What do the universities stand for? Do they stand for upholding faith in a particular way of life or do they stand for exploration of facts? Do they stand for inquisitiveness or they stand for blindfolded belief in already scripted texts? Are the Vice Chancellors custodians of the spirit of inquiry or are they exponents of ruling political ideologies? Do they foster quest for reason or rebuff such quests? Are the Universities Gyan Mandirs or simply Muths of some faith? Are teachers propagators of rationality or do they preach superstition?
These and many other questions have surfaced today in the academic world as the two years of the present government have resulted in the flouting of all academic norms and traditions which existed in the world of higher education in the state. The scene at the national level is no less grim. The Union Minister for Human Resource Development Ms. Smriti Irani has acted more like a party loyalist than as a custodian of the world of letters in the country. Leave apart her educational qualifications, she has not taken any initiative to look into the issues of education in the country. In last eighteen months she could not find time to meet the delegation of All India Federation of Universities and College Teachers Organizations. The Universities are almost teacherless. More than four thousand posts of teachers in Central Universities are lying vacant. She had to face hot waters when Christmas Day was declared a working day in Central Universities to celebrate the birth day of former Prime Minister and BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The state government followed suit by declaring Eid as a working day in government colleges to observe the birth anniversary of BJP leader Deendayal Upadhyay. Not to mention the transfers and deputations of college teachers on the basis of political inclinations, the government of Rajasthan has put on the website of its department of college education the names of books written by authors showing clear adherence to the political line of BJP.
To top it all is the recent incident of filing FIR against a retired professor of Delhi University Prof. Ashok Vora who delivered a lecture in the department of Philosophy, Mohan Lal Sukhadia University. The FIR has been filed by Devendra Singh Chundawat of the students wing of ruling BJP. Another complain has been filed by the Dean, Faculty of Social Science and Humanities Prof. Farida Shah. This came after the order of Higher Education Minister of the State Kalicharan Sarraf. It is evident from the pace of action that the honourable Minister did not have time to read the text of the speech.
Reports that have appeared in Newspapers say that the speaker Prof. Ashok Vora had allegedly made indecent remarks on some of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Someone in the audience made video and audio clips of the selected parts of the speech and posted on the social media which created a furore. Later it was found that the speaker Prof. Ashok Vora had not only admired Hinduism but also pronounced it as the best religion of the world which was all inclusive that there was no need for conversion in the context of Hinduisism. He had simply quoted some parts of the texts of some foreign authors to make his point that those who are exterior to a system of knowledge are unable to understand the culture of that system and hence are subject to misrepresentation. Prof. Vora warned against this type of representation and called for rejection of such texts. In fact he was furthering Edward Said's notion of the question of representation, much healthily debated in literary circles.
Not following what he intended and said, the propagators of faith painted the whole speech in demoniac colours and created an atmosphere of unwarranted tension, anxiety and fear in the University. The university administration also cowed down to such muscle flinching organizations and not only did nothing to stop the baseless propaganda but acknowledged them by setting up a fact finding team and asking the Dean to register a complaint with the police. Also, the Vice Chancellor accepted the demand of the accusing group to set up a screening committee to examine the scripts of the scholars who would in future come to the University for delivering invited lectures. In almost thirty years of my University career I have not come across any such committee in any University of the country.
The propagators of this hate campaign did not stop here. They went to the extent of accusing the organizer of the lecture Prof. Sudha Choudhary who was trying to instill reason in the debate. She not only provided the whole script to anyone who wanted including the media but also held a press conference to explain the truth. There were demands to take action against her also. Is there anyone who can explain what on earth her fault was? She was trying to explain what the speaker had said in his speech. Should even this right be denied to her? Being the head and professor of the department of philosophy is it not necessary for her to defend the speaker by trying to remove the confusion created by some vested interest groups? However, when the media persons were leaving after the press conference they were all of the opinion that the controversy has been created by the Professors of the university who are contending for the post of Vice Chancellor likely to be vacant next year.
The worst turn in the debate came with the statement of Dr.B.P.Sharma, Vice Chancellor of a Private University. Everyone knows that he taught in a private college whole of his life and earned this position of Vice Chancellor from just a lecturer for reasons better known to him. In his vehemence he not only made baseless charges against the speaker Prof. Ashok Vora and organizer Prof. Sudha Choudhary but went to the extent of calling for a state wide movement if stringent action is not taken against them. What more action is required once an FIR is lodged and a fact finding committee has been formed? Had it not been better for him to see what is happening in his university than to poke his nose in other universities?
It is unfortunate that the universities are being reduced to just profiteering and money- making. Rajasthan has the highest number of private universities which are not being monitored by any agency. They are flouting all norms laid down by UGC in appointments as well as emoluments of teachers and other employees. There seems to be no check on their fee structure. Without qualified teachers to guide the scholars, research degrees in large numbers are being given.
Once again the state of higher education is in question. What is the importance of such institutions if they cannot honour skepticism and provide space for open debate? They lose their meaning the moment the democratic forces are silenced by bullying forces of state power and their allies. The autonomy of Universities is increasingly becoming a myth. In one case it is bound in the shackles of ruling power and in other case profit motive enthralls it.