and post graduate education and stifles the intellectual output then whether one likes it or not, several more Indian academic honors, intellectual exchange programs will almost justifiably face an international axe. While there shall soon be action from international intellectual community if the victimization of secular teachers and Talibanization of education continues but what is truly needed in India is an internal change. No international pressure, punishment or encouragement can drag India to the modern era. Only Indians living in India can do so. The sleeping elephant has to wake up on its own, assuming the elephant is sleeping and not comatose or cold dead. It is unlikely that academic causes on their own would generate equal anger as has the corruption on street but all versions of Ramayana teach us that all sins add up. This murder of intellectual culture of central universities may provide additional fuel to the funeral pyre being readied for the political class if change does not come soon.

[Dr. Sukant Khurana is a New York based scientist, innovator and author of Indian origin. He is known for his research in the field of sensory perception, addiction, learning and memory, apart from his recent involvement in many high tech sectors of India. He is active in campaigning for issues of corporate responsibility, education, scientific thinking and improving affordable healthcare. He can be contacted at sukantkhurana@gmail.com]

1 comment:

  1. With reference to,"Higher Education Under Attack in India" by Dr.Sukant Khurana, i wish to raise the point of higher education in Muslim managed institutions.
    The Aligarh Muslim University is not only "Muslim Managed"University but also has distinction of being a centre of Islamic learning and culture.Earlier it was treated as an intellectual barometer of Muslims in India and its voice had an impressive effects in power galleries.Apart from that,it produuced large number of politicians,sportmen,technocrats etc but unfortunately presently it is lacking all that steam.Why?
    Without any intention of maligning anybody,i am compelled to point out that the educational standard will not be affected by students or non-teaching staff but by teachers only and in the case of AMU one may only guess the real situation just by one example that during the tenure of last Vice-Chancellor,Prof.P.K Abdul Azis,teachers burnt down a book of Achievements after forcely bringing out the lot from PRO Office.And they were burning the booklet under banner of"AMU Teacher`s Association".I think that if teachers of a certain institution are indulging in such a ghastly act,then one may guess the quality of the teacher there.My simple point is that,educational standard wholly depends upon"Quality of Teachers" but Dr.Sukant has overlooked that vital point.

    ReplyDelete