Thursday, July 19, 2018
The destruction of Nalanda University in 1193 is something that the Hindutva Right likes to talk about. But an equally consequential destruction of India’s university system is now underway. First, the government announced a new Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) in existence since 1956. This was followed by the unveiling of six ‘Institutes of Eminence’, including the non-existent Jio Institute promoted by Mukesh Ambani. Combined, they form part of the shock and awe tactics by which the annihilation of Indian higher education is taking place.
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
An ongoing exhibition in Berlin on the Nazi “People’s Court” (1934- 1945) to try ‘enemies of the state’, looks eerily familiar from an Indian perspective; not because our existing judicial system has been replaced (at least as of yet), but because of the nature of the charges. A mineworker who distributed communist leaflets to policemen in his area, a banker who made jokes about prominent Nazis, a sound technician who distributed satirical poems about Hitler and a real estate agent who sent postcards calling Hitler names – were all sentenced to death, accused of “high treason”, “destroying the loyalty of a national authority essential for the war effort” (in this case the post office where the undelivered postcards were found), and “aiding the enemy”. In one case involving a 22-year-old Swiss missionary, who was initially arrested only for ticketless travel and then under interrogation confessed to his plan to kill Hitler because he was ‘the enemy of Christianity and of humankind”, the grounds for the death sentence were that: “The defendant had resolved to deprive the German nation of its savior, the man for whom the hearts of 80 million Germans beat with infinite love, reverence and gratitude, and who need his strength and firm leadership now more than ever.”
Friday, July 6, 2018
As an India-based scholar, as someone who is not a member of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), which is primarily located in the US though it has 7000 members worldwide, and someone who had no plans of attending the AAS-in-Asia conference in Delhi (July 4-8, 2018), the boycott call against the AAS-in-Asia is not something that would ordinarily bother me.
The boycott call arose out of the Government of India’s refusal to allow Pakistani scholars to attend the AAS meeting; and the AAS’s failure to take a strong public stand against this and inform its members in a timely fashion so that they could make their own choices about whether to attend while Pakistani scholars were being denied. 649 scholars protested against what appeared to be the AAS’s and the local host, Ashoka University’s quiescence in an unacceptable restriction on academic freedom. I was one of them, even though my primary anger was with the Government of India, and not with the AAS. However, feeling that this was not enough, over 200 of the signatories have also decided to boycott the conference, arguing that the AAS should have had the courage to cancel the conference altogether rather than submit to the ban.
Monday, May 14, 2018
Across the country, the engagement of citizens with the Constitution appears to be in direct proportion to the administration’s abandonment of it. That is why the government is trying to criminalise the belief that it will deliver anything more than it is doing already.
(Jharkhand): On the freshly tarred road from Ranchi to Ulihatu, where Birsa Munda lived and which is now a prominent CRPF camp, several villages sport newly painted green stone slabs at the entrance, covered with constitutional provisions carved in white lettering. Protected by bamboo enclosures, these stones – symbols of the Pathalgadi movement – are anywhere between 8 and 15 feet high. In the past year and a half, this movement has spread rapidly across Jharkhand and the continguous areas of Chhattisgarh and Odisha. And the state governments concerned are not pleased.
The preamble to the Indian constitution asserts that “We The People of India.. Adopt, Enact and Give to Ourselves This Constitution.” If the people gave rise to the constitution, it stands to reason that they also gave themselves the right to interpret, analyse and propagate its contents in any form they want to so long as this is done peacefully.
Nothing stops citizens from asserting their fundamental rights by way of speeches or written pamphlets, or in stone pillars outside our homes. There are thousands of statues across the country of Ambedkar holding the constitution which serve not just as a reminder of his role in drafting it, but as a symbolic assertion of the document itself – that it is meaningful in people’s lives and it is they who give meaning to it.
Yet the Pathalgadi movement’s deep engagement with the constitution has state governments panicked, perhaps because it raises questions that they are finding hard to answer.