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To Besiege A University

To Besiege A University

A university is expected to be an inclusive space for teaching and research to explore ideas and engage with issues of nation-building. Nation-building has been a Constitutional project in India and JNU has been faithful to that project. Perhaps it is one of the very few universities in the country that have been faithful to the reservation policy of the state even by going beyond the percentage mentioned by the state and maintaining excellence in higher education.

 What is impressive about the university is its continuous effort to locate the university in the larger socio-economic context of the country and respond to the concerns of the poor and the peasants, dalits and tribals, women and the displaced. JNU has been a place of vibrancy, all the time engaged in conversation about national concerns and issues.   While internationalism and universalism are basic characteristic of any institute of higher learning so that institutions are not constrained with narrow domestic walls, it is the socio-economic context of the country that forms the base of a university. Localization and nationalism are both as important as internationalism and universalism for any university to be relevant for the times. The framers of the Constitution had sought to democratize the higher education model with inclusiveness while opposed to the recognition of hierarchies within the education system. When a university decides to remain egalitarian, committed to a social and political agenda of nation-building there are bound to be problems with those who have opposed this project for their own vested interests.

JNU is a tried and tested model

Let us be clear that what is happening at the Jawaharlal Nehru University is nothing but an attack on the very notion of what a university ought to be, to put it bluntly a place for all. No doubt JNU is a tried and tested model for university education in India. Ever since its inception the university has demonstrated to the country what a university ought to become if publicly funded – a place of teaching and high level of research for everyone - the dominant castes, the backwards and the discriminated, the minorities and women; where different shades of ideas can be discussed and debated, contested and dissented in an environment of learning. The emergence of a new class of scholars from discriminated communities equipped with the tools of social analysis always poses a threat to the established order. While they own their caste and class they are determined to bring about changes in thinking and thought, ideas and ideologies as new leaders of their community. The present effort of massive cut in M. Phil. and PhD seats in the university is to defeat this project of empowerment of weaker sections.  These groups seem to threaten the present establishment of the state.  

Hidden Agenda  

There is a hidden agenda in the imposed policy in spite of the Vice-Chancellor and the Minister for Human Resource Development defending it. Both have to defend it since they both hail from the same ideological family with the same designs and purposes. The government given its ideological bearings is determined to destroy an egalitarian higher education and replace it with its own ideology, of merit and dominance. As long as the privileged classes are fattened with admissions in the name of merit in spite of their unjust inherited privileges the system would be preserved to protect the interests of the elite. It is this system that is premised on inherited privileges of caste and class that the present government is determined to protect and preserve. It is true that the UGC mandate is that a professor may guide 8 scholars, an associate professor 6 and assistant professor 4. In JNU according to the Minister, there are instances of professors guiding up to 20-25 scholars for their PhDs. What really is wrong with it if students have been guided well and the teachers have moved beyond the call of duty? The other question however is whether the UGC regulation is of binding nature or recommendatory? JNU is an autonomous university primarily with post-graduate departments and research. The university has carved out an imminent place for social research in the country. It has its own academic council which has powers to decide about the number of students individual teachers can guide. It is based on those guidelines that teachers in the university have been guiding students for the last many years.  T he judgment of the High Court of Delhi that JNU should follow UGC guidelines has undermined the JNU Act attacking the autonomy of educational institutions. This can be a dangerous trend for the future of higher education that refuses to honor the uniqueness of unique universities and their contribution to nation-building. The contention of the Jawaharlal University has been that they have been a research university with autonomy of their own and UGC norms should not be uniformly imposed on every university – a very sensible position.

JNU is a research university

JNU is primarily a research university. It is an institute of higher learning which is known to encourage critical thinking and research. 62% of its current strength is that of students pursuing M. Phil and PhD programmes. Besides, the university has been known for its high standards of research work especially in social sciences. In a country where there is dearth of researchers one should have felt proud of a university like JNU churning out qualitatively better M. Phil. /PhD scholars than most other universities in the country. On the other hand if the quality of research done was and is poor from JNU then the government could have intervened and brought in certain strictures. The evidence in the public realm indicates that the research of the university is nowhere inferior and in fact far superior to other institutions in the country. That should have been the single reason why any imposition of the regulation of the UGC on a university that has maintained very high standards and made the country proud to be considered wrong. Internationally, the university has enjoyed high credentials and nationally even NAAC has accredited it with the highest grade. Why then these strictures on a university of repute other than for a hidden agenda?

Intake of 1406 students to 194

In the year 2016, according to the data published by the university the academic council had approved the intake of 1406 students for M. Phil. /PhD and with the present regulations according to the prospectus of 2017 the intake will be 194.    The UGC regulations 2016 had mentioned that number of seats for admission has to be determined by the "academic bodies" of the university. How could then the seats be reduced without any reference to the Academic Council of the University? When opposition to the measure was everywhere, the Vice Chancellor of the University initially had promised a wider consultation with an assurance that seats will not be cut to deny opportunities to students from marginalized communities. This looks now as a mere ploy. He did not mean what he had said. He has been placed there to do the biddings of the government in power which has clear designs for the university.  

Entrance Exam

As far as the entrance to the university is concerned JNU had given a weightage of 80% for entrance exam and 20% to viva.  The officials of the university had all of a sudden decided 100 per cent weightage to viva a departure from previous years, when the final score would include a percentage of the qualifying exam too . The purpose of viva alone for entry to the university is to admit only the meritorious without concern for the equally meritorious who have been deprived of opportunities. T he 2012 JNU committee, which was formed to look into allegations of discrimination in viva in the university, had come to the conclusion that “the gap in performance between general and reserved category students was wider in the case of viva-voce than the written test.” Even in 2016, the Abdul Nafaye committee acknowledged the discrimination in viva for students who come from non-English speaking, weaker sections of society, and proposed that viva marks should be reduced from 30% to 15%.

 Deprivation Points Essential

The other innovation in the JNU admission policy is the offer of deprivation points for students hailing from weaker sections from the remote parts of the country. For a university to be a university, it has to be inclusive.  A maximum of 12 points  were given to candidates from certain districts of India,  specified on the basis of female illiteracy, percentage of agricultural workers, rural population, and households having no latrine within its premises from across the country. One must appreciate the adoption of such measures as a result of serious discussion from within the university. While in most universities there has been reluctance to admit students on the basis of reservation JNU has been an example of a university that has voluntarily moved beyond the rule of law to contribute to pluralism and diversity in higher education. From the current year the deprivation points are no longer applicable for M. Phil/PhD students in keeping with the ideology of the party in governance.

Successful model of inclusiveness

JNU is a socially inclusive successful model of higher education in the country with the university offering a vibrant space for learning, questioning, debating and developing a political understanding of structural injustices. It is one thing to admit students hailing from marginalized communities while it is quite different to make use of pedagogy of learning that makes students to own up their identities and question the unjust structures of society. The present government in power with a different ideological framework is determined to destroy this model of social justice, critical approach to society through education and inclusion. SCs/STs/MBCs are not a priority to the government in power. The present cut in seats to a large extent will affect the subaltern communities more than anybody else. Those from the discriminated communities in the campus have already expressed their anguish over delay in grant of fellowship and scholarship.  Some may have even left the university due to inadequate resources. Cut in fellowships and reduction in seats for the marginalized communities will surely harm the socially inclusive nature of the University. And to add insults to the discriminated the centers of social exclusion that were a part of owning up the students from discriminated communities are likely to be closed down.

Regime is hostile to JNU

Why is the present regime hostile to JNU? Former students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar may have an answer. The research done in JNU -which is secular, democratic, progressive and egalitarian - harms the ideology of the Sangh, he says. The BJP as a party and as an affiliate of the Sangh Parivar is committed to building of a Hindu rastra. To do this the thinking of the people has to change. University education is to prepare students for change with critical ideas for social change. Perhaps, there is no other university in the country that has fiercely guarded its independence and autonomy while contributing to the project of nation-building by being faithful to secularism, pluralism, inclusiveness as JNU. That is why the very first attack of the present government in Delhi has been on the JNU. The government seems to believe if JNU is wrecked other universities can be with much better ease. Their strategy is to first defame it by a wide propaganda machinery and then provoke the elite to attack it by a wider propaganda that the university is a liability and it is eating up the money of the taxpayers through fellowships and freeships to the undeserving. National resources are wasted by students who are anti-national for questioning the status quo and the unjust social system. All of this to pave the way for an end to public universities and to make education self-financed. Funds cuts and seat cuts are the slow poison to achieve this.  BJP has always been afraid of freedom of thought and expression. Its adherence has been to a bunch of dogmas, beliefs and myths that are constantly repeated and propagated. Anyone who rationally questions them becomes an anti-national.  JNU on the other hand is different – a place that has space for all to question and challenge, debate and discuss. Such an open atmosphere is a threat to the dogmatists. The seat cut introduced in JNU are reflective of the dangerous political agenda of the BJP to destroy thought and research. What the BJP desires is to convert JNU campus into an RSS   shakha . In some of the universities the party has succeeded by destroying the existing structures and policies on diversity, on public funding of universities and access to higher education for the common people.

In the resistance JNU offers is the future of university education. After all, ideas cannot be easily killed. While the country needs JNU and many more of those universities, the young of the country need them as well for intellectual enlightenment and social empowerment. JNU has already moved out of its campus to the larger society to protect its mission for the country. It is time for the university to send its students and alumni across the country to mobilize the young to resist vested interests through networking with colleges and universities and to defeat the ideological designs of the regime in power.

(Published on 03rd April 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 14)#