On Academic Freedom- by Sushmita Verma

2015-01-08 15.24.45Recent times have seen an attack on educational institutions like no other . This attack is not necessarily physical, rather an attack on the free space of the university. A recent incident at a very reputed higher education institution in Mumbai provoked me to think a few things.
I work at Majlis, which is a women’s rights organisation. It encourages its employees to have a knowledge of different social issues so as to have a rounded approach towards the society in general and women in particular. So when I received the invite for a talk on Kashmir from a reputed educational institution ( same as mentioned earlier ), I could not not resist the temptation to attend it and my programme co-ordinator at Majlis was very supportive of this .
As the audience which mostly comprised of students of MA, MPhil, PhD, some faculty members, visitors from Kashmir, a few journalists and writers, immersed themselves in the flow of the talk which was preceded by a subtle yet moving song of resistance from a group from North east, very interesting points were presented by the speaker on Kashmir . The content of the talk is not the concern here. But what happened during the question answer session was rather uncalled for . The head of the institution suddenly appeared and bombarded a set of questions on the person who was chairing the talk . The questions were related to permissions for the talk but sounded more like a threat to the extent, ” how dare students deliberate about this contentious issue of Kashmir  ” . As the head of the institution left infuriated , the shock and dismay of the audience was beyond comprehension , about what just happened !
This incident is not an aberration in the desired free thinking space of the university .Rather it is only another instance of how educational institutions have been attacked extremely directly and systematically by fascist and right wing forces . The institution referred above has been known in the past for giving space to many kinds of alternative voices. But today that space is shrinking . We are hearing everyday about various kinds of curbing of freedom of students in the form of direct policing, moral policing, emotional threatening in the forms of cutting down stipends, expulsion etc. Jadavpur University, Himachal Pradesh University, IIT Powai, TISS, IIPS, Delhi University, North Bengal University are only some of the big names in a long list of universities that are trying systematically to curb down students’ voices in the present times .
University is a space where students do not just enroll to pursue a degree, it is also the space where they are trying to make sense of the world . It is important that there is space for all kinds of perspective in the university and the platform to discuss those. Only then can the real purpose of the University space be fulfilled . However, in the present situations, universities are being run like empires through the stronghold of individuals or small groups of individuals. Democratic processes have been diminishing day by day and a Right wing inclination as well as the desire to maintain the status quo can be clearly seen. The strategic suppressing of left leaning voices means more space for the right and hence more space for all the evils that are confronting us today, starting from communal disharmony to patriarchal oppression to caste differentiation and more . It has become very important to resist this kind of suppression by means of more democratic dialogues both within campus and a networking with other campuses..Let not the University become a space to organize ignorance !


4 thoughts on “On Academic Freedom- by Sushmita Verma

  1. Dear Sushmita, thanks for the note, though I have a couple of points to make here with reference to your generalised and overly shallow thoughts regarding incidences which are rooted more towards the need for realization of responsibility along with the freedom of expression and need not to say the need to also stand by ones expression in all case and circumstances. I need not to remind you the discussions around the charlie hebdo massacre where intelligentsia has stood divided on the fact that freedom of expression does come with a sense of responsibility, with a sense of respect and a sense of sensitivity. The incidence which you are quoting here is devoid of all , we have been wittinesses as well and do not resonate what you think , if the organisers – students group/ individual fail to take due permissions and are not respecting protocols which are in the interest of democratic rights of all, they are to be questioned. Public spaces and life does not entitle to blatant and arrogance. Though how authorities have to deal the matter can be debated and I do agree it can be sorted probably in a fairer way but based on it judging that the entire institute is devoid of liberty, freedom and space is extremely hard to pull in. It is not easy to see things in a comprehensive manner, if the authorities have missed it so did you 🙂

      • thanks 🙂 have already read it, its amazing when I type this comment it does not publish itself, I wait for approval from the anchor of the blog to accept it validate it and define if its worthy enough to occupy space on the site. Am sure the IE article must have also been approved by an editor, or sub editor for analysing if its worthy to occupy print space (the reasons can be infinite – whether it can attract readership, sales or provoke thoughts , etc) but there is a protocol and there is an agency to decide – it can be individual or group does not matter. Every small or big “agency” (please do not mistake to limit the term to sales Enterprise only but interpret it to an entity capable of being an agent) is govern by certain norms establised by the group in the interest of larger good larger good sounds malicious but it is how groups function (sorry for the sociological insights) thus, the issue here is : a) Is it valid (pleased see have avoided the term “legal” instead as it indicates ethical and moral domain of response more than the legal dimensions of what should be or not) for an institution to question the speaker who is an outsider (not from the institute – hope you do not intermingle it to insider and outsider perspective as in anthropology and if you do it makes greater sense for sure 🙂 with no specific share of responsibility regarding the content or its impact (whether it impacts or not and in normative standard how it effects is another question) on why and what is it that he /she is to offer which contributes to the academic community in the academic premise? b) Is the act of the institution to verify the need, the authenticity, the credibility of invitee is to be termed as self regulatory mechanism? c) Is the behavior of one or more institutions towards a particular individual is part of the larger conspiracy or there is something which needs probe? d) Is it that there are any larger power equations which are defining the response and are governing the sphere or is it that the idea of freedom as defined by invitee is obscure enough to be given a though e) Is it that a certain response due to underline reasons is being interpreted in a way to accumulate concern on an issue made of no issue.

        Thus, having emphasised to look the incidence/s in its complexity and comprehensiveness along with facts is essential, on a campus where you have days and months marked by event and activities including : release of a book by Dr. Illena Sen , action aid collaboration trip for adolescent girls living in child care institutions of Kashmir, training for women’s groups of Ladakh, celebration of NTDNT day, trainings of IAS and IPS officers, debates of all sorts and people walking from all paths the picture needs to be looked in totality.

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