Category Archives: Acedemia

রোহিত ভেমুলা ও ঘরের কাছের অন্ধকার

১৬ জানুয়ারী ২০১৬ অর্থাৎ যেদিন প্রধানমন্ত্রী নরেন্দ্র মোদি  ঘোষণা করলেন যে ২৫ কোটি টাকা অবধি দরের ‘স্টার্ট-আপ’ কোম্পানি খুলে ব্যবসা শুরু করলে ৩ বছর আয়কর দিতে হবে না, শ্রমিক অধিকার ও ভাতা ঠিকঠাক দেওয়া হচ্ছে কিনা, পরিবেশ দুষিত করা হচ্ছে কিনা, এসবের কোন কিছুরই সরকার ৩ বছর অবধি পর্যবেক্ষণ পর্যবেক্ষণ করবে না, ঠিক তার পরের দিন,  গত রবিবার একজন ছাত্র আত্মহত্যা করেছে। এরম আত্মহত্যা তো কতজন করেই থাকে, কতরকম কি হয় আজকাল – প্রেমঘটিত, অবসাদ, ‘ড্রাগস’। একজন পিএইচডি গবেষণারত ছাত্র আত্মহত্যা করেছে।  সে ক্ষেত্রে আবার যোগ হতে পারে ‘স্ট্রেস’। কিনতু তারপর যদি বলি গ্রামের ছেলে, ইংরেজি মিডিয়াম নয়, দলিত – এমন একজন আমার-আপনার শহরের নামী বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে দু-চোখ জোড়া স্বপ্ন নিয়ে এসে আত্মহত্যা করেছে, তখুনো আমরা একটু হাতরাবো একটু ‘স্ট্রেস’, একটু প্রেম, একটু ‘ড্রাগস’। কিনতু তারপর যদি আরো বলি যে তার বৃত্তির টাকা পাঠাত সে বাড়িতে, তা দিয়ে তার বিধবা মায়ের চলত, তখন হয়ত ‘ড্রাগস’টা বাদ পড়বে। তারও পরে যদি বলি যে সে স্বাভিমান নিয়ে প্রকাশ্যেই বলত যে সে বাবাসাহেব আম্বেদকরের  আদর্শে বিশ্বাসী, সে মৃত্যুদন্ড বিরোধী – তা সে ইয়াকুব মেমনেরই হোক বা কাশ্মীরে কুনান-পোসপোড়ায় কাশ্মীরি নারীদের গণ-ধর্ষণ করা সৈন্যদেরই হোক (পরের মৃত্যুদন্ডটা হয়নি, কোন দন্ডই হয়নি) এবং সে কারণে সে ছিল আমার-আপনার রাষ্ট্রের ঠিকাদারী নেওয়া বিজেপি দলের ছাত্র সংগঠন এবিভিপির চক্ষুশূল, তালে হয়ত বলবেন ব্যাপারটি ‘গোলমেলে’। এবং আরো যদি বলি যে মৃত্যুদন্ডের বিরোধীতা করে মিছিল বার করার জন্য বিজেপির এক সাংসদের অঙ্গুলিহেলনে নতুন  দিল্লীর হুকুমে জো-হুজুরি করা এক কেন্দ্রীয় বিশ্ববিদ্যালয় উপাচার্য্য তাকে ছাত্রাবাস থেকে বহিস্কার করে।  যদি বলি যে তার সেই বৃত্তির টাকা, তার হকের টাকা সে পায়নি বেশ কয়েক মাস? যদি এটাও বলি যে তাকে দলিত বলে সামাজিক বয়কটের মুখোমুখি হতে হয়েছিল নতুন দিল্লির কেন্দ্রীয় সরকারের এদেশে চলা হায়দ্রাবাদ কেন্দ্রীয় বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ে? আর কি কি তথ্য লাগবে, সত্যের আর কত পরত ছাড়াতে হবে এইটা বুঝতে যে হায়দ্রাবাদ কেন্দ্রীয় বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের বিজ্ঞানে পিএইচডি-রত ছাত্র রোহিত ভেমুলার মৃত্যু স্থুলভাবে একটি আত্মহত্যা হলেও একটি অন্য সর্বার্থেই একটি রাজনৈতিক হত্যা?

এই রাজনৈতিক হত্যা কে করেছে, তার একটা সহজ এবং চালক- দায়সারা উত্তর হয়।  সেটা হলো ‘সমাজ’। কিন্নতু  তাকে কি দলিত সমাজ মেরেছে? তাকে কি হিন্দু সমাজ মেরেছে? তাকে কি মোসলমান সমাজ মেরেছে? তাকে কি উচ্চ-বর্ণের হিন্দু সমাজ মেরেছে? বৈষম্যের পৃথিবীতে সমাজ বলে কিছু হয়না, বৈষম্যের টানাপোড়েনে, ঘাত-প্রতিঘাতে লিপ্ত থাকে নানা গোষ্ঠী, নানা সমাজ। বৈষম্যের কারণে এই বিভক্তি আবার এই বিভক্তিই হলো শক্তি। কারণ বহির্শত্রু নিপীড়ক গোষ্ঠীর বিরুধ্যে আত্মশক্তিকে সংগঠিত করার জন্য দরকার আভ্যন্তরীন ঐক্য। আর নিপিরিতের এই নিজে নিজে গোষ্ঠী তৈরী করে নিপীড়ক-কে মোকাবিলা করার প্রয়াসের বিরুধ্যে নানা পাল্টা চেষ্টা চলে, চেষ্টা চলে বৈষম্যগুলিকে বাদ দিয়ে নিপীড়কের ধান্দা অনুযায়ী বিশাল একতার দোকান খোলা, এমন দোকান যার প্রধান মালিক হবে নিপীড়ক, অংশ-মালিক হবে নিপীড়িতের মধ্যে থেকে তৈরী করা দালাল আর লাভের গুড় খাওয়া হবে সকল মানুষের ঐক্যের নাম।  নিপীড়কের ঐক্যের নানা দোকান আছে – সেসব দোকানের নানারকম নাম আছে – যেমন হিন্দুত্ব, ইসলাম, ভারত, ইন্ডিয়া, সমাজ, সুশীল, ইত্যাদি। রোহিত ভেমুলা এইসব স্বপ্ন দেখত এইসব দোকান ভেঙ্গে একদিন খোলা মাঠে মানুষের হাট-বাজার তৈরী হবে।

আমরা বঙ্গবাসী। রোহিত থাকত দূরে। সেই দূর থেকে তার বন্ধুরা জানিয়েছে যে দলিত বলে, তেলুগু মাধ্যমে পড়াশুনো করে উচ্চ-শিক্ষার স্বপ্ন দ্যাখার ধৃষ্টতা দ্যাখানোর জন্যে রোহিতকে এবং তার বন্ধুদের শুনতে হতো টিপ্পনি , হাসাহাসি করা হত মফঃস্বল গুনটুরের গন্ধ গায়ে লেগে থাকা স্বপ্নালু মানুষগুলিকে নিয়ে। আজকে চুনি কোটালের মৃত্যুর প্রায় ২৪ বছর পরে আমরা এমন এক শিক্ষা-

সংস্কৃতি তৈরী করেছি যেখানে মেডিকেল কলেজগুলিতে শহুরে আইসিএসই-সিবিএসইর রমরমা (যদিও পশ্চিমবাংলার ১০% ছাত্রছাত্রীও এইসব বোর্ডে পড়ে না), উত্কর্ষ-কেন্দ্র প্রেসিডেন্সিতে নানা বিষয়ের প্রবেশিকা পরীক্ষা যাতে বাংলায় না হয়, তার পাঁয়তাড়া করা হয় এই বাংলার মাটিতে থেকে, বসে, খেয়ে মোটা হওয়া একধরনের আরকাঠি  গোষ্ঠীর চক্রান্তে, যাদবপুরের তথাকথিত ‘কুল’ বিভাগগুলি থেকে বাংলায় কথা বলাদের পরিকল্পিত ভাবে হতে হয় হীনমন্যতার স্বীকার, সেখানকার  ইতিহাস বিভাগে বাংলায় স্নাতকোত্তর স্তরের উত্তর লেখার জন্য লাঞ্চিত হতে হয় প্রতিবন্ধী ছাত্র রামতনুকে, অন্য সময়ে ভুলে যাওয়া দিনে এই রকম-ভাবেই বাংলায় লেখার জন্য হেনস্থা হতে হতে আত্মহত্যা করেছিল যাদবপুরের ইতিহাস বিভাগের ছাত্রী পৌলমী সাহা। এই বাংলা বাংলা করলাম এতক্ষণ কারণ বৈষম্যের জন্য  বাংলা একটা উছিলা মাত্র। বাংলা মানে শহর কম মফঃস্বল বেশি গ্রাম আরো বেশি, বাংলা মানে বড়লোক কম গরীব বেশি, বাংলা মানে হাতখরচা কম টিউশনি বেশি, বাংলা মানে গাড়ি কম সাইকেল বেশি – অর্থাৎ বাংলা মানে সেই সংখ্যাগরিষ্ঠ যাকে জোর করে হারিয়ে দেবার চক্রান্ত চলছে আমাদের এই বাংলাদেশে। প্রেসিডেন্সি যত বাংলা-বিরোধী শহুরে-ইংরেজদের আখড়ায় পরিণত হবে, ততবেশী অসবর্ণ  অধ্যাপক  মহিতোষ মন্ডল লাঞ্ছিত হবেন এই-সকল ‘সুপার-কুল’ পোস্টমডার্ন আখড়ায়। মেডিকেল কলেজগুলি তত বেশি করে গুরগাঁও, নয়ডা ও ক্যালিফোর্নিয়ার ডাক্তার তৈরীর কারখানা হবে। বাংলার গণ-মানুষকে, অন্তজ জনতাকে  জোর করিয়ে হারিয়ে দেবার এই চক্রান্ত বন্ধ হওয়া দরকার। দরকার জনসংখ্যার অনুপাতে সর্বস্তরে সংরক্ষণ। দরকার বিরাট একতার বুটিক দোকান ভেঙ্গে হাট-বাজারের দাপাদাপি। রোহিত ভেমুলার  সুইসাইড নোটটি ইন্টারনেট-এ পাবেন। সেটিকে পড়ুন। বামুন-কায়েত বিপ্লবী আর রেডিকেল-দের অপরাধ-বিলাসের জন্য চে গেভারার মৃত্যু অবধি যেতে হবে না। রোহিত ভেমুলার মৃত্যু আমাদের অন্তরের অন্ধকারগুলিকে  প্রকাশ্যে আনতে সাহায্য করুক।                                        

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বোর্ড, শিক্ষা, আদর্শ – দিল্লী আমাদের ভবিষ্যত লুটছে

আমি যখন ডাক্তারী পড়তাম, একটা কথা বেশ চালু ছিল।এই যে পৃথিবীতে ডাক্তারদের বাজার কখুনোই কমবে না।  কারণ জনসংখ্যা বাড়তেই থাকবে, ফলে রোগীর সংখ্যাও বাড়তেই থাকবে। এই যুক্তিটি জন-সংখ্যার সাথে যুক্ত অনেক কিছুর ক্ষেত্রেই খাটে – যদি না ভয়ানক গোলমেলে কিছু ঘটে।  ঠিক তেমনই কিছু একটা ঘটছে আমাদের এই পশ্চিমবঙ্গের শিক্ষা-ক্ষেত্রে। এবং আমরা উদাসীন।  একটু খুলে বলি।

শত্রুর মুখে ছাই দিয়ে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের জনসংখ্যা দিন কে দিন বাড়ছে, স্কুল পড়ুয়ার সংখ্যা বাড়ছে আর এসবের মধ্যেই এই বছর মাধ্যমিক পরীক্ষার্থীর সংখ্যা কমে গেছে ! ভাবা যায়? তাও সামান্য, নয় – নয় নয় করে প্রায় ১৫ হাজার। একই সাথে অবশ্য এ বাংলায় প্রতি বছর বেড়ে চলেছে দিল্লীর নানা বোর্ডের পরীক্ষার্থী সংখ্যা। পর্ষদ কর্তারা বেহায়া হয়ে অদ্ভূত সব কারণ দিচ্ছেন। কলকাতা শহরে পশ্চিমবঙ্গ মধ্যশিক্ষা পর্ষদের পরিচালিত মাধ্যমিক পরীক্ষা দেওয়া ছাত্র-ছাত্রীর সংখ্যা এতই কমে গেছে যে নানা রকম অজুহাতের শাক দিয়ে পচে যাওয়া মাছ থেকে দুর্গন্ধ আটকানো যাচ্ছে না একেবারেই। এ কেমন করে হলো? এবং এমন চলতে থাকলে, ক্ষতি কি? ক্লাস টেন পাশ করাই তো মোদ্দা কথা – মাধ্যমিক হোক বা সিবিএসই /আইসিএসই। ব্যাপারটা এত সহজ নয়।

শিক্ষা নাগরিক গঠন করে। তাই একজন স্কুল-পড়ুয়াকে কি শেখানো হবে, সেটা গুরুত্তপূর্ণ। আমাদের বাংলাদেশের জাতি ও সমাজের ভবিষ্যত এই ‘কি শেখানো হবে’র আদর্শের উপ নির্ভরশীল। একেই বলে সিলেবাস। মাধ্যমিক ও দিল্লী থেকে আমদানি করা বোর্ড-গুলির সিলেবাস এক নয়। পার্থক্য আছে।  এই পার্থক্য মানের তারতম্যের প্রশ্ন না , ভিন্নতার প্রশ্ন। ভারতীয় যুক্তরাষ্ট্রে এতগুলি রাজ্য বোর্ড, তাদের সিলেবাসের ভিন্নতা আছে কারণ এই এলাকার মধ্যে বিশাল বৈচিত্র ও ভিন্নতা রয়েছে। তাই সিলেবাসকে যদি হতে হয় বাস্তবমুখী ও ছাত্রের আপন পরিবেশের সাথে নিবিড় সম্পর্কযুক্ত, রাজ্য বোর্ড ছাড়া তার গতি নেই।  আর যদি ছাত্রটিকে তার পারিপার্শিকতা থেকে বিছিন্ন করে, তার বাঙালিত্বকে ছেঁটে দিল্লি-নির্দেশিত এক কল্পিত ভারতীয়ত্তর জোব্বা পড়ানোই হয় সিলেবাসের লক্ষ্য, তাহলে দিল্লির বোর্ড-গুলির জুড়ি মেলা ভার। যা শুরু হয়েছিল সৈন্য বাহিনী ও বদলির চাকরির লোকেদের সুবিদার্থে তথা মিশনারী কিছু প্রচেষ্টায়, সেই গোষ্ঠী-গুলির দ্বারা পরিচালিত বোর্ড-গুলি এখুন কেন্দ্রীয়-সরকারী নীতির মদতে এক-কালের শক্তিশালী ও খ্যাতিমান রাজ্য বোর্ড-গুলিকে পরিকল্পনা-মাফিক মুমূর্ষু করে তুলছে – শিক্ষার বানিজ্যিকরন তথা নাগরিকদের বৈচিত্র হরণের দ্বিমুখী উদ্দেশ্যে।  তার ফল ভয়ানক।

বাংলার বোর্ডে ইংরাজি, বাংলা বা হিন্দী মাধ্যমে পড়া ছাত্রটি জানতে পারে পশ্চিমবঙ্গের ভূগোলের খুঁটিনাটি বা বাংলার ধানের খেতে কি কি বোকা লাগে। তার ইতিহাস শিক্ষা স্রেফ দিল্লির  প্রাচীন ও বর্তমান সম্রাটদের গুনগাথায় সীমিত থাকে না। ভবিষ্যতে, জলে আর্সেনিক দুষণের প্রভাব দিল্লি থেকে আমদানি বোর্ড-গুলির সিলেবাসে না ঢুকলেও আমাদের ছেলে-মেয়েদের তা নিয়ে শিক্ষিত হওয়া ছাড়া গত্যন্তর নেই। আমাদের এই বাংলাদেশের বৈশিষ্টগুলিকে বিশেষ-ভাবে অন্তর্ভুক্ত করা ইচ্ছা বা দায়, কোনটাই দিল্লীর নেই। ওদের থেকে আমদানি করা বোর্ড-এ  আপনার ছেলে-মেয়ে এই বাংলায় বসে ক্লাস-টেন পাশ করতে পারে এক বর্ণ বাংলা না শিখে। এই বঙ্গদেশের অধিকাংশ দিল্লী-বোর্ড-ওয়ালা ইস্কুলে প্রথম ভাষা হিসেবে বাংলা পড়ার কোন সুযোগ নেই। ভারতীয়ত্বের হাঁড়িকাঠে বাঙালিত্বের বলি দিয়ে যারা গুরগাঁও-বেঙ্গালুরুর দিকে শিশুকাল চেয়ে থাকবে চাতকের মতো, স্বপ্ন দেখবে হিন্দীর দেশের ইংরেজি মরুদ্যানে খেজুর গাছ হবার, আমরা কি সেই সন্তান গড়তে চাই? আত্মঘাতী হবার জন্য এর চেয়ে অনেক সহজ পথ আছে। 

এই বোর্ড-গুলি কার, এবং কাদের প্রাধান্য রক্ষা করতে গঠিত ও পরিচালিত, তা তামিল নাডু বা কর্ণাটকের অনেক শিক্ষাবিদের কাছেই পরিষ্কার।  শুধু এই অধম বাঙালি তার নিজের বোর্ড-এ পড়া ছেলেমেয়েদের ভবিষ্যত অন্ধকার করতে চায়, দিল্লির বোর্ড-গুলির সুবিধা করে দিয়ে।  কি ভাবে ? অনেক ভাবে।  একটা উদাহরণ এরকম।  অনেক  ছাত্র-ছাত্রীর স্বপ্ন পশ্চিমবঙ্গে ডাক্তারি বা ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং পড়ার।  তার জন্য দিতে হয় জয়েন্ট পরীক্ষা। তার সিলেবাস অধুনা বদলানো হয়েছে – যাতে কিনা পশ্চিমবঙ্গের বোর্ড ও দিল্লি থেকে আমদানি করা বোর্ড-গুলির সিলেবাসের মধ্যে যে অংশটুকু কমন, প্রশ্ন আসবে শুধু সেখান থেকেই।  অথচ, কেন্দ্র যে আইআইটি বা  অল ইন্ডিয়া প্রি-মেডিকেল পরীক্ষা নেয় , সেখানে কিন্তু কোন কমনের বালাই নেই – একদম সোজাসুজি দিল্লির বোর্ড-গুলির সিলেবাসকে অনুসরণ করা হয়।  অথচ, যেটুকু সুযোগ আমরা আমাদের ছাত্রদের দিতে পারি, সেখানে আমরা তাদের লেঙ্গি মারছি ‘কমন’ ‘কমন’ খেলায়।  আর বাংলার মেডিকেল কলেজগুলি থেকে যে ডাক্তার বেরুবে, যে কলেজগুলি বাংলার মানুষের টাকায় গড়া, তা কার  স্বার্থে? নিশ্চই কতিপয় কলকাতাবাসী ‘এস্পিরেসনাল’ যুবক-যুবতীর কেরিয়ার গর্তে নয়।  বরং তা বাংলার মানুষের স্বাস্থ্যের স্বার্থে।  আজ-ও বাংলার কনে কনে যে ডাক্তার , তারা অধিকাংশ সেই পশ্চিমবঙ্গ বোর্ড-এই পড়া  .গুরগাঁও-বেঙ্গালুরু-লন্ডনের স্বপ্নে বিভোর আধুনিক শহুরে ভারতীয় দিয়ে এই বাংলার স্বাস্থ্য পরিসেবা চলবে না, তার জন্য চাই সেই বাংলা বোর্ডের ছেলেমেয়েগুলিকে  – যারা জেলাগুলিকে চেনে, বাংলার গ্রাম-মফস্স্বল চেনে, এলাকার ভাষা জানে।  কোথায় আমরা তাদের আরো আরো সামনে আনব – তা না করে আমরা  ‘আধুনিকীকরণের’ নাম বাংলার নিজের বোর্ড-কে ধ্বংস করছি। এ সকলেই জানেন যে পশ্চিমবাংলায় দিল্লি থেকে আমদানি করা বোর্ডে পরা শিক্ষার্থীরা তুলনামূলকভাবে  বেশি  শহরকেন্দ্রিক, বেশি বিত্তশালী বর্ণহিন্দু প্রভাবিত। পাশ করলেই বাংলা ছেড়ে ফুরুত হবার স্বপ্নে বিভোর শ্রেনীর ত্যালা মাথায়ে তেল দিয়েই কি আমরা  সোনার বাংলা গড়ার চেষ্টা করছি ?  গুরগাঁও-এর কর্পোরেট হাসপাতালের ডাক্তার গড়ার কোন দায় পশ্চিম-বাংলার মানুষের নেই। বাংলা বোর্ডের সিলেবাস নির্ধারণকারী আধিকারিক যারা, জয়েন্ট এন্ট্রেন্স বর্ডার পদাধিকারী যারা, তাদের সন্তানেরা কোন বোর্ডে পড়েন, সেটা জানা দরকার। নইলে এসব ক্ষেত্রে  অন্য কি কি ধরনের স্বার্থ  কাজ করতে পারে, তা জানা যাবে না।  আমাদের বুঝতে হবে কাদের চক্রান্তে বাংলা বোর্ড ক্রমে পরিনত হচ্ছে দ্বিতীয় শ্রেনীর বোর্ডে, যেখানে বনের জলে ভেসে আসার ঠাই পাবেন।

বাঁকুড়া জেলা স্কুল, বর্ধমানের সিএমএস। সিউরী জেলা স্কুল – এই নামজাদা প্রতিষ্ঠানগুলিকে জোর করে হারিয়ে দিলে শেষ নিরিখে বাংলা হারবে। দিল্লির নামধারী ইস্কুলে দিল্লি থেকে আমদানি সিলেবাস পড়ে শহুরে বাঙালির  বাচ্চারা মানুষ হবে – বাংলার ভবিষ্যত আর যেখানেই হোক, এই উড়ে এসে জুড়ে ব্যবসা করা ইস্কুল্গুলির অলিন্দে খোঁজা অনুচিত। ব্যাপারটিকে যেন আমরা  মাতৃভাষায় শিক্ষার সাথে গুলিয়ে না ফেলি।  পশ্চিমবঙ্গের মধ্যশিক্ষা প্রসদের অনুমোদিত স্কুলগুলির সিলেবাস বাংলা ও ইংরেজি মাধ্যমে অভিন্ন।  আমি পড়েছিলাম সাউথ পয়েন্ট-এ , এক কালের নামজাদা ইস্কুল, পশ্চিমবঙ্গ বোর্ডের মুকুটের একসময়কার মণি।  এখান সময় পাল্টেছে – সেখানেও দিল্লি ও কেন্দ্র ঢুকেছে। শুনি ব্যবসা বেড়েছে। বেনিয়া কেন্দ্রীয়করণের এই প্রকল্পে, বাংলার মাজরা পোকা ও আলুর ধ্বসা রোগে নিয়ে শিক্ষার কোন জায়গা নেই।  তবুও কি আমরা আশা করতে পারি না, আমরা আমাদের বাংলার বোর্ড সেই ভাবে গড়ব , যাতে কিনা শহুরে বাঙ্গালী  ‘মিডিল-কেলাস’-এর গ্লোবাল ও ইন্ডিয়ান পোলাপানের সাথে মফস্স্বলের, গ্রামের, শহরের মধ্যে অন্যত্র শহরের সেইসব ছেলেমেয়েরাও সুযোগ পায় সাফল্যের – যাদের আজ দিল্লি ও তাদের বাঙালি দালালেরা জোর করে হারিয়ে দিচ্ছে।

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Quitting Modi’s India / Fleeing from Narendra Modi and other urban liberal maladies

[ Daily News & Analysis, 12 May 2014 ; Dhaka Tribune, 15 May 2014]

Soon after May 16th, the nature of the Union government due to be formed at New Delhi should be clear. While a coalition of parties led by Narendrabhai Modi is the most talked about scenario, the possibility of a non-Gandhi, non-saffron helmswoman buoyed up by political forces outside the Delhi establishment cannot be ruled out. Some well-heeled liberal types, half-jokingly (you never know), have declared a desire to leave the country, if Modi eventually happens, while looks increasingly likely. U.R.Ananthamurthy and Kamaal Khan are the most famous among this species.

This joking about fleeing a place whose emerging reality you do not like is another clichéd Anglo-American import. This unoriginal venting style was copied from those who disliked the George W. Bush regime in USA. Many of them wanted to move to Canada if Bush won again (he did). Other Bush-haters jokingly wanted the Eastern and Western coasts of USA (where Bush had less support) to secede. The ‘liberated’ brown person’s international imagination has predictable import locations. Beyond the joke, the difference is that most residents of the subcontinent do not have the means to move anywhere. The emigration ‘joke’ only highlights the disconnect of this class from the masses.

The problem is that the Modi-hate of urbane left-liberal types does not stop at Narendrabhai. Their hate list is long and includes hundreds of millions who didn’t vote for the BJP. These objects of urban liberal disgust includes those who are most comfortable in dhoti, lungi or saree, women wearing sindoor, namaji Muslims, ritual fasting Hindus, people who scratch themselves publicly, people who have not heard of white thinkers of the last two centuries and don’t need their ‘eyes opened’ by intellectual mumbo-jumbo, people who think family and community are important, people who can clearly reply to the question ‘where are you from, which community do you belong to’, people who create and recreate culture rather than using fancy technology to ‘document’ it, people with faith in gods, goddesses and other divine beings, people who are able to express their innermost feelings with ease without book-learned western conceptual crutches, people whose self-identity would not be in peril if white colonizers never appeared in the subcontinent, young people who don’t say ‘ohmygod’ in sitcom accents, people who love and dream in their mother-tongue and who sing their children generationally handed-down lullabies. And so on. Ashis Nandy has taught us to take people’s categories seriously. That talisman also helps distinguish between people and their parasites.

Thus those who don’t attend any political rallies (too many people, too much sweat), do not know the name of their local councilor, anglicized ‘aspirational’ migrants who do not care to change their domicile when they move to another city (and neither visit their parental home to vote), those who love to paint most brown people as dehati and ‘uneducated’, and hence unfit for the kind of decision-making that electoral politics requires – these are the people who capture inordinate public discourse space due to their privileges. In their view, the ‘uneducated’ cannot see through propaganda and can be instigated easily. These parasites, after reading tome after tome, will tell you that they get it – how power works and the sort and if others got it too, it would all be so nice. If they could, they would elect the people themselves, replacing the rural and ‘uneducated’, with their own English-big word correctly reared kind. They do not care about data, but they are masters at abstractions- fitting the world into their warped book-derived worldview. They hate the masses, wish the masses were not as they are and spend lifetimes trying to shut the masses out of their lives. When such people capture positions from where they can infect others, like academia and media, social justice is at stake. Long well-fed by the dole that the Indira Congressite governments at the centre reserved for the professor/activist nomenklatura and other managers of such Delhi-based government-subsidized ‘liberal’ fortresses, there is a feeling that the party might end. The emigration ‘joke’ is a part of that anxiety.

The advantage of ‘book-read’ ideologies is that they offer excellent excuses for holding both wine glasses and radical positions. Those with a penchant for theorizing the world before they can jump in do that by constantly cleaning their local socio-political infections in their private homes with imported soaps. Nothing is more sacred than pure ideology. Their engagement with the people – zero. Thankfully, that’s what most people think of them as – zero. Common people’s lives are at the cross-roads of caste-class-language-religion flows. To them ‘fascism’ and ‘neoliberalism’ are not smart words to be said at the right time but things with real-life consequences. To the non-religious, post-casteist, cosmopolitan left-liberal urbanite, these are ‘concepts’ which coexist perfectly well with their sixth pay commission salaries and ‘refined’ sensibilities.

Some of them even fancy themselves as the cutting edge of the fight against Modi, fascism and all that. As my friend Uday Chandra succinctly puts it, ‘the electoral fight against Modi and his politics begins and ends in the regions and localities where the likes of Mayawati, Laloo, and Mamata emerge from. Upon their unpretentious and all-too-mortal shoulders the hopes of millions of Indians rest. Don’t let your academic or activist friends or nandu-sabka-bandhus tell you otherwise. If things were left to the urban and the urbane, we’d be fed to the wolves long ago’.

There is much to be concerned about a strong, stable government that defends extra-judicial killings of young women, is unapologetic about large-scale killings under its watch, pimps out natural resources to those who help light up the government’s ‘vibrant’ mask and shares the Delhi-Mumbai Indian vision of the urbane. The fight against such powers and such governments will continue to come from the rooted, with family values and communitarian ethos. The rustic and the fantastic, not urban liberal smart talkers have always carried on the real struggles for a just world.

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A khidki into our minds / Khidki opens a window

[ Fountain Ink, April 2014 ]

Thanks to the mid-night anti ‘drug’ and ‘prostitution’ activism by the erstwhile Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti, the Khidki Village in Delhi had suddenly shot into prominence in the subcontinent and beyond. Many from New Delhi and elsewhere, who had barely heard of this place, descended upon the area in the aftermath of the ‘racist vigilantism’, to see the ‘backward’ brown creatures that inhabit that area. They wanted to see the village that lives up to its ’village-ness’, tucked in one of the armpits of the ‘cosmopolitan’ NCR metropolis. The Khidki village is older than all the malls and multiplexes of the NCR, older than all the universities of ‘New Delhi’, older than the nation’s bequeathed capital ‘New Delhi’, older than the nation, older than the idea of the ‘national’ and for that matter older than the ‘idea of India’. For all its antiquity, yuppies who claim to have a thing for brown heritage would much rather live in some sector of Gurgaon or Noida. Who wants to live in ‘Khidki village’? You know how that sounds, especially the derogation with which names like Khidki village are taken.

Outsiders (the non-village kind) from New Delhi refer to it as an ‘urban village’ (the inhabitants simply call it their village). There is a certain hip-ness that comes with the ‘urban village’ tag as it prepares the ground for using the area as a creative arts canvas by hip folks whose dads wont allow their own ‘authorised’ neighbourhoods for similar ‘creative’ projects. Khidki village and its extension have yet not earned the ‘hip and cool’ tag associated with another similar largely ‘unauthorised’ village agglomerate in Delhi called Shahpur Jat. This one has excelled as a haunt of White foreigners and brown yuppies with disposable cash. ‘Creativity’, ‘experimentation’, ‘urban village’ – brochures are full of these terms, marking out a niche as a social calendar hotspots. The elite’s ‘art’ studios feeding on low rents and insecurity of ‘unauthorised colonies’ bloom here. The inequality helps stretch the urban canvas – creative ‘arts’ indeed.

But I digress. The residents – they live there. They call it home. They have been calling it home much before six other villages were destroyed to make way for what is the New Delhi of the Union of India. Some people have roots, live in communities and do ‘come into their own’ with the fashionable beam of ‘urban anomy’.

The Khidki extension episode about Aam Aadmi Party minister Somnath Bharti’s nocturnal activism over ‘drugs’ and ‘prostitution’ has made monsters-at-large out of the minister and the complaining people of Khidki village. In circles whose voice comes most alive in European jargon, this has been called the cheap politics of ‘othering’. Worse displays of animus against African people have happened through cases of outright violence and at least one instance of vilification by a Goa minister. ‘Liberal India’ has typically swung into damage control mode. This damage control has included round after round of sanctimonious condemnation of racism against African black people. Television media knows its constituency of self-congratulation well and has followed it up with various talk shows themed around various versions of the question ‘Are we racists?’ and has invariably concluded that some bad apples are. And have added ‘I love you’ notes to Nigerians, at the end of such shows. Such shows also discuss the racism faced by desis abroad. The racism that uppity NRI desis show in their promised land and many desis show in the subcontinent can only be matched by the alarm that raised when some relatively elite brown gets paid back in the same coin in some white land.

With upward mobility for a section of the metropolis janata and the Indian Union taking a ‘greater role’ at the world stage, more of these people have white friends and acquaintances than ever before. Just when elite desis and their known whites seemed to have reached non-racist nirvana – imagining themselves as part of some universal brotherhood of idea, commerce, commodity and romance exchange, the prejudiced desi hordes are letting this emancipated side down. This is the source of embarrassment. Not themselves, but those who share their skin colour and give the whole team a bad name. During the British Raj, this embarrassed class of browns was quite well known and did well for themselves by distinguishing themselves from the ‘uncivilised’ loathsome browns. The overall rising tide of anti-colonial sentiment made such embarrassment less fashionable for sometime. Post 1990s, the sharp rise in the petulance/anger of brown consumer elites with racism they face abroad is matched by their condemnation of racism at home. This is one real contribution of GDP growth and ‘international“10 ization’ of commodity markets. With India rising and shining alongside the white world, in malls and tourist destinations, commercial and academic engagements, and anti-colonialism being passé, the time is ripe for more public display of embarrassment. The audience for this is the white World and self-image the desi liberal has created for oneself and almost believes in. They would hate to be confused with other browns.

But then, talk is cheap. The backward browns have shown their true colour through explicit racism that makes liberal, our homegrown ‘world citizens’ shudder. But what about things that are implicit in patterns of behaviour? Those are harder to track down but when done, do say a whole lot about the people practicing it. Their own displaying prejudice explicitly can be called out for it and asked to change, or at least reassess, their positions. But what about those whose public lives are epitomes of ‘ultra-liberal’ posturing peppered with condemnation of the ‘backward’ while implicit in their behaviour are exactly the for which they publicly bad-mouth the ‘backward’ every day? When you have such a class lecturing the prejudiced at every opportunity, the result is a farce of a poor quality. The farce needs to be exposed for what it is – too many people enjoy excellent views from the moral high ground that they occupy undeservedly. Too many are condemning the ‘backward’ by standing on self-constructed pedestals.When we are all naked, and the ‘liberal’ gives up the pretension of wearing ‘ultra-fine’ clothes, we can start talking truth. We can have a dialogue. We can be embarrassed or not, for what we are – irrespective of whether white people are watching.

What constitutes the ‘world’ of the ‘world citizen’– the world is mentally, if not physically located in a temperate zone OECD white-Caucasian country, given that not much of the world fits that description, the extent of the mental world of the world citizen is not so big after all. It is hard to map out the mental world but some things can give us certain clues.

The ‘free choice’ that these brown ‘world-citizens’ in matters of marriage, romance and sex can be revealing. With increasing number of non-browns coming to the subcontinent and a correspondingly increasing number of browns going to ‘foreign’ countries, there are some foreign-brown marriages that happen. That’s all good. Now close your eyes and picture such a couple. There are many such ‘cute couples’ now. Note the colour of the ‘foreigner’ in the frame. Most likely, it is not someone African or Afro-American. The ‘cute’ or the ‘angelic’, sadly is from the same races whose mental worlds have shaped the world-view of the brown liberal – typically French of Anglo.

One in eight Americans are black. More than one in six are non-Whites (including Latinos, not including other browns). Now think of some people you may know or you may have heard of, who have married Americans. Normal human interaction without any colour prejudice or special colour affinity would have resulted in one in six such marriages being with non-Whites. Is that the case? Hell no. Is that the case even among those who would declare that in their post-racist world, love runs blind? Hell no. If you ask them individually, they would have said that their own White choice is ‘incidental’. It could have been someone black. Just that it hardly ever is. Their non-prejudiced ‘choice’ is so predictable, that it takes away all suspense. Many such individual choices hide behind the mask of politically correct speech. This closely parallels the marriage choices of the ‘I don’t believe in caste’ types. Individually, they would burn the sacred-thread (if a male) and/or denounce the ‘caste system’. Just that their life choices speak louder than their speeches and posturing. The cosmopolitan Savarna liberal usually leads a schizophrenic existence.

Let us come back to the subcontinent. Darker Africans have been coming to many parts of the subcontinent in recent years. A large number of them are students. ICCR has offered 900 specialised scholarships for students from African countries. There are more than 10,000 African students in the subcontinent and the largest chunk is in the institutions of NCR. Incidentally, African students consider Kochi, a city without the intellectual pretensions of New Delhi, very safe. There are thousands of Nigerians in the NCR. As for the students, we are talking of very meritorious ones, many of them studying in significant numbers in the NCR’s most premier institutions. But when it comes to campus-coupling of browns with foreigners (especially in vogue among liberal circles of elite institutions), whites rule the roost. The students from Africa may study advanced biology, Kathak dance, journalism, architecture, literature, history, sociology, urban planning, gender studies and many other things, but they are no match. I stress the liberal and elite bit, as these are the spaces from where the shrillest chants against racism typically come, along with pronouncements that they stand above differences of race, caste, colour and such things. For the ‘radical’ and ‘liberated’, neither the African nor the East Asian students do not forms a part of their desirable cohort, for purposes of campus romance or intimacy. Those from Manipur or Nagaland are also similarly excluded, always spoken on behalf of, by the predictable crowds. But when it comes to ‘desirability’ and ‘companionship’ as equals, other aliens matter. Whites win hands on. The white on campus will have an inordinately long line of droolers. Desirability is as much about how one’s views oneself as it is about the desirable one out there.

What is the source of such desire and skewed choices? Doesn’t it have something to do with fantasies tied with the awe that power evokes in certain minds? More often than not, it comes from a weak bond with one’s living environment, developing into a hatred of things associated with one’s own community. This journey away from the self is couched in the celebratory notion of ‘liberation’ – a journey involving progress towards a universal human ‘love-in’. That suits white Caucasians on campus very well, to find suddenly themselves in the enviable position of being able to punch way above their weight. It does not matter who approaches ‘first’ but the white in skin is acutely aware of his/her ‘market value’ in postcolonial lands, especially among the tribe of those with brown bodies with culturally illiterate, trying-hard-to-be-white minds. This state of thing makes it relatively easy for the gora who only has to show a little interest in things native and might even learn a native phrase or two. Before they can show that off, the coconut native is already trying to impress by showing off his/her acquaintance with all things white – their culture (pop and sophisticated), their stories, their sitcoms, their epistemologies, their myths, their histories, their nuances with some half-baked critique thrown in so as to avoid appearing too eager. Gone are the ‘politically correct’ measures of mutual compatibility based on mutual respect – otherwise the East Asian and black African students would not be so undesirable in romance and intimacy compared to Whites, even among the ‘thinking’ and ‘elite’ academic spaces, even among the ‘liberated’ and the ‘radical’? For these coconuts, of course the next best thing after a white body with a white mind is another fellow brown body with a white-mind. Certain kinds of urban agglomerations offer excellent refuges for browns to explore their mutually shared whiteness. They are also the elite – fatafat English, chain-café hangout types, even with browns of the same mother tongue.

The ex-colony is indeed an unfortunate thing. There is always a lingering infection at the head, because the vernacular non-elites could never quite take over and are on a retreat. Transfer of power happened so that the production of brown bodies with white minds could go on with locally produced grease. Not quite Macaulay. Way sophisticated. Way sordid. At least Macaulay’s children looked like buffoons to the rest of the browns and they themselves had few illusions of reciprocal equality with the whites. Now, the illusion of reciprocal equality with whites is strong. Alienated from their own communities, they need to maintain self-respect by these means. Due to their ubiquity in media and academia, they have an inordinate influence over the aspirational dreams of the masses. The new buffoons have indeed turned the joke on the people. It must be supreme irony that some of these ‘liberated’ browns will go on to lecture us other browns on agency, structures of power, media representation, feminism, politics of culture, indigeneity, even equality.

This holding of whites in high esteem is not peculiar to certain browns. Data from millions of users of the popular US dating website OKCupid suggests exactly the same (http://qz.com/149342/the-uncomfortable-racial-preferences-revealed-by-online-dating/). Disproportionately high (as in higher than what population percentages would suggest) desirability of whites as partners cuts across most non-white races, except African-Americans. The funny bit is that the data also reveals that this special desirability is not reciprocated by whites to any non-white group. One non-white person probably gets tantalizingly close to the origins of disproportionate desire by a description. The person talks about having grown up filled primarily with white narratives and depictions of white people and felt as if she was ‘in a movie’ when she was romancing a white. From the lists of ‘hottest actors’ to ‘sexiest actresses’, from fiction to philosophy, they cast a very deep shadow on the person’s mind that felt during intimate moments with the white partner that one was living a long-pregnant fantasy, as if it was a movie. The African-Americans, having to live with the reality of whiteness, as opposed to the nurtured fantasy about whiteness, have no illusions. They are confident enough to have a spine to hold them up straight without white crutches.

The ‘conservative’ in brown-land at least makes his/her mindset clear. They probably neither like the white nor the black. However, for the ‘liberal’, among the itinerant foreigners who come for study and pleasure, it is mostly the white that gets intimate attention, with others largely avoided. The ‘liberated’ typically talks his/her way out by jargonised hypocritical bluster. In fact, the observable action of black-avoidance being same, this bit dishonesty makes them a notch worse than the conservatives – and there is the rub. For the ‘enlightened’ and the ‘liberated’ are loathe to admit that they too are products of the ‘dominant’ worldview of white-worship. That in practice boils down to racial preference and that does not sound nice. The ‘liberated’ believes that dominant world-views only affect the ‘mindless’ hoi polloi. Facts show that they are not outside but inside the circle of dominance. Such stark demonstrations can be heart wrenching. Liberation warriors become quivering and petulant balls of self-defence, alarmed at the tug at the ground beneath their feet, the ground they had fashioned into a pedestal to preach others from. All kinds of desperate and verbose ego defences come up, aided by jargonized bluster.

Those who are busy condemning and vilifying the people of Khidki extension en masse stress that some of the residents who had gathered had even uttered the ‘N-word’. It was. The ‘N-word’ was also used to build brown-black solidarity against racism and anti-communist witch-hunt in the United States of America. One does not expect the yuppie anti-racists to have heard about the song ‘Negro bhai amar, Paul Robeson’ that Kamal Sarkar composed based on Najim Hikmet’s verses, a most popular song that the legendary folk-singer Hemango Biswas extensively sang. For that matter, the N-word vigilantes probably have not heard of Paul Robeson. For them, history started with 1991. One might add that the song inspired more people in the subcontinent to develop serious anti-racist views as well as a critique of the American state that newly-learned knee-jerk political correctness about ‘N-word’ and other White speech-forms can ever evoke. The particular charge that comes with the ‘N-word’ has a certain context. Ashis Nandy has repeatedly taught us one thing – to take people’s categories seriously. Grounded social and cultural literacy is not to be expected from those who think that only white people’s categories are the ones with meaning. A peculiar kind of browns whose cosmopolitanism almost always translates into a greater understanding of nuances and contexts of things from white lands than things back ‘home’ (the flittering class actually doesn’t like to be ‘tied down’ to the concept of ‘home’) possibly doesn’t realise the ridiculousness of charging the people of Khidki extension of using the ‘N-word’. Having gained adulthood by being consumers of Anglo-American public discourse and pop trivia, they often forget that their books, TV shows, webpages and magazines are part of their bubble-existence. To think that the bubble is the world may be fine for life and times in the bubble-urbania. The problem happens when they venture out into the real world and use their bubble-derived notions and categories to judge that. While being exquisitely literate about the ‘N-word’s horrendousness, they would not be able to name even 10 derogatory words used to refer to dalits in the subcontinent. This is no sign of enlightened purity or post-casteism or castelessness but the stench of super privilege by which everyday categories and realities have been shut out of their lives. Forever coddled, forever urban, forever ‘non-casteist’, forever offended by the N-word, neither can they name 10 dalit sub-groups (not that those who can pass the ‘name test’ are virtuous, but they are at least in touch with the structure they benefit from and have no illusions of innocence). Some of the disproportionate beneficiaries of a system can afford to not know the details of the victims. What is offensive is that these are kinds who are stomping all over the Khidki residents, with a righteous indignation. The browns are an unfortunate people. Those divorced from reality are the narrative-peddlers and the chroniclers of social tension and cultural flux of the browns. Sleek presentation in elite language and idiom, coupled with political correctness has helped many of the chroniclers go places.

The reality is, hundreds of African students stayed in the Khidki area. The same cannot be said of most ‘respectable’ yuppie locations of New Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon. Not every locality allows a ‘ghetto’ to develop. The curious bit is that areas without African ‘ghettos’ are typically places where the Khidki-haters like to live in. Whites get treated differently. May be they would have been treated differently at Khidki too. But wouldn’t those who criticize the Khidki residents while regularly lounging at ‘artistic’ cafes and other upscale hangout-with-whites-like-whites locales also treat them differently? The ‘backward’ Khidki-wallas do not hide their feelings. Khidki residents have not (yet) learned the language and style of appearing to be non-racist. The ‘backward’ often responds with equal alienation to black and white. Others who hide their selective alienation, having learned the language of not letting feelings and subjectivities publicly known, uses the ill-gotten pedestal to preach against racism.

The Khidki incident has given rise to many paeans to the ‘diversity’ of New Delhi and how the ‘othering’ of the black-Africans is a blot on its ‘cosmopolitan’ image. This ‘othering’ bit, a category dutifully imported from ‘Continental’ discourse, is a non-issue here. The problem is segregation. That is a broader issue than Africans. It is also about who is typically rounded up by the police when a car-lifting happens, or who is issued an ID card or is asked to register at the local police station because one happens to work as a domestic help in a upscale area. Just because these browns do not have an explicit skin-marker, does not make the treatment meted out them any different. However, all that is normal, even as youths from these posh homes have also added their voice against Khidki. It is not a simple blind spot. What are the predictable triggers of righteous indignation? Why does it typically parallel what would trigger indignation in a supposedly post-racist Euro-American society? Why are our daily segregations, born in the belly of our society, not similarly spectacular and newsworthy? The yardsticks of whose social realities have we borrowed to assess our own? What makes us chose among the segregations? What is the rank-order in our heads? From where did we import this hierarchy? By choosing to privilege one kind of segregation over another, which audience are we signaling to? Are all these audiences domestic? What does this tacitly self-congratulatory ‘anti-racism’ vis-à-vis the silence over daily seggregations tell us about our selves?

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Tropical universities and knowledge production / University rankings and India / University rankings and Indian academia

[ Daily News and Analysis, 16 Sep 2013; Kashmir Reader, 17 Sep 2013; Millenium Post, 20 Sep 2013; Shillong Times, 21 Sep 2013; Hitavada, 22 Sep 2013; Echo of India, 25 Sep 2013]

As world rankings of universities are being discussed, we are back to that sad truth. No university in the subcontinent figures in the top 200 universities in the world. However, one would not realize this when one looks at the cocksureness and pomposity of desi academics in the subcontinent. There is a Bengali idiom called ‘Bon gaye sheyal raja’ which means that in a far-way forested village, even a fox can be king. Such is the state of affairs around us.

Some would have us believe that it was not always so. Around the time of the great uprising of 1857 led by the mercenaries of the East India Company, 3 universities were also established in the 3 presidency towns of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. In no small way the result of a 1854 dispatch sent by Charles Wood, a top dog of the Company, to James Broun-Ramsay, the then governor general of Company territories in the subcontinent, these 3 institutions continue to be important institutions of higher learning in the Union of India.

Founded in the same year, all these institutions celebrated 150 years of their existence, with a lot of pomp. I graduated from one of these afore-mentioned universities and I was present at more than one such ‘celebration’. Four years after 1857, on the other side of the globe, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the institution I am affiliated to at present, was established. I was also present at its 150-year celebration events. Thus I had the opportunity to compare what I had seen and heard in the subcontinent and in Massachusetts, USA. The difference could not have been starker. Much of what I heard in the sub-continental anniversary celebrations was about a supposed glorious past, long-standing ‘heritage’, a lot of talk about famous personalities associated with the institutions and gloating over all this. At MIT, almost invariably I heard about plans about the future – new avenues of research, newer expansions, and newer challenges. There was not much mention of personalities in the institute that has produced 78 Nobel laureates till date. Neither is MIT peppered with ‘museums’ dedicated to Nobel laureates. Museums are same as temples and mosques – places of praying for things to go right miraculously, not places of action.

In the subcontinent, when one thinks of MIT, a centre of excellence for research in engineering and technology is the typical impression. While that is true, according to the 2013 update of the well-regarded QS World University Rankings published last week, in the whole world, MIT is second only to Harvard in Biological Sciences and Economics. What this means is that it has not simply stuck to its one-time strengths but has actively diversified its ‘priorities’. In doing so, it has also shut down departments and divisions whose shelf life was perceived to be over. These are signs of a living institution in conversation with the cutting edge of knowledge production – situated squarely within the social needs and agendas of the society it derives meaning from.

In the QS rankings, MIT tops the list Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford, Yale, Oxford and Princeton are also among the top 10. It may be news to some readers that not one of the top 10 universities of the world has a department of botany at present. In most cases, they ceased to exist decades ago. All that remains are museums bearing that erstwhile department’s name. Contrast this to the large departments of botany in most universities of the subcontinent. May be there is something we get that ‘they’ don’t. Given that the occidental university system and department making is something that ‘they’ taught us, could it be that there is something they get that we don’t?

It is worthwhile to continue with the example of botany. When the white colonial powers set up universities in the subcontinent, why did they set up departments of botany? What knowledge did they seek to produce? For whose benefit? What made them wind up or fuse certain departments? To cut whose loss? All knowledge production and prioritization exists in a societal context – the colonizer’s societal context fashioned their decisions, at home and in the colonies. Given that we are not only inheritors of such university systems but also active perpetuators, do we have an appreciation of our own reasons to do so? Why are there so few institutions like the Indian Statistical Institute that was conceived in a social context, whose agenda is in conversation with the society it derives funding from and blooms in and also is a centre of excellence?

But then this is part of a bigger problem. So let me broaden the ambit a bit.Why do certain things, like homeopathy and psychoanalysis, have long after-lives in the once-colonized tropics compared to places from where they were imported? Lets hone in on psychoanalysis. To understand the mind, one needs to study the mind and yes, people are studying the mind. Much of these studies are not aimed towards illness or pharmaceuticals, in any foreseeable way. If some have a muse in the form of psycho-analysis, an outdated fad which has all but died except in ‘fields’ insulated from currents around them, they can have it. Just not with people’s funds. The tropics can ill afford it. Understanding the mind shouldnt be a dead idea but unverifiable tracts cannot replace inquiry and can hardly be called a knowledge project. And again, the social context is crucial to all these things. The question in the piece is, why do such things continue to live in tropics long after they are dead in their places of origin. The answer may partly lie in the very skewed class-caste composition in the academia of the subcontinent – this enables socially insulated indulgence to a dangerous degree.

When the site of knowledge production is far off and they cater primarily to needs of alien societies, transferred knowledge and ideas create a sense of awe. This results in a lack of confidence to manipulate, to break, to discard. In so far as universities are fountainheads of societal knowledge yearnings, what do our societies want to know? Have we even asked? We better start doing that. Otherwise we risk becoming expert cleaners and preservers of other people’s furniture, even lacking the confidence of changing the arrangement. However the cleaner’s wage is paid by our own brown people. This is how the third world continues down the path of being  2nd class at the 1st world’s priorities and it is mightily proud about it.

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Next time you hear intellectual mumbo jumbo/ On the accountability of ‘intellectuals’ / Knowledge in these times / Lacking in intelligibility and accountability

[ Daily News and Analysis, 19 Aug 2013 ; Morung Express, 23 Aug 2013 ; Daily Excelsior (Jammu), 25 Aug 2013 ; Echo of India, 1 Sep 2013 ; Millenium Post, 24 Aug 2013 ]

A kind of human being derives strange pleasure in appreciating music that few others like. In fact, if too many people start listening to it, they get dejected. Their special thing has become too commonplace like a road-side tea stall. Such is often the case with those academicians and their acolytes who love big words and impenetrable sentences. They protect their rarified lens to the world with smugness. They are quick to defend their demi-gods of helped them build these lenses. Why would legitimate knowledge seekers be so invested in thinkers than thoughts themselves and whether such idolatry is healthy for frank and critical knowledge production is another question.

In the first year of my PhD at Harvard, I sat in a 2-semester long statistics class. Professor Jim Sidanius, a former Black Panther, taught us concepts – breaking them down for us. But he also wanted to make sure that we were digesting the broken bits. He knew that hiding behind jargon is the best way to evade clarity. And he would have none of it. So, when he asked us questions, and we started replying in jargon, he would promptly cut us short and ask with a smile – ‘How will you explain that to my grand-ma?” This was a crucial question. In many cases, it called our bluff and made us more honest to ourselves. This was more than knowledge acquisition. Jim was trying to drive in a characteristic that academicians and thinkers owe to society – clarity.

Clarity is something that ought not to be limited to knowledge acquisition, but also knowledge production and communication of ideas. But are not some ideas inherently so complex that an insistence of broad intelligibility would somehow make those ideas flatter than they actually are. And to this, a response came from Steven Pinker, another professor from our department at Harvard. To simplify is not to be simplistic, he said.

Fine, but why should we care about such issues at all? Ideas shape people, their ideas about themselves, other and the world at large. So, if certain kinds of ideas gain currency, it is important that these do not become received wisdom but are critically evaluated by the people. For that, it is necessary that knowledge and ideas are available to the people at-large, with clarity, in forms and sites they can best engage in. Academicians occupy the most privileged centre of knowledge production in our times – the university. Hence they have to be held particularly accountable in this regard.

However, when we look into the academic circles that universities have been breeding, they seem to breed a pathetic tendency to jargonize and speak in tongues that are largely (and I daresay, intentionally) unintelligible to people. The intention is not necessarily conscious for most practitioners of this dubious art – it is something they pick up to be counted. This gulf between ‘high-brow’ knowledge and its public intelligibility is most acute in those practitioners to invoke that shameful phrase ‘in our field’. Typically, this implies that one would take liberties about facts or be oblivious of contrary facts, not expose the underbelly of assumptions to scalpels, would discount fundamental criticisms as being ill-motivated or worse, expressions of ‘power’. Such a petulant water-tightness is typically seen in ‘fields’ full of ‘-isms’ or those where sentences are peppered with things like, ‘in a –ian sense/paradigm/view’. And so forth. The latter is a classic method of saying – I will say this to you without explanation. Either you will not along as you wont admit to knowing what the ‘-ian view’ is, or if you say so, I will give such an exasperated look and say, well all this has been known for so long, and you are not at an intellectual level where I deem fit to engage with you. And such elements still have the gall to say that society owes their keep to them. It takes an immense amount of hubris to think that ideas articulated in forms unintelligible by much of perfectly intelligent people have added that much to that understanding that it can demand funding in spite of being unintelligible.

In the subcontinent, a rich tradition of handed-down knowledge in the form of songs and sayings attributed to thinkers like Kabir and Lalon Shah and myriad other unnamed ones, makes one thing very clear. The subcontinent has had intellectuals who have engaged with the public in terms that were clear and have been thought leaders who have shaped people’s conceptions. In such interactions, knowledge and ideas are located within society, and not in some cabal outside it, claiming to ‘understand’ society. Song and pravachans which people still know and remember have helped people deal and make sense of the human condition for millennia.

Only in a self-important and delusional view of human existence do recently produced knowledge and ideas come to be considered so groundbreaking and crucial for understanding the human condition. This view, in which the recent is so privileged, expresses the same kind of attitude that concepts like jahalaat embody. The difference is that the last 100 or 400 years are considered unprecedented.

Some would have you believe that the last 50 years have been crucial. But then we know there is nothing special except the kind of self-importance that confuses recency with progress. In such a ‘progressive’ world-view, earlier times are deemed bland. For example, the 50 years between say 1200 AD and 1250 AD would be considered much less ‘eventful’ which the period between 1950 and 2000 apparently has been world-changing is terms of idea productions. But the world was there then and it is there now. The same is true for the humankind and the human condition.

To think of ourselves of having been born in some special time can be nice. But it gets problematic when, to make careers out of ideas generated in the last 50 years, people start over-selling these times. That the selling involves more hocus pocus does not help. And hence, public scrutiny becomes important to separate the wheat from the chaff. At the end of the day, we know that two humans make more sense of the world than one, and three more than two, other things being the same. So, claims of certain geographical locales being particular sites of production of relevant and crucial knowledge, especially when such locales are also centers of colonial capital accumulation, have to be viewed with suspicion. Ideas from these locales also are in lock-step with the idea that the last 400 years or so have so uniquely informative in understanding the human condition. Decolonization of the mind is not an easy thing. It is especially hard to accomplish when such concepts live so comfortably within us, become like our skin and self-identity. We are not only slaves in what we follow, we can also be slaves in what we deem important, how we organize our mental worlds around exotic concepts, especially when we exhibit a distinct lack of understanding of the knowledge and ideas around us, in the specific geographies where we are embedded, in flesh, descent and culture. How did we come to be the way we are is a question we ought to be asking ourselves.

I again return to the role of the intellectual, the academic, the thinker. Like most people who live off the public exchequer, earning one’s keep has to have people’s assent. Speaking over the head of the people, in the name of the people, remaining unintelligible and all the time claiming to unearth some deep understanding of the people, of their lives, desires, politics, structures and what not, is good for conversations inside such cabals. The outside world has not been scathing in asking for accountability. Like the Sanskrit mantras of today, these are performed technically in public view but are insider-talk at the end of the day. Such insider-talk, whatever its purported merits and brilliance, come with a severe lack of checks and balances, like any other priestly order. This is a dangerous thing for knowledge production as load fulls of quality bull shit can pass off as insight if its sounds and feels right to the ‘initiated’. The world, especially poorer societies, can ill afford the luxury of continually feeding white elephants whose public engagement ends within the ramparts of the university or other such spaces. It is about time that the real world asked for explanations about what is being done with their money.

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Close the gap / NEET ways of killing off competition / Nothing ‘national’ about this entrance test / Entrance test and bias

[ Daily News and Analysis, 11 Jun 2013 ; The Telegraph (Kolkata), 26 Jun 2013 ; Millenium Post, 19 Jun 2013 ; Echo of India, 22 Jun 2013 ; Hitavada, 20 Jun 2013 ]

The medical entrance scene in India has changed with the introduction of the undergraduate National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). This was meant to be a single window test. In one go, the NEET has replaced most of medical entrance tests that were prevalent. By qualifying in the NEET, students would be able to compete for a percentage of seats in most medical colleges, throughout the Indian union, by their ‘national’ rank, while their ‘state rank’ would be useful to compete for medical college seats in states where they fulfill domicile requirements. From the very start, the NEET scheme scheme has been mired in controversy, with the initial steadfast refusal of the apparatchiks of the Medical Council of India (MCI) to allow question papers in non-Hindi subcontinental languages. In the non-Hindi states, a majority of students study primarily in their mother tongue. The status of English as the pre-eminent language of the science in the world today is clear – but that didn’t explain why the MCI was fine with Hindi (not really known to have some long-standing language of science heritage) but not with other languages. Finally, the MCI had to buckle under severe pressure exerted by several non-Hindi states like Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, etc. The disgraceful compromise was that students can opt for question papers in Telugu, Assamese, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil and Bengali (languages corresponding to the states that showed some spine) but those who do opt for the test in the ‘regional’ language will not be eligible for the all-India quota. ‘Regional language’ is not a term that exists anywhere in the constitution of the Indian Union – it is a figment of imagination and is a telling clue to the mindscape of Delhi-based administrators. This term has been used in the information booklet issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), another Delhi based outfit that is in charge of conducting the test. However, if a student took the test in Hindi, they would be eligible for the all-India quota. There have been very few instances where the federal system has been abused to such a grave degree in matters of education. The abject surrender of the states is even more sordid as they finally buckled under the pressure.

The results of the NEET were announced on June 5. The states stood in a pecking order of sorts, in terms of the percentage of students who qualified. Assuming an equal medical seat density throughout the Union ( this is not true), a worse over-all result from a state would mean that more seats in medical colleges of  that state would be bagged by out-of-state individuals while there will not be any corresponding parity. For states, which have a greater then average medical seat density and a low performance in the NEET, this is a double whammy. This has been the case with Maharashtra in the results that were announced.

One may ask, in this India-wide marketplace, it is only ‘merit’ that should matter, isn’t it? This ‘merit’ talk falls flat on its face as we know, that for decades together, private medical colleges have been admitting students who need not demonstrate any more merit than a 50% score at the Class XII examination. They have gone on to become doctors. It shows that the undergraduate medicine course-work is not something that requires top ranks. The ranks have become important as a sieving tool due to the severe dearth of medical seats in a territory as populous as the Indian Union. The problem is compounded by the fact that a MBBS degree is a sure-shot ticket to the top 5% income bracket in the nation. Hence the over-subscription for medical college seats and all the merit talk that comes with it. There is no systematic empirical evidence from the subcontinent that one’s rank in a medical entrance has anything to do with one’s success as a medical practitioner or researcher.

It is useful to ask what are medical entrance exams for. It may not be out of place to take one step back and ask, what are medical colleges for? To answer that, it is important to remind ourselves what it is not for. It is not for providing good exam takers of 12th standard science with a prize in the form of a lucrative career. It is also not for nourishing holy cows like ‘national integration’, filling the medical college seats with the most ‘meritorious’ (with all the dubious assumptions associated with that term) or worsen the already skewed urban rural divide in the density of doctors. At a very basic level, it is to produce trained health workers who would provide healthcare to the multitude and/or advance the understanding of human biology and diseases by research. The way in which the NEET is set up, is a grave challenge to these objectives. The results of the first NEET bear out that bitter truth.

Framed from Delhi, after ‘consultation’ (it has to be one of the most abused terms in a flawed federal system), the NEET syllabus favours those who have undergone their schooling and training in the CBSE/ISC framework, the syllabus being a vital component of that framework.  States  boards with syllabi that differ considerably from the CBSE are at an unfair disadvantage – they have to change or perish, for absolutely no reason. The viability or ‘worth’ of a board of education’s science syllabus then is not in how well it teaches science to the students but incredibly, by how well it has adapted (or not) the basic framework of a Delhi-based boards’ syllabus. Are students studying science at the 12th standard in the CBSE syllabus uniquely equipped with an understanding of the sciences that is unparalleled by the state-boards? Or in other words if the state-boards are being forced to emulate the CBSE (in the name of removing aligning syllabi), is it something worth emulating? By rigorous research work (published in Current Science, 2009) that reviewed the comparative performance of students from different boards, Anil Kumar and Dibakar Chatterjee, scientists at the Indian Institute of Science , showed that  when it comes to science proficiency, CBSE is not numero uno. West Bengal board students did better than CBSE students in all 4 science subjects – Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. Andhra Pradesh does better than CBSE in Mathematics and Physics. By the same metric, Maharashtra is hardly the worst performing state as it was in the NEET. Tellingly, neither West Bengal nor Andhra Pradesh were top performing states in the NEET. Independent non-CBSE excellence has thus become an albatross around their neck. the CBSE ‘pattern’ of syllabus has become the standard, even though research shows it isn’t the best.

At a time when the urban-rural divide in doctor density is a matter of serious concern, the NEET favours a certain breed of to-be-doctors. Within a state, it favours students who study in central syllabi. This means, those segments of society who study in non-state boards will be disproportionately over-represented in the NEET. What are the implications? It means, more seats in medical colleges in states will be occupied by those who are more likely to be urban, non-native speakers of the state’s principal language, from a higher economic class who can afford to send their wards to well-established entrance exam factories in Kota and elsewhere, with feebler roots to the state and so on. Central boards have a lesser penetration in the non-Hindi regions. A recent 2-page advertisement from a Kota-based entrance-exam factory mentioned nearly a score of its clients in the top 50 NEET ranks. Of these 20 odd students, almost all were clearly North-Indian names. The south, on the other hand, has a higher seat density. The implications are not very encouraging as it can be assumed that those who are from a state are more likely to serve in rural outposts of the state as a career-physician. All these speculative points can be debated, but for that we need data. The NEET was conceived without any such data being made publicly available.

The NEET was sold on the point that it minimizes the number of entrance exams. What proportion of students studying science at the 12th standard took multiple medical entrance exams? This data is crucial. This is a very low number. And those of the central board profile likely to be over-represented even in that low number. So this grand scheme forces everyone to change to help an already privileged minority. This puts science education at the higher-secondary level in jeopardy all over as it reduces its goals to professional course entrance examinations. What the whole NEET exercise may be doing is to widen the pipeline that supplies medical manpower for snazzy hospitals that are being opened in metropoles that attract capital. There is a feverish rush of activity in an industry quite ironic for India – medical tourism.

The humble status of central boards to such commanding heights of dictation ( and not necessarily excellence) has happened with a concomitant fall in the status ( and again, not necessarily quality) of state boards. This phenomenon cannot be divorced from the centre-state context of the Indian Union where federalism means what bit of power that the states have can be wrested from them under various ruses. Education was classified as a state subject after partition.  It needed the Emergency under the Indira Congress to push education to the concurrent list by a constitutional amendment. Education, like most other concurrent list subjects has seen the slow ceding of power from state to centre, ‘consultations’ notwithstanding. The long-term implications of such India-wide tests are a future two-tier education system – the CBSE/ISC route for ‘people like us’ and state boards for the rest. As it is now, more students will continue to study in state-boards. In this year of ‘federal front’ talk, the return of education to the state list should be considered seriously for greater common good. For starters, the states which take rural healthcare seriously  should consider quitting the NEET.

Disclaimer: Garga Chatterjee was educated in a state board and was once a ‘topper’ of a state medical entrance examination.

*** DNA version ***

The undergraduate National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) was conceived as a single test by which students would be able to compete for seats in medical and dental colleges all over the Indian Union and also in states where they can prove domicile. Since inception, this scheme has been controversial — Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) initially refusing to allow question papers in non-Hindi subcontinental languages. Under the

compromise formula, those who do choose Telugu, Assamese, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil or Bengali would be ineligible for the all-India quota. Hindi comes with total eligibility. Few of Delhi’s interventions have been so blatant.
NEET results were announced on June 5. States varied widely in their performance. Let’s clarify what medical entrance exams are not for. It is not for providing the kid who can answer many questions in a stipulated number of hours after months of training at costly coaching institutes with a lucrative career prospect and possibly a good bargaining chip for dowry or to provide manpower for medical tourism or worsen the already skewed urban rural divide in the density of doctors. It is to produce human resource that would provide health care to the multitude and advance the understanding of human diseases by research. NEET is a grave challenge to these goals.

The syllabus of NEET, framed by the CBSE, favours those who have studied in the CBSE syllabus. State boards with non-CBSE syllabi are at a distinct disadvantage. Are 12th standard students studying science by the CBSE syllabus uniquely good? Research by Kumar and Chatterjee shows that when it comes to high-level science proficiency, state boards like West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh are excellent. West Bengal board outperformed the CBSE in all science subjects — Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. Andhra Pradesh outperforms CBSE in Mathematics and Physics. Maharashtra is not the worst performing state as it was in NEET. Neither Bengal nor Andhra Pradesh makes it to the top three states in NEET.

The syllabus issue is important as within a state it also favours those segments of society who study in CBSE — they are likely to be urban, non-native speakers of the state’s principal language, from a higher economic class who can afford to send their wards to Kota- based entrance exam factories, with feebler roots to the state and so on. What are the long-term effects of such individuals occupying more seats?

The USP of the NEET was that it minimizes the number of entrance exams. What proportion of students studying science at the 12th standard took multiple medical entrance exams? This is a very low number. Higher-secondary level science education’s goal must look beyond medical/engineering entrance examinations.
In medical research, the Union is abysmally backwards. This is only to be expected from a system that increasingly produces doctors evermore distant from people’s realities with medical colleges having become assembly line for private hospitals that will be opened in the greater-greater-NCR.

Such NEET ways of killing off the state boards points to a future two-tier education system — the CBSE/ISC route for the elite, uppity and the aspirational and the state boards for the rest. Children of the elite- predominantly do not study in state boards — they too ‘national’ for the ‘lowly’ states. But at the end of the day, education is a state subject. Caesar should claim what is rightfully his and push back the encroaching beast. If equitable healthcare is a goal of medical education, the states should considering quitting the NEET.

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In defence of Ashis Nandy / Stir against Ashis Nandy exposes laziness of elite anti-casteism / Of caste, corruption and the Indian chatterati… / A skirmish in Jaipur

[ Daily News and Analysis, 28 Jan 2013 ; Millenium Post, 31 Jan 2013 ; Echo of India, 8 Feb 2013 ; Jansatta, 4 Feb 2013 (translated in Hindi) ; Frontier (web) 18 Feb 2013 ]

Whatever else it is, this is not a good time to be Ashis Nandy. In this age of ether when spoken words travel faster than sound leaving comprehension behind, it is not surprising that some ‘casteist’ words of Ashis Nandy, spoken by him at a literary festival, have been taken up by the chatterati. Token anti-casteism like token anti-communalism is one of the easiest paths to salvation for the elite chatterati. But even in the month of Magh, the Kumbho mela is too plebian for the comfort of such folk. No wonder, so many have chosen to sanctimoniously pounce on his statement, as a Plan B.

It is important to note what Ashis Nandy has not said. He did not say that people from the OBC, SC and ST communities are most corrupt. What has Ashis Nandy said then? “Most of the people who are doing corruption are people from OBC, SC and ST communities and as long as it remains Indian republic will survive.” The difference between most of the corrupt and corrupt-most is crucial. An audience whose interaction with the OBC, SC and ST communities is limited mostly to house-maids and drivers made sure that his comment did not go unchallenged. Later, he also tried to clarify that corruption from these communities are more likely to get caught, due to absence of mechanisms of saving themselves, unlike the upper castes.

At the most banal level, there is no way for the statement to be statistically untrue. ‘Most of the people who are doing corruption are people from OBC, SC and ST communities’ because most people who live in the Indian Union are from OBC, SC and ST communities. Together they form a stupendous majority of the population. That they also form a majority of the corrupt is only natural, unless corruption flows along caste lines. The problem with looking at corruption in this way is that it does not unpack this thing ‘corruption’ into the myriad forms it takes – and that matters. Limiting us only to economic corruption, by form I do not only mean the quantum of corruption but also the method of execution. Given that corruption is something that all communities indulge in, asking who does what how is important.

But there is also the public life of corruption, its most talked about form being corruption in public life. In that elite congregation in Jaipur and their kith and kin beyond it, if one were to ask for the names of 2 most corrupt politicians, Madhu Koda, A Raja, Mayawati, Laloo Prasad Yadav will jostle for space in their lists. That people from OBC/SC/ST communities are over-represented in the imaginary of this ‘public’ along with its pronouncements of wanting to see beyond caste needs some reflection. The charge of corruption is looked upon as a non-casteist charge and by bringing it up, prejudices and animosities, which may otherwise have casteist origins, can be sanctified and presented in public discourse. The devil, then, is not in the commissions but in the omissions. This brings us to the question of ‘visible’ corruption.

‘Visible’ corruption, the eye-ball grabbing variety, is visible mostly due to a crude job in covering up tracks. The visibility is due to getting caught. A clandestine political group escapes persecution by building a networked system of subterranean safe-houses. Caste groups with pre-existing socio-political hegemony have a long experience in building safe-houses so as to channelize their corruption into ‘internal channels’ rather than public-private ones. So much so that some such forms of corruption are not considered as such and do not need to be clandestine any more. Systems of aggrandizement are built into the system so that corruption happens even on auto-pilot. Just like old money begets new money. Older and much-maligned extractive capital becomes today’s fashionable finance capital. All this requires time. OBC/SC/ST communities, by and large, have not had the time to develop the art of reducing corruption to making the papers correctly. They do not have a well entrenched system of trustworthy accomplices who are well grounded in this management science. Upper castes elites have. They are its fathers. For example, they make green-laws and mangle them to their benefit. But the corrupt that this ‘public’ sees are squatters and ‘encroachers’ who pollute. The irony of the fact that all this corruption-talk happened in an event sponsored by a giant real-estate company should not be lost. But then, there is no corruption in corporate-sponsored, free-flowing red wine. It is only the water in the milk from the neighbourhood milkman that is corruption.

In the subcontinent, few opportunities exist for someone to undo the lack of caste or economic privilege at birth. Aspirations and accomplishments are pre-determined by a legal framework that does not acknowledge realities of the past or the present. The few viable ways to negotiate this disadvantage happen to be extra-legal. We love to call this corruption. Indeed, in the absence of this conduit, things would be even more skewed than they are.

Some anti-reservationists are jumping at joy at what Ashis Nandy has said. This is both tragic and comic at the same time – how the same lazy understanding gives rise to joy and uproar in different quarters. They shout – in anger and mirth – united by the pre-judging lens through which they view what he said.

His words on West Bengal being ‘clean’ has also been twisted out of meaning. Given how commonly the relatively ‘corruption-free’ politics is touted as some kind of virtue attributable to either the Bengalis as a people or the bhadralok political culture spanning the communists and the congressites, Ashis Nandy tried to drive a hole into that too.

If Ashis Nandy had said, most corrupt come from the forward castes, there would not be any furore. That is because, in the Indian Union, the potency of implicating hegemonic groups has been defanged by the enthusiastic appropriation of the mantle of fashionable anti-casteism by the very same groups. Which is why the persecution of the Kabir Kala Manch does not attract the ‘freedom of speech’ wallahs who also double up as ‘anti-casteism’ wallahs, as and when required. The reaction to Ashis Nandy’s statement exposes the laziness of elite anti-casteism. If condemnation is the best response we have, it is sad indeed. The essence of what said was that ‘visible’ corruption is rare in West Bengal because in this state, the political empowerment of SC/ST/OBC communities has not happened. This means that a political sphere which is dominated mostly by the upper castes will mostly have the long-entrenched kind of well-lubricated and ‘clean paperwork’ corruption, systems that these groups have developed over long periods in power. This is the mystery behind West Bengal’s apparent cleanliness. Thus he says that West Bengal appears cleans because the nature of its corruption bears imprints of long-entrenched elites and not new rising groups. To take this argument, albeit a roundabout one, to simply mean that West Bengal is actually non-corrupt and the upper castes who have long been in power in West Bengal as the reason behind some real lack of corruption, shows that we do not want to engage with arguments and understandings that are even a little complex.

Finally, it is the limitation of the non-printed form that when one speaks, words like ‘clean’, ‘corrupt’ or anything which one may be using in multiple meanings cannot be put in quotes like I just did..One has to understand grimaces and what not. I do not think that Ashis Nandy is best suited for the sound-byte medium, for the way he speaks and has always spoken. All that was said was in response to something said to Tarun Tejpal is important – that is the context. In the sound-byte and one-liner world, things acquire lives of their own after the words have been spoken. They acquire meanings based on the filters each one of us have in our heads. Ashis Nandy’s style is highly vulnerable to this. He is not an ‘academic’ academic. For decades, he has been an activist-intellectual for the underside, a champion of exiled sensibilities, a public speaker for what many publicly deny and privately acknowledge and I thank him for that.

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A Harvard state of mind

[ Daily News and Analysis, 19 Nov 2012 ]

Having been associated with the Harvard University since 2006, I have attended a very many events there. On 13 November, I witnessed an event, which led to some thoughts that I would like to share. At a panel-discussion titled  “ The Supreme Court of India and the Implementation of Human Rights”, I got to hear Altamas Kabir, The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Indian Union, Swatanter Kumar, a judge of the Supreme Court of the Indian Union and Ashwani Kumar, the freshly minted Law Minister of the government at Delhi.

I arrived at the newly built Wasserstein building. There were absolutely no entry bars – precisely what a public event in a university should be like. If such an event were held in Kolkata where I grew up, the amount of frisking that would have gone on, can be imagined – apart from the self-appointed managerial positions that young and not-so-young functionaries of the local Youth Congress would have taken up. There were no flower bouquets, no thhali girls.

The event happened in a class-room with a seating capacity of 86. Not all seats were filled. Having studied in an elite college in Kolkata, I could imagine that an event like this would easily fill the huge centenary hall of the University of Calcutta. But during my 6 years (1999 -2005) in the University of Calcutta (West Bengal’s largest university), I had no opportunity to attend an event where the union law minister and more than one sitting judge of the supreme court spoke. More importantly, there was an opportunity for questions after they were done speaking. While I am individually fortunate, I come from that unfortunate stock whose ability to interact with their own minister and high functionaries of the government comes easier when they are out of their native land. In my years at Harvard, I have been in the same room with Pranab Mukherjee, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Kaushik Basu, Kapil Sibbal, Nirupama Rao and others. In my years at the University of Calcutta, I had no such opportunity. Harvard University’s own funds are about 30.7 billion US Dollars at present. This figure is close to the total GDP of Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. In 2009, the University Grants Commission of India gave about 12 crores to Burdwan University (awarded a NAAC 5-star status) as its tentative 11th plan period allocation. Such is the love for elite spaces in America in the mind of the government at Delhi that in 2008, it donated about 22 crore rupees to Harvard University. We surely have got our grant priorities right. But I digress.

I heard the minister speak. Hearing his crisp English, I remembered how many people were concerned at the possibility of Mayawati become the prime minister. The anxieties were not about policy but about public speaking and interaction skills at the global stage. As I sat hearing the minister, I realized how much like music must this accent of the minister sound to ‘global Indian’, how much his seamless comfort in suits soothes their nerves. The event had no surprises except for a brief moment when Altamas Kabir felt thirsty and reached for water that was on the table in front of him. Someone from the front-row, probably some government functionary, literally leapt to assistance without being asked, trying to get the bottle and the glass to the judge before he could get to them himself. The agile response looked oddly out of place but then most of the spectators were also from the subcontinent. They understood.

Humans from the subcontinent seem to acquire more rights and privileges and access to the eminent, when they are in some elite centre in USA. They can ask question without intermediaries. They can walk up without being stopped. However transiently, it feels like the eminent are also fellow citizen. Back in the subcontinent, this is not possible unless one belongs to a certain bubble. This is precisely why the pronouncements of the government on human rights have to be compared with the reports on the status of human rights in India, coming from the United Nations agencies and other human rights organizations. A good human rights record speaks for itself and does not need public relations acrobatics from the government. Which is why even a St.Stephenian accent is not enough to sell a positive human rights record to the AFSPA affected Manipuri youth. It is easier sold at Harvard, or so the government may think.

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A failure of imagination / A moment of Bengali glory?

[ Hindustan Times, 15 Oct 2012 ]

Sometimes moments of apparent glory also underline deeper failures. But very often the big hurrah is the last hurrah. Let me come to the point. For the first time in the post-partition Indian Union, two of the highest constitutional posts, that of the president and the chief justice of the supreme court, have Bengalee occupants. Altamas Kabir, the incumbent chief justice, is a Muslim from Bengal, hailing from one of the most elite Muslim families of the Subcontinent. If your grand-father was awarded a badge of service and loyalty by the British – a  Rai Bahadur or a Khan-Bahadur, it still matters in inexplicable and indeterminate ways, in terms of who you are, where you are and where you can get to. That there is a Bengali chief justice after more than twenty years was not greeted with much enthusiasm in Paschimbanga. There are very few Bengali Muslims from Paschimbanga who rise to such levels. Many possibly did not know he was a Bengali.  Structural disparities also colour attitudes and expectations. Kabir babu was sworn in by Shri Mukherjee. However, none of the two Bengalis are in directly elected posts. Still, this unlikely moment of crowding at the apex comes at a time when Bengal’s shadow on the subcontinent is at its shortest.

However, that is nothing to lament. There are a few good reasons why West Bengal’s shadow over the rest of the Indian Union would not be a good thing, at this point. If it looks to the east, East Bengal (whose geo-political avatar is the People’s Republic of Bangladesh) now matches if not surpasses the West in numerous indices of human well-being. When they were separated during the 2nd partition of Bengal or in the aftermath of 1971, very few would have bet that indices would turn out to be this way. But there they are.

Institutions of West Bengal, which for a long time were peerless in the subcontinent if not beyond, now stand as ghostly reminders of their former selves. In the secondary education front, the ‘Bengal board’ is one which does not regularly update itself, having been reduced to a teeming cesspool of political appointees of the CPI(M). This is something that the Trinamool looks eager to replicate. As pan-Indian boards of education start getting undue advantage due to central government policies, this process of ‘Indianization’ has been happening together with de-‘Bengalizing’ – a process whose full impact will not be evident till it is too late, a process that takes a direct stab at the plural reality of the Subcontinent. In the name of uniformity and simplicity, Bengali language is being denied its position as a medium of public life , education and commerce, under the undemocratic patronage of Hindi, a language that has decimated language diversity in the cow-belt itself. In higher education, the debt ridden state continues to pay less to its academicians vis-à-vis the central institutions, thus causing a Bengali brain-drain of epic proportions. Mukherjee and Kabir, have reached the pinnacle, outside Bengal – a point that should not be lost on the readers. Third-rate central universities pay their academicians more than Presidency University or Calcutta University – institutions that produced the pedagogical foundations of contemporary formal academics for much of the Subcontinent. Autonomy of educational institutions is still a pipe-dream in West Bengal with excellence always losing out to servility to the government of the day – the most recent example being that of the upright Chinmoy Guha, the ex-vice chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University.

In matters of  health, it is the paradise of low-grade unaccountable private health-care mafia. Its institutions of pride like the Calcutta Medical College Hospital being places where only the very poor and the helpless would go. There is a lot of medical traffic from West Bengal to Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, a trend unthinkable a few decades ago.

Cities and towns in West Bengal are more ‘Bengali’ than ever before, indicating a loss of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for non-Bengali migrants from Hindustan and beyond that created a semblance of a cosmopolitan culture for more than a century on the two banks of Bhagirathi-Hooghly. A union centre that discriminates has not helped matters.

On the cultural-linguistic front, excellent Bilingualism thereby which people could interpret that world of Bengali and the world made available by English, is near extinction. Anglophone elites retain nominal Bengali-ness and those whose cultural world is embedded in Bengal increasingly find themselves second class citizens in a scenario where Hindi is the language of political power and English is the language of socio-economic ascendancy. Ashok Mitra and his likes who would at ease write beautifully in both are rare, thus resulting in a collective curtailment in intellectual and interpretative space. In this context one notes the fall in the genre of translation of contemporary world classics in Bengali.

In the political sphere, but for the specific numbers in the present Lok Sabha, Bengal’s general clout has been, for decades, disproportionately small in proportion to its population in the Indian Union. The easy parallelism between ultra-centrism and the Congress system is to blame, but the long rule by the CPI(M) that pawned Bengal’s interests by not claiming the requisite pound of flesh, so that it could engage in ‘doctrinaire’ inner-party posturing has certainly assisted that. West Bengal has been one of the few regions in the Indian Union where long-dispossessed caste groups are still far from power, let alone being an effective power-brokering block as such. For all its ‘progressiveness’, post-partition West Bengal has only been able to produce Mamatas and Buddhadebs, not Mayabatis and Karunanidhis. More than anything else, this democratic deficit seriously cripples West Bengal’s potentialities. Being ruled by middle class / upper-middle class forward castes, its primary concerns are also of those groups – why Bengali IT graduates work in Bangalore and so forth. Its cultural icons are also from that small group, thus resulting in state-sponsored cretinization of the myriad cultures that constitute Bengal.

The same week when two Bengalees ‘reached the top’, a Hindi-film actor eyeing a tax break from West Bengal for a private cricket team entity he ‘owns’ and operates, produced a ‘promotional video’ as the state’s ‘brand ambassador’. Banalities about ‘mishti doi’ aside, this failure of imagination is not accidental. This is the greatest sign of decline. West Bengal has lost the confidence to look inward for inspiration and when it looks outward, it only imports kitsch.

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Freedom and access in times of market / Free knowledge versus freedom of the market / MNCs, Indian firms & IPRs

[ Millenium Post, 12 Sep 2012 ;  Echo of India, 12 Sep 2012; Frontier, 20 Sep 2012 ]

New Delhi is always in news. It is perhaps not a co-incidence that two events are happening almost back to back in the capital of the Indian Union.  One is the final hearing at the Supreme court of the Novartis Glivec patent case. This case involves Novartis’ contestation of what qualifies as a significant innovation of an existing product, to be deemed separately patentable. Novartis considers Indian statutes to be too stringent. The Indian statutes aim to prevent ‘evergreening’ – the extending patents by making small changes and claiming them to be substantially different from the original.  The other event was a police raid on a photocopy shop at the Delhi School of Economics and simultaneous legal proceedings initiated by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor and Francis. There is a common strand connecting these apparently disparate events – both involve multi-national business houses suing Indian entities for depriving them of their intellectual property rights benefits.

In the latter case, legally enshrined rights of the publishers were clearly being violated. Anyone whose education and research was dependent on obtaining photocopies of copyrighted books and chapters has been affected. A campaign has been initiated to protest this. This brings us to a deeper disease that goes beyond copyrights. Beyond generic textbooks, much of specialized and critical knowledge taught in Indian universities is either produced by the West or is commercially owned by entities in the West. This academic produce is largely unaffordable in the subcontinent. By handing out these reading lists to students without helping them obtain the material, the faculty has been passing the buck. This is no different from doctors who prescribe medicines irrespective of the paying capacity of the patient. The doctor, or the university faculty, maintains a glib adherence to the ‘highest standard’, for nothing makes them accountable to make education or healthcare accessible. With their academic seminars on sundry topics, these guard the catacombs posturing as vibrant gardens, open and free. University faculty have now for decades continued to force students to resort to bootlegging while preaching academic freedom from their 6th pay commission padded perches. This is nothing short of a scandal. Unfortunately, in a stratified society, the elitism of the faculty, even in disciplines that never cease to extol their ‘sensitive’ approach to the human condition, is not surprising. What is surprising that stuents have not seriously confronted them on this. While their outrage is directed at the 3 publishers, there is another self-serving goliath in the room.

As a point of illustration, if one peruses the bio-data of full professors at the Department of History, at Delhi University, with the bright exception of a minority of them (like Amar Farooqui, Farhat Hasan, Sunil Kumar, Rampal Rana, R.C.Thakran etc.), others have had some or much of their major books and volumes published by the very same publishing behemoths that are acting to keep photocopies out of the hands of the students at their own university. This pattern is replicated across disciplines. Does the faculty plan to make their own work freely available for download? Surely access to scholarship is at least as important as excellence in scholarship. The choice of publisher for one’s scholarly work or an edited volume can either be a personal or a social one. In the former, one owes nothing to society, though society owes the person his/her monthly paycheck. Elites have a lot of agency. The feigned helplessness that is often passed off as the reason for not publishing in more accessible places gives out the deep politics of the academic elite, irrespective of their champagne socialist public posturing. If they have little agency when writing chapters in volumes edited by others, why not upload those chapters in websites post-publication? In a society of great inequities, this is not simple laziness but really an inability to see through the exclusion practiced by oneself and putting one’s academic production in a social context. With such access barriers, it is not surprising that the sons and daughters of professors are more likely to continue down the ‘academic’ path than the less fortunate ‘photocopy’ castes. But Arjuna’s ‘merit’ cannot be excuse for Ekalavya’s destruction.

This can continue because the elite, which selectively interacts with the riff-raff through well-guarded entry and exit points, has long created a separate world where books are cheap, talk is cheaper. Having retracted from public spaces like government hospitals and pavements, they have created a parallel world where they can do without those. That is why one can have universities paying for pricey books written by people in its payroll, in the name of student welfare. Academic publishers are professional businesses – they depend on making money by selling books. Understandably, photocopying hurts their bottom-line. But publishers do not write books, academics do. Can people not expect that publicly-paid academics make affordability and accessibility a criterion for their publication? In the Western academia, universities and academic bodies are making large-scale moves towards open access publication. Harvard, with its war-chest in billions of dollars is leading the way for making research more accessible. Other leading universities in many parts of the world have been having serious discussions and debates on these issues. Till now, there has not been any such concerted move from the browns. Why? Are they so rich? Where is their much-vaunted independence or is that only reserved for duels that help carve out a niche when engaging with the West? The answer partly lies in the socio-economic origins of much of what passes off as the academia. Themselves being products of privilege and inequity, apart from customary and fashionable nods to the concept, they have not accorded issues of broadening of access to scholarly produce the status of urgent priority. This deafening silence is well matched by the silence of another similar caste, the physicians – on the issue of access to life-saving drugs. Similar to the academic castes, their response ranges the full spectrum ignorance to apathy to outright complicity couched as ‘quality’. Neither the destruction of the generic drug industry or the continued expansion on the patent regime will adversely affect the earnings of the physician. Freedom of thought and expression also tacitly assumes the freedom to access thoughts and expressions. Right to health assumes the access to right to means of maintaining health while maintaining human dignity. Cutting off broad access to academic material is as good as killing the university just like cutting off access to generic drugs is another name for policy-driven genocide.

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Envisioning excellence: Academic quality and autonomy in context

[ Frontier (web) 6 May 2012; Sakaal Times (Pune) 24 April 2012; The Hitavada (Nagpur) 30 April 2012; Daily Excelsior (Jammu) 28 April 2012 ]

In a recent piece, Prabhat Patnaik ( The Telegraph, 2 April, 2012) lays out what he thinks are major  threats to the  autonomy of the domestic intellectual discourse in India. He comes up with ‘coercion to conform’ to academic fashions of the North and its hegemony in deciding the worth of ideas as a prime suspect. He also reserves special fire for the insistence on quality when assessing academics. Finally, he talks about the anxiety of the NRI academic about being increasingly irrelevant in India’s academic circles. If one were to go beyond aimed-to-disarm self-congratulatory banalities resting on wistful anecdotes that the level of intellectual discourse in India was superior to Bangladesh, one might come to see the boy who cried wolf and the real wolf itself. I cannot argue for the autonomy to cheat millions of students, by posing the demand for quality as simply a conspiracy to defang heterodox ideas. The victims of the wolf may want  a hearing. That affair can get very dirty.

For academic discourse, two things that are of utmost importance are quality and iconoclasm. Both are easier stated than implemented.We need iconoclasm in the world of knowledge to both expand and question our conceptions of the world. Ideas, especially those on which the  reputation of stalwart academicians and their ‘intellectual’ children depend, those which conform to ideologies of the state, are especially hard to challenge and discredit. It is important to foster iconoclasm so that knowledge does not become a tool in the sustenance of the powerful, but becomes  Those who claim to want to change this equation between ideas and power, more than often recreate stifling power hegemonies themselves, if they happen to capture some part of the academic sphere themselves. All through the euphoric seventies and the pre-doomsday eighties, the way Marxist   academics in India coerced budding students into their ideological predilections, through thinly veiled carrots and sticks, peppering departments all over the country with their ideological kith and kin, should serve as a grim reminder of what intellectual fascism can be unleashed in the name of fighting conformity and hegemony. The veritable boom in the number of thesis and research papers coming out of JNU, CU and JU during that period, that employed ‘Marxian analysis’ is a sad testament to this. Ideological limitations, the need to reward loyalties and conformity,  combined with an intricate system of informal mutual back-scratching helped permeate close-mindedness in academia, right upto departments in small colleges. Atop this hierarchy sat the nomenklatura – now, not so much out of favour as it touts to be, more out of fashion than it wants to be. The pariah status that an academic of the class of Ashis Nandy was accorded is a telling reminder how erstwhile champions of things heterodox can quickly transform themselves into defenders of status-quo, discouraging multiple heterodoxies. Iconoclasm, while being aimed at existing hegemons, cannot be a pretext for spreading petty mediocrity, so as to entrench vested interests, making their uprooting that much harder. West Bengal is still reeling from this phenomenon. It is not clear yet whether the ‘greenwashed’ future will be  any different. Though employed here for the purposes of illustration, encouraging nepotism, spreading mediocrity, propagating hegemonies, creating a nomenklatura based on in-group loyalties, shrillness and service to power, is by no means an exclusively ‘red’ disease.

An ecology where reasoned iconoclasm reigns supreme needs, among other things, a democratic setup and the student-professor relationship that is like that one between peers. It needs to be a  space where deference to truth and evidence comes foremost, where plagiarism is dealt with ruthlessly, where students and research scholars who oppose the academic ideas of their mentors cannot be threatened with ‘dire consequences’, where individual brilliance of a student that surpasses that of the professor causes celebration rather than anxiety, where ‘stalwart academics’ can be heckled by sound logic and shown their place if need be. Finally, it needs to be place where that great unmentionable called quality reigns supreme. The last point is especially important for research, as many of the researchers will come to populate the teaching departments of India.

One way by which hegemonies are perpetuated in academia in India, are by faculty appointments on the basis considerations other than academic quality. In a scenario so rife with  nepotism and favouritism based on academic lineage, political inclination and other vested interests, setting an objective quality bar hits right at the heart of these informal structures of patronage. Though by no means perfect, one useful index of academic quality is impact factor or H-index. Academic research, in the natural and social sciences, is mainly published in specialized journals. Impact factor  or H-index are various measures of citation and quality of journal where one published their work, indicative of how many other people deem your research important or relevant enough to refer to it in their own work published in an indexed journal. There are many indexed journals in India too. While not prostrating totally at the altar of impact factor, a deference to that deity might serve well to separate the wheat from the chaff generated by prejudiced, ideological and nepotistic calls that faculty recruitment committees often make, using the cover of subjective assessment.

The claim that NRI academics in Harvard and Stanford suffer from some kind of relevance-to-discourse-in-India envy is a just that, a claim. There is absolutely no evidence to show that  academic in India is cited more than his or her Boston-based NRI counterpart by academics based in Pune or Nasik or Satara. In fact, for all the fire-eating talk of undercutting and inverting the global academic pecking order, the reality is much more sobering. Pre-eminent warriors of ‘autonomous’ discourse make their beeline for Oxford University Press, Routledge or Ivy-league university presses, be it Harvard University Press or Columbia University Press, to get their thick books published. These books cost a fortune to libraries in India.

There have been for sometime currents within the world of science that seek of remove the commercial barrier to knowledge access. Open-access journals which can be read freely all over the world are part of this. The charge that peer-reviews may be prejudiced against those espousing uncomfortable and heterodox ideas is now being countered with innovations in the methods of review, open review and even scope for open-debate during the review process. Journals with open access and newer forms of review are being cited highly and many have established themselves repute in a very short time. It is this process of open-access and open review to level the international playing field in knowledge production that India can ride high on, rather than viewing the demand for quality as a conspiracy.

On the question of quality and the conspiratorial scorn heaped at ‘refereed journals of repute’, let me mention P.C.Mahalanobis’s Sankhya. Sankhya, was and is, a refereed journal of repute, and at the same time, is published from India by the Indian Statistical Institute. It calls itself the “Indian journal of statistics.” Its impact factor is comparable to the better  journals of general statistics. Sankhya’s latest issue (Volume: 73, Series: A, Par: 2, Year: 2011) has 7 papers from 15 authors. All but two are non-Indians. These numbers vary but the underlying point is clear. It is simply a quality Indian outlet of academic research, that is also coveted by foreign researchers as a place to be published in. It would be absurd to argue that its high quality and concomitant stature in the globe hurts its autonomy or that it discriminates against research workers in India. The Sankhya project is no narrow nationalist project that some might paint it to be – rather it is a product of a certain confidence that a research journal can be Indian and of high quality at the same time.

Of course, all that there is or should be, has a context. It exists in the backdrop of India’s stark social inequity, a global order that seeks to promote and reward certain voices and stifle others, an increasing commercialization and corporatization of the vehicles of public discourse, a culture that equates research utility with the private profits that it can generate. India needs vigorous affirmative action and democratization of academic and institutional cultures. The institutions need quality and autonomy and the imagination to wed the two.

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Occupy National Science Day

[ Himal SouthAsian, Mar 2012, Hitavada, 4 Mar 2012 ]

Last month, February 28th was the ‘National Science Day’. Yes, there is such a day. And there been one for sometime. If you are hearing it for the first time, it is not your fault. It is reported that on this day in 1928, a 40 year old Tamil Brahmin called Chandrasekhar Venkar Raman sitting in 210 Bowbazar Street at the erstwhile building of  the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science in Kolkata discovered certain phenonmena regarding the scattering of light, which would come to be known as the Raman effect. The Nobel prize in Physics followed in 1930. His was the first one in science, where an Indian had done the research in India. It was also the last one. Under the prodding of the National Council of Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC), the honourable government of the Union of india has designated February 28 as ‘National Science Day’. Since 1987.

With name as lofty as ‘National Science Day’, this event largely bypasses most universities of the Indian Union. The major organizers are those who receive patronage and blessings from the central government. In states where the provincial education boards and councils are still dominant (for example, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, etc.), this ‘Day’ is largely unknown. Mostly celebrated in schools with ‘national’ Delhi-controlled syllabi, central government offices, especially educational and research institutions, the  events often bring in sarkari chief guests – from the dubious to the infamous to the occasional savant, lamps are lit, speeches are made, marigolds are worn and hung, a lot of tea and coffee is drunk, some samosas are consumed. And then they all go home. Some more things happen on this day. Awards are given for excellence is popularizing science and innovative science education. The prime-minister, the minister of science and technology, the minister of state for the same ( when there is one) light up the faces of some newspaper owners by providing full page ads exhibiting their gleaming faces and a one paragraph message to the nation. This is how we, the citizens of India, get our annual peg of the scientific spirit. In some schools there will be competitions and prizes. There will be energetic kids whose mirth will invariably be suppressed by the bureaucratic approach that many organizers will approach the event with. It will be made into one of that long set of state sponsored farces that a school year in this country is peppered with. A Raman, a Saha, a Bose, will meet an untimely death among those dreamy kids. Once more. Some  functionaries and bureaucrats will breathe lightly at the end of this day – as if their niece just got married. Some decorators, caterers and suppliers will do a little business, some will get small kickbacks. Such is the fate of us petty people.

What more can we expect from such an unimaginative, top-down exercise so divorced from people and society? The idea is – this would create among the populace an appreciation of science, among youngsters a dream to unravel the mysteries of this world, this universe, this human condition. On the question of decreasing popularity of classical music in Pakistan, Professor Arifa Sayeda Zohra of the National College of Arts, Lahore had said that the contemporary ears that are tuned to the ka-ching sound of coins are blunt to  the intricacies of khayal. A population whose idea of success is defined by 50 lakh salaries by IIM-types, whose best mathematicians-physicists-engineers end up being number crunchers for finance market speculators, has a rather poor appreciation of basic scientific research. In the absence of this appreciation, there is no social audit of science in India – hence many professors gleefully plagiarize, publish 3rd grade research work in 4th grade, mostly Indian journals which are read by few and cited by fewer. Some of them often pass of as experts, serving in sub-committees,  exuding a cynical notion of time-serving. Looking at these creatures, many youngsters are turned off from pursuing science.

In stark contrast to such Indian Union government bankrolled cynical and routine initiatives for the inculcation of scientific culture, there lies the people-centric initiatives that have been present in India. India has had a long tradition of science and rationalism initiatives that have been broad-based, have attained movement status and have been sustained in a bottom-up manner, gaining strength from participation and support from the grassroots. This has happened without state patronage and has been most successful when the idea of scientific culture has been integral to the day-to-day life issues and social realities of the people. The brightest examples are from certain epochs of the Indian nationalist movement and the anti-caste rationalist movements of Dravidian political current.

There is the scientific aspect of the idea of self-reliance often floated in Indian nationalist movement. This came to fore first during the Swadeshi movement in the first decade on the 20th century when boycott of British-made goods were aimed to be followed up by developing technologies ‘of our own’, especially in Bengal. Small scale industrial units inspired by a ‘Swadeshi’ bent were taking baby-steps. Swadeshi institutions of technical learning were also conceived – the most important one being the National Council of Education’s Bengal Technical Institute, which was to become Jadavpur University. Later, during the non-cooperation movement, when large-scale boycott of Raj-sponsored educational and research institutions was taking place, a concomitant stress was placed on building up independent institutions of science and higher learning. The saw the birth of the National Medical Institute (Jatio Aurbiggyan Bidyaloy) which would later become the Calcutta National Medical College – the Medical College, Bengal being the favourite of the Raj. Stalwart science figures like Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, Meghnad Saha and Satyendranath Bose were invariably science communicators to the masses. They were not simply denizens of the laboratory but wrote extensively in mass-circulation publications in fiction and non-fiction forms, gave extensive public talks, started popular science magazines. Jagadish Chandra Bose became an especially potent symbol of the ‘scientific’ flank of the emerging pan-Indian nationhood. In the first half of the 20th century, one can see that also in the writings of Rabindranath Thakur and Rajshekhar Basu ‘Parashuram’, literary giants who also penned lucid articles of recent scientific discoveries and their muses on such issues. These point to a greater public engagement with science and a culture of being intrigued by scientific inquiry and discoveries. These articles generally went beyond the narrower formulations of nationalism inspired ‘Indian’ science. This is important for already those of the Hindu-nationalist ilk had started to claim that many new scientific discoveries and technological innovations were already present in ancient times in India and that looking into the scriptures of the elders would yield knowledge- that one would be able to rediscover and hence recapture some long lost glory. Meghnad Saha gave rebuttals to such claims, with his famous sarcastic quip ‘Shob byade achhe’ (Everything is in the Vedas) being elevated to the level of a common idiom in Bengali.   But when it comes to a more muscular presence of scientific culture, the crown goes to the anti-casteist and anti-Brahminical movements spanning present day Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Rationalism being the core-principle, this no doubt elevated the status of scientific inquiry in those areas. . It should not be forgotten that in a so-called ‘essentially spiritual’ area like Southasia, Tamil Nadu has elected stated atheists and irreverent leaders to chief-ministership time after time. M Karunanidhi, a product of this current and a legatee of  the  E V Ramaswamy Naicker ‘Periyar’’s politico-phillosphical currency, publicly questioned the divine status of Ram on the question of building a land bridge to Sri Lanka by dismantling the mythical Ram Setu and has politically survived that statement, which is not a small achievement. This tells us more about the gallery he was playing to.  In more recent times, especially in the 70s and 80s, in West Bengal, ‘science and rationalism’ groups were formed sparked by popular science and rationalist publications like Utsho Manush (Human Origin) and others. Some of these reflect science in the use of the country , as opposed to science in the use of the nation-state.

In many ways, science policy in the Union of India reflects the nature of the Indian state – a ultra strong centre that aims to dominate the provinces by formulating common principles of policy. Before the Delhi-centric system of science policy implementation took hold after the paritition of 1947, a few things may be noted about what were the major forms of science communication. Especially important in this was the role of India’s languages and not only Hindi or English as languages in which science would be taught, conceptualized and discussed. Before partition, scientific discourse and education in India’s many vernacular languages was a living and expanding body of activity. Satyendranath Bose ( of ‘Bose-Einstein condensate’ fame)  created the Bongiyo Bigyan Parishad ( Bengal Science Council) and also started a science magazine called Kishor Gyan Bigyan ( Youth Knowledge Science) in the first half of the 20th century which continues to be published till the present day. These trends have now been sapped of their vitality by lthe general lack of support for non-Hindi languages in post-parition India. In the early days post-partition, India even served as a magnet for foreign stars of the scientific world to come to India to pursues their scientific careers. This included giants like JBS Haldane who joined the Indian Statistical Institute at Kolkata. Mediocrity, lack of autonomy, bureaucratic shackles and lack of inspiration has snapped this once-budding link between science and society in India. Bureaucratism has also kept private trusts and people of wealth from espousing causes of science and research with funding. While the house of the Tatas have a long record of such endeavours, the patronage of Rajen Mookerjee of the Indian Statistical Institute also merits mention. These grants to build up institutions are markedly different from the private businessman-educationalist model of science and technical education that has evolved in the Indian Union ever since, where people of wealth create low-grade institutions of science and technology largely as money-making machines. The contribution of private players in research and development spending in India is abysmal.

In the absence of sterling scientific research happening at home, science has become something that white men do. This not only leads to a lack of confidence in engaging with science, but in a broader sense, makes science, as a living body of knowledge, that much distant from reality, that much alien to the imagination of youth. Languages in this part of the world, especially Bangla, has had a century long heritage of widely read science fiction. In 1879, Jagadananda Roy penned Shukra Bhraman (Travels to Venus) with imaginary descriptions of aliens, notably about a decade before H.G.Well’s The War of the Worlds. He was not a one off figure – in 1882, Hemlal Dutta published the famous science fiction piece Rohoshho (The Mystery) in Bigyan Dorpon (The mirror of science), a picture-heavy science magazine of the time. This trend continued with Hemendra Kumar Ray, Satyajit Ray, Premendra Mitra, Mohommod Jafor Iqbal, Shirshendu Mukherjee and still holds seriousk currency up until the present day. Fictional scientist characters like Professor Shanku, Dr.Bhootnath Nondy have initiated a whole generation of Bengali-reading teenagers to the romance of scientific discovery. This no doubt gave science a wider currency in the populace and made the figure of the scientist something more tangible, the idea of discovery slightly more conceivable. With the increasing grip of Hollywood on the content of entertaintement in public consumption and hence the long shadow of alien idioms in even in sci-fi fantasies, the limited currency that local produce had, has been damaged, possibly irreparably.

How Southasia views its scientists also point to deeper pathologies in Southasian nation-states. It is in Southasia we have Nobel laureates being reduced to pariahs due to a religious identity that the state is not comfortable with – I am talking of Abdus Salam who was born in an Ahmadi Muslim family and and such was shunned during his lifetime by the powers to be in Pakistan who consider him a heretic due to his religious identity. It is also in Southasia where the most well known faces of science are those who represent a muscular nuclear toothed state – I am reminded to APJ Abdul Kalam of India. It is in Southasia that we have absurd myths ascribed to scientists, stemming from ignorance, insecurity and blind nationalism – the enduring lore that Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose ‘first’ ‘disoovered’ that plants have life. There are necessary pre-conditions to create a culture of science – they include freedom of speech and expression, an audacity to be loyal only to truth, an environment that supports iconoclasm in the world of ideas, however towering the icon may be, however sacrilegious the idea may be. If that were so in India, many would have protested the hoodwinking of people that is done in the name of scientific achievement by showing swadeshi aerial bombers, tanks, missiles and other mass-murdering devices. Against this dystopic idea of what science is and its fruits are have stood Indian scientists like  MV Ramanna, S Ramasubramanian, T R Govindarajan, Ashok Sen and others -scientists worth their salt, the Dandi variety. In 2012, the focal theme of the ‘National Science Day’ is ‘ Clean Energy Options and Nuclear Safety’. When the government is actively trying to reduce the liability to suppliers in case of a nuclear disaster, the tom-tomming of the Nuclear Safety slogan only shows how cynically the state can convert public awareness programs into theatres of propaganda. But all propaganda can be exposed. It will take time. Critical enquiry, a spirit of questioning dogma and culture of social communication of these values – in science and beyond – let these be our arsenal. Lets us not worship science. Like pujas where chant-words have lost meaning to those who offer it, soon enough the rot sets in and it become meaningless to the priests themselves. The gods of science have left for other spaces – where there is dance, mirth, inquiry, freedom of speech and thought, freedom to make love to science, the chance to be loved back, the opportunity to share the love of science, in the family, in the neighbourhood, among colleagues. Lets stop the  invocation and start questioning. Let us  occupy ‘National Science Day’.

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