12 March 2016| 5:00 PM: “Why are universities important? For all of us, our individual point of view is important but a world view is also required, your personal feelings and experiences can be linked to social issues happening around you”: these were the words of Prof Satish Despande as he began his lecture on “Worldview, University and Nation”.
Delivering his lecture in Hindi, and providing the English equivalents of the terms when required, Prof Deshpande who is from Delhi University made clear, his intentions to tackle the inaccessibility of higher education in India to the students from marginal sections of the society. To be able to converse in English, the medium most often used in elite institutes for higher education, is a privilege.
Prof Deshpande mentioned he is currently engaged in a study of the state of higher education in India, the inequalities due to caste, class, sex, gender, sect, language and religion in educational institutions and the role of education in social mobilization.
Universities don’t have the role of imposing a readymade worldview on students but to equip them with that discerning intelligence which enables the student to understand different world views, discuss and critique them, before the student adopts a particular worldview to apply it in a practical situation. But before one has a worldview, the student must have a view, “a standpoint”, said Prof Deshpande. He added “The universities are not made of brick and mortar; it’s made up of people like us who question and who are searching for answers diligently and sincerely”.
He asked the audience to reflect on “Why has this time come -when there’s attack from different sides on universities?” He narrated how in 1977, he participated in a protest march to release George Fernandes who was a trade union leader then and next how along with a few more students he did campaigning for Atal Bihari Vajpayee after the emergency. During exams teachers would try to dissuade them by telling them that they will get locked up, their careers will be ruined, but they persisted.
He said it is the atmosphere of a university- some energy which enables and encourages us to fight for others. Hence, he said, when we think of protecting our universities, it’s because of this reason—it’s a space which enables people to go beyond their selfish needs and personal problems. Of course, we all need jobs, and universities prepare us for getting jobs, but it also urges us to think beyond ourselves, about the country and other problems of the society, he maintained.
The field of higher education in our country is changing rapidly. Ambedkar never supported that Dalit students enter into politics, he wanted Dalit students to study and get a job, get stable and then work for social change. However, it is universities and students-led movements that are most active in reform works and social activism, whereby he cited the example of the Ambedkar Students Association and Rohith Vemula from HCU.
A university is the most egalitarian institution in the country, he said. He took the example of Parliament, and said, there are hardly women there, and same goes for workplaces. Hence, these attacks are due to the anxieties generated over the inclusive and egalitarian nature of spaces that universities create, the opportunity for social mobilization made possible through education. He informed universities are facing attacks from three fronts: political parties, the Centre and the common masses. He commented that the narrow street between JNU and Munirka has turned into an abyss, the common people being the middle classes and dispossessed classes; here the justification being that tax-payers money is being wasted on elite universities. These attacks are also taking place because most believe that elite institutions for higher education are not within their reach, because of class or caste disparities, he urged his audience to remedy this perception, by showing the inclusivity of campuses.
Shouting slogans –“Jai Bheem” or “lal salaam” won’t do, we must act, we must go to the streets and work, he declared. “Kam-se-kam deshbhakti ke mamle me karni ki chalni chaiye, na ki kathni ki”—judge our patriotism through our deeds, not words, he concluded.
Upama is an MA student at CISLS and works for the News Pool of The Informer.