Reinventing the Feudal Village in Delhi University

 

Dr. N. Sukumar

"A University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the Universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the Nation and the People." 

~ Jawaharlal Nehru

"The most important and urgent reform needed in education is to transform it, to endeavor to relate it to the life, needs and aspirations of the people and thereby make it the powerful instrument of social, economic and cultural transformation necessary for the realization of the national goals. For this purpose, education should be developed so as to increase productivity, achieve social and national integration, accelerate the process of modernization and cultivate social, moral and spiritual values."

~ Radhakrishnan Commission on University Education, 1948-49

The University of Delhi, the largest public funded educational organization in the country, is rushing at break neck speed towards a four year undergraduate program. On the face of it, the course appears very innovative. However, a deeper analysis reveals a certain structural problem with the entire process of cultivating opinion, regarding the pedagogy among the academic community and the larger public, concerning the value of the FYUP. In the entire discourse, the VC is acting like a feudal paterfamilias who cannot brook any dissent. 

drona - ekalavya

A Dubious Alliance 

In a poverty ridden country, only public institutions cater to the requirements of the downtrodden and the marginalized groups. Once the doors were opened to the neo-liberal market forces, the elites could access the resources across the globe leaving the crumbs for their unfortunate brethren. The debate on the FYUP has been hijacked by the Stephanians, an old boys' network, a caste club which seeks to set an agenda for the leftover Indian academia. One wonders, how many students in India have access to higher education and how many possess the wherewithal to fly to America. The FYUP is aimed at the American audience whereas 70 percent of DU's students comprise of the SC/ST/OBC, Hindi medium students. A hurriedly set together task force, in the form of caste and ideological army is stifling all dissent against the FYUP. The beleaguered DU administration has resorted to surveillance of all forms of media. Many of the Deans and Heads of Departments have signed in favour of the new program, whereas their colleagues have argued about the undemocratic and autocratic means resorted to justify the program. In response to write-ups appearing in the social and print media regarding the dubious claims made by the University authorities, the Registrar hastily cobbled together a Press Release on 3rd May 2013 signed by a few self-proclaimed 'Harijan' teachers. A closer investigation reveals that majority of the SC/ST teachers, who are the signatories of the above mentioned press release, belong to a particular college and a large number constitute ad hoc teachers. The hierarchical power relations are evident in the entire exercise. 

The "Ideal Student" 

As an insider, I have been privileged to witness the intense struggles of the marginalized students in various forms. For the university, the ideal student is someone who is fluent in English and possesses the economic means to survive the FYUP. The program is a microcosm of the hierarchy prevalent in the society. The initial hurdle is the enhanced fees, whether it is for admissions, examination, revaluation or re-appearance to improve their grades. Then they have to counter the pedagogical issues. Certain subjects are sacrosanct for the elite students. The dalits and OBCs are only good for social sciences. Let me cite the illustration of Mathematics department (the most elevated discipline to which the VC also belongs). A poor dalit student was hounded out in the name of 'merit'. It is another matter that he completed the course and obtained first class in another prestigious institute, IIT Chennai1. The last couple of years, there were instances wherein Hindi medium students were deliberately failed. The university lacks adequate hostel facilities and majority of the students have to suffer PG accommodation, (the scenario is worse for girl students), lacunae in study materials in languages other than in English and the VC promises laptops for students, the panacea for all the ills plaguing the institute. 

In his interview to the Times of India2, the VC pointed out that 30 percent of students drop out every year. Thus, under the FYUP, a student who does a few application courses and knows how to make a spreadsheet will readily find a job. Presumably, the university will turn into a factory for producing "Call-Centre" jobs. As the head of a public institution, the VC should exhibit the moral authority and investigate as to why students are dropping out. Another bone of contention for the university authorities is the School of Open Learning. In the same interview, the VC argued that it is a huge racket. Any person with a modicum of intelligence would realize that the students opting for SOL are the ones who have been forced out of regular courses due to economic and social reasons. For many girl students, who are culturally prohibited from accessing higher education through the regular courses, SOL is the only option. Not everyone in the country are 'meritorious' enough to enter the hallowed portals of St. Stephens. One only needs to analyse the popularity of NIOS and IGNOU to understand their value for the majority of the poor students.

The Legacy of 'Merit'

The VC and his coterie argue that the FYUP will usher in much needed pedagogical interventions in the university system and make it more dynamic. What is dynamic about a system which is inherently elitist? Why the University never took a stand on the constitutionally mandated reservations? In the VC's own words, "My own department did not change the syllabus for 28 years"3. Is the VC questioning his own academic credentials? Was he not part of the Maths department? Presumably, his father too occupied the important post of Pro-Vice Chancellor of Delhi University. Why such queries were not considered then? When it comes to the pay checks, the VC mentions about the UGC role and quietly and conveniently keeps silent about the UGC norms regarding reservation policies. As the head of the institution, he claims to be ignorant of the exact teaching positions in the university. Speaking with a forked tongue, in the open letter to the teaching community4 he expressed willingness about filling up the teaching vacancies and in the TOI interview, observes that he does not have the exact data about the vacancies. It is laughable that a VC is so ignorant concerning basic statistics about the institution and in the process reveals his dynamism. Does the university have any notion about the roster system regarding appointments?

The VC has only exposed his own elitist character by dismissing the efficacy of other institutions. He claims to be very inclusive in his approach but declines to meet the elected body of teachers' representatives. Is it possible for the VC's office to provide details of the meetings with SC/ST teachers, non-teaching and student groups? The entire debate is conducted in the media. Only a selected few are eligible for the VC's durbar. Any dissent is stifled and the legitimate teachers' body was not provided space to deliberate the pedagogical issues.

Thinking beyond Parliament

The VC is only the 'first among equals' and not a 'super-citizen'. He is as much a karmachari in the university system as anyone else. During the course of the interview, his every sentence was prefixed and suffixed by "I". He is merely representing the institution and not his own self, however grand it may be. In the ultimate analysis, the institution is accountable to the taxpaying public. In a sovereign republic, the definitive authority rests with the people's representatives and not with any individual. Instead of debating the politics of pedagogy as put forward by eminent and socially committed scholars like Jayati Ghosh, Satish Deshpande and Krishna Kumar, to name a few, the present administration is indulging in the politics of signature campaigns, thereby revealing their intellectual and moral bankruptcy. It takes generations to create institutions and the shortsighted demagoguery of individuals should be prevented from hijacking these institutions. Surprisingly, he questions the credibility of Pratap Bhanu Mehta that he has not taught at an undergraduate level. By the same token, Gandhian morality is privileged in the FYUP (Integrating Mind, Body and Heart). Did Gandhi ever serve in any established institution?

"I fully realize the importance of education. It is a misconception that the emancipation of the lower class is an economic problem. That is a big mistake. The emancipation of the downtrodden does not mean that they should be given enough food, clothes and shelter and be left to serve the higher castes. The real issue is to make them aware of the importance of their existence for the progress of the nation; to make them aware of the reasons of their inferiority complex. These problems cannot be solved without proper higher education. In my opinion, higher education is the only remedy for all our social ills."5

Thus education was the weapon of the oppressed to break the shackles of the customary society. According to the traditional law, education was restricted to a divinely chosen few and those who transgressed these customs were heavily punished. The modern educational institutions willy-nilly reproduce culturally sanctioned structures of oppression. The FYUP will provide layers of degrees which will evaluate not only the educational but also the socio-economic and cultural capital of an individual. The dynamism of the VC led to the closure of the only book shop on the university premises. In a newly created technocracy, 'creative thinking' is subversive. Pedagogy is enslaved to the time machine. A call centre job does not require any creative inputs.

The FYUP discourse is reminiscent of the feudal village. The autocrat summons the close coterie of villagers, the required thumb impressions are collected, the tom toms are pressed in to service and lo and behold a new 'SHASTRA' comes into existence.

Notes

[1] For details refer, "Dalit Merit and Institutional Injustice: A Case Study", N. Sukumar and Shailaja Menon, Social Action, Jan-March 2011, Vol 61, No.1, pp 72-81.

[2] Prof. Dinesh Singh, Times of India, 6/5/2013, p. 4 (Delhi Edition).

[3] Prof. Dinesh Singh, op cit.

[4] (www.du.ac.in, April 26, 2013).

[5] B.R. Ambedkar, "Education is the only Medicine for all our Social Ills", BAWS, 1951, Vol 18 (3), pp 236-45.

~~~

 

Dr. N. Sukumar teaches Political Science at the Department of Political Science, Delhi University. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.

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