Recent 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 !