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Your taxes pay for students to learn to question -- and it’s worth it

analysis Updated: Feb 17, 2016 13:38 IST
KumKum Dasgupta
KumKum Dasgupta
Hindustan Times

One of the opinions raised during the JNU row has been that taxpayers subsidise students’ studies and not their politics. (HT Photo)

‘As for JNU, it is time the government asked students to pay the full cost of education; in case students wish to focus on politics and not on their studies, there is no case for taxpayers to subsidise extreme views or an archaic Left. Freedom does not include the right to misuse tax payers’ monies…’ --- Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Manipal Global Education

Among the many reactions to the current standoff between the Centre and the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Pai’s statement that taxpayers subsidise students’ studies and not their politics would easily win an award for cringe-worthy shallowness. Though he wrote this with reference to the current impasse in JNU, what Pai said amounts to this: Keep politics out of all State-run college and university campuses.

I don’t know what kind of experiences Pai had during his college and university days, but I can say from my own that a campus life without different shades of politics, as Pai wants, would not just be devoid of spark but incapable of inspiring any sort of change.

When I joined a State-funded college in Kolkata (now a university), the first major event that followed the principal’s speech, mild ragging and the ‘freshers’ welcome’ over tea and mutton samosas was a series of sessions by different political groups.

Their representatives would come to different classes and present their blueprint for changing the state of affairs in college, the state, the country and the world. And mind you, these sessions were held with the blessings of the college authorities and everyone was expected to participate.

We were then just fresh out of school and political greenhorns. But inside the college gates, as days passed, we changed: We started to make sense of the world around us, the politics around us and many of us started engaging with representatives of different parties and by the end of the first term, most of us had had made up our minds on which one to join.

Today, looking back, all those sessions and discussions that continued late into the night seem a little amusing, but participating in college politics taught us one important lesson: There are several ways of engaging with a problem and plurality of ideas must be respected.

It was also in college when we learnt first-hand the art of agitating for our rights and for issues. So while one day we could be agitating on filling vacancies with the best available teachers, the next day we would be at a rally against something that was going on in world politics.

Was it a waste of time? I really don’t think so. We were learning to make political choices, the same choices we make when we enter a polling booth.

If Pai is so concerned about the fact that the tax he pays is subsidising a certain kind of politics that he does not support, I wonder what is stopping him from saying that IITians should stay back in India for nation building and doctors who pass out from government colleges should compulsorily serve in rural areas.

I would implore Pai to listen to JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar’s beautiful speech: Sitting in India and knowing the country, would he say that the questions Kumar raised were wrong? Is Pai blind to the India around him?

If anything, Pai should be proud that those questions were raised from a system that he funds and from young people who have not given up on the political system, and are still more than eager to engage with it.

Views expressed by the author are personal, she tweets @kumkumdasgupta