Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Unwanted Makeover of India’s Higher Education

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

नज़रिया: शहरी नक्सलियों का हौव्वा क्यों खड़ा हो रहा है

बर्लिन में इस वक़्त नाज़ी हुकूमत के दौर की जनता की अदालतों (1934-1945) पर एक प्रदर्शनी चल रही है. इन 'पीपुल्स कोर्ट' में उन लोगों पर मुक़दमा चलाया जाता था, जो 'देश के दुश्मन' माने जाते थे.
भारतीय नज़रिए से देखें, तो ये जानी-पहचानी सी लगती है. इसलिए नहीं कि हमारी मौजूदा न्यायिक व्यवस्था की जगह नई व्यवस्था ने ले ली है (अब तक तो ऐसा नहीं हुआ है), बल्कि जिस तरह के आरोप उस वक़्त जर्मनी की इन अदालतों में देश के दुश्मन करार दिए गए लोगों पर लगाए गए थे, उस वजह से ये नुमाइश जानी-पहचानी सी लगती है.
एक खदानकर्मी जिसने अपने इलाक़े के पुलिसवालों को कम्युनिस्ट विचारधारा के पर्चे बांटे थे. एक बैंक कर्मचारी, जिसने नाज़ी हुकूमत के बड़े ओहदों पर बैठे लोगों का मज़ाक़ उड़ाया था. एक साउंड टेक्नीशियन जिसने हिटलर पर तंज़ कसने वाली नज़्मों को लोगों के बीच बांटा था. और एक प्रॉपर्टी डीलर जिसने हिटलर को गालियां देने वाले ख़त भेजे थे.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Boycott the Ministers and Officials Attacking Academic Freedom

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

Pathalgadi is Nothing But Constitutional Messianism So Why is the BJP Afraid Of It?

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.

Monday, April 16, 2018

From Kathua and Unnao to Chintagufa

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently provided the media with another photo-op by helping an Adivasi woman in Bijapur wear her new slippers. But like much else in his government, the gesture is tokenistic – only one person per family of tendu leaf collectors gets the grand gift of slippers. In the meantime, not one person has been compensated for their houses and all their belongings – including slippers –  being burnt during the time of the Salwa Judum.
Saying ‘Jai Bhim’ in Chhattisgarh counts for little if one cannot implement Babasaheb’s vision in practice. Would Ambedkar have been happy to see the constitution subverted by a government that cannot protect its young daughters, a party whose MLAs are accused of rape and whose ministers support rapists? The day the adivasis of Bastar who have been gangraped, whose relatives have been killed and whose houses have been burnt get justice is the day the government’s demand that the Maoists lay down arms will have some chance of being heard.

This is a story from exactly a year ago, April 2017, when security forces in Chintagufa village of Sukma district allegedly raped a minor girl. On April 2, at around 4 am, the girl and her mother were sleeping in the courtyard of their house when CRPF personnel came looking for her elder brother, who was supposedly a sangham member, or a village-level Maoist sympathiser. Her brother wasn’t there. Three men dragged her to a distance, and two of them took turns raping her, she said later. The other police/CRPF personnel stayed back, beat her mother and pushed her younger sisters inside the house and locked it. The victim was injured on the neck during the rape as photos taken at the time reveal. Due to the darkness, she could not identify the men who raped her.
The matter was first reported by a villager on April 3 last year and published in Nai Duniya on April 4 morning. That same article quoted the DIG, P. Sunder Raj, saying the allegations were false, mala fide and intended by ‘white-collar Naxals’ to tarnish the image of the police. All this before any police investigation, even though at first reporting, the reported rape clearly came under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offcences (POCSO) Act.. Instead, the journalist who reported the matter was questioned.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Constitution as a Living Document

The Republic has never felt more endangered than it does at 69. When Union Minister Hegde let slip the public secret that the BJP/RSS government is here to change the Constitution, the problem is not that the Constitution cannot and should not be changed, but what direction that change will take, and whether it will destroy the very basis of the Republic or strengthen it.