Updated: March 1, 2017 12:20:07 am
Gurmehar Kaur has retreated from the “Not Afraid of ABVP” campaign as well as from social media saying “I have been through a lot and this is all my 20-year-old self could take”. Kaur’s creative engagement with university politics, however, has received unequivocal support from her teachers — the faculty at the department of English at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University. In a signed statement the faculty said, “We feel that it is the bounden duty of educational institutions to nurture sensitive, responsive and critical thinking students without the fear of violent retaliation”. This effort at presenting a united front is not only welcome, but also necessary, if the university as a place for originality and innovation is to be preserved.
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The teachers’ statement couldn’t be more relevant. Of late, attacks on freedom of speech in institutions of higher education have not been limited to students alone. At the Jai Narayan Vyas University in Jodhpur, an assistant professor was suspended by the university administration for organising a seminar at which JNU professor Nivedita Menon spoke on nationalism, Hindutva and Kashmir. The violence at Ramjas College did not discriminate between teachers and students, nor have the JNU faculty been spared the “anti-national” tag. In July last year, Ashoka University, a private institution, did not want its name associated with a petition by its students demanding an end to state violence in Kashmir. The idea of the university as a place for discussion and debate must be protected by all those who have a stake in its growth. Too much of the discourse now seems to be centred on the political morality of speech-acts. Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram put it best when he said, “I think we’re confusing universities with monasteries. A university is a place where I have the right to be wrong.”
The path taken by the LSR faculty must be followed by the university administration. The way to deal with disagreement, particularly in institutions of learning, cannot be name-calling. Robust economies and secure polities are marked by the quality of their universities and the novelty of thought they produce. After all, Make in India, cannot be limited to just goods and services. To be a true global leader, India must generate ideas, look at a campus as a crucible for thought, its students as agents of the future. Not as an “alliance of subversions”.
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