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Universities have lost their radical streak

Increasing dependence on government benefits is making university teachers indifferent to pressing social matters

columns Updated: Oct 26, 2015 19:20 IST
Hindustan Times
Sahitya Akademi awardees,JNU,Delhi University
In the protest against the growing culture of intolerance and violence against religious minorities, why are our universities — JNU included — so silent?(AP File)

At a time when a large number of Sahitya Akademi awardees have returned their awards in protest against the growing culture of intolerance and violence against religious minorities, why are our universities — JNU included — so silent?

So stunning has been their stillness that the RSS has taken notice of this. RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi has said: “There is a huge question mark on the honesty of the writers who are giving back their awards. Where are university-based professors when great men and women of letters are fighting for the preservation of (the) ‘basic values and structures of (the) constitution’ of India? Are university professors, generally described as ‘intellectuals’ or ‘academics’, not expected to actively participate in this ongoing struggle…?”

It was not always like this.

The two major central universities of Delhi — JNU and Delhi University (DU) — had proved they were centres of dissent when the authoritarian forces during the emergency of 1975-77 arrested a few members of the teaching faculty and students. The very fact that the ruling elite felt it was essential to terrorise teachers and students of the two universities is the best evidence of their intellectual strength and conviction. Even abroad, in the US, the turmoil on the campuses had compelled the government to re-think America’s war against Vietnam. University professors and students participated in demonstrations on the campuses under the banner: “It is not our war, withdraw from Vietnam.” The campus revolt of students in 1968 in France and some European universities thrilled French philosopher Jean Paul-Sartre to proclaim that the campuses will create new levels of social avalanche against the ruling classes.

However, the present ruling formation at the Centre, rattled by the revolt of the Sahitya Akademi awardees and other persons of eminence, has ignored JNU and DU as if they do not exist. The explanation for this is that a very large component of the teaching faculty consists of people who choose to play safe and expect benefits from the government. They act as supplicants before government agencies for appointment to government committees, or before foreign funders for fellowships to travel abroad. This works well for foreign funders also because they have learnt, to their discomfiture, that being on the wrong side of the government has its disadvantages. How can such teachers be taken seriously as dissenters by the government, which is distributing goodies to favour-seekers? The central and state governments have successfully silenced them by simply corrupting the academic community.

JNU and DU should have revolted against those who have indulged in character assassination of the men of letters. While students of the FTII could stand up to the government against the imposition of a supposedly undeserving chairman, the teaching faculty of universities is not ready to play even a small price by taking out a demonstration in their support.

Favour-seeking professors are not only intellectually marginalised, those who dole out favours have contempt towards them. This is the reality in which teachers of JNU and DU find themselves in.

CP Bhambhri taught politics at JNU. The views expressed are personal

First Published: Oct 25, 2015 23:15 IST