I teach as a Guest Faculty at the University of Delhi. On Saturday morning, December 16, when I reached my college, I saw a huge crowd of young boys, standing at the entrance. They were trying to quickly go inside the narrow gate. These boys are the students of the School of Open Learning (SOL) under the University of Delhi. They were rushing to the examination halls to appear for the examination.
The Non-Collegiate Women’s Education Board (NCWEB) Centre of the University of Delhi, where I teach, was the examination centre for SOL students. The NCWEB Centres, which are run at many colleges of the University of Delhi, provide education to women students and give graduate degrees to the successful candidates. Although the NCWEB follows the Delhi University syllabus, the classes for the NCWEB students are held on Sundays, Saturdays and holidays. When regular classes are not held because of holidays, NCWEB students get little opportunity to study.
The courses are run for a short period at the NCWEB Centres. The big syllabus is expected to be completed within a short period of two to three months. The number of classes for a course is far less than required. But over the years, they have been further reduced. As a result, both students and teachers of NCWEB Centres are under huge pressure to finish the course in a short while. Let me accept the fact that on many occasions, both teachers and students fail in their pursuit.
Worse still, the students and the teachers of NCWEB are not allowed to consult the college library and borrow books as regular students and teachers of the college do. In a graded system of education, NCWEB students and teachers face discrimination at the hands of college authorities. They are treated far below that of permanent teachers and regular students. The NCWEB teachers, who teach the same course as the regular teachers, do not get a monthly salary. Their gross income in a year would be around 1.5 lakh, which means less than Rs. 13,000 per month. What could be a worse case of labour law violation than this by looking at the fact that the payment is made to teachers several months after the end of the teaching job. Against this tough condition, hundreds of teachers including myself, teach at NCWEB Centres.
Both teachers and students are the victims of the exploitative system. While students do not get an opportunity to study at a regular college, despite having scored high marks in the previous exams, the permanent teaching jobs, which are getting few under privatisation, go to those who have strong political connections. Those who are critical and have independent thinking are likely to face exclusion. Among such excluded lot, a large number of them work as teachers in informal sectors. NCWEB teachers are treated as worse than the casual workers by Delhi University.
The ground reality of the “prestigious” Delhi University should be kept in mind to observe how the education system has become exploitative and fallen into the propaganda machine for the ruling party.
While entering the college, I went to my classroom to find that it had been turned into an examination hall. Soon after we went to another building to hold our classes. While walking to the classroom, I was thinking about the abysmal educational infrastructure in our country. Several questions came to mind: why do our youths not get proper opportunity to study? If a democratic state fails to provide a quality education to its citizens, does it deserve to be called a democratic? Such a question haunted my mind.
When the class was over, I was returning to the main gate to exit from the college.
Suddenly, my eyes fell on a “selfie point”. A blow-up of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visible there. Later, I came to learn about the fact that the selfie point had been constructed by the college authority. Recently the UGC issued guidelines to the university to erect a selfie point at a prominent place so that students could take pictures and they could develop a “collective pride” over “India’s achievements in various fields”, reported the web portal Wire. When the UGC policy to promote the “cult building” of Modi was widely criticized, the UGC withdrew its direction. The authorities in my college seem to be hesitant to take note of such a withdrawal notice.
It has been experienced that the college authority often does not act promptly in case a request is made to provide students with basic facilities. But in the case of erecting selfie points, it has acted at lightning speed. This points to the location of the priority of the administration.
This is one of the classical examples of how our public educational institutions are fast turning into the propaganda machinery for the establishment, while at the same time failing to give basic facilities to students, teachers and non-teaching staff. It appears that Delhi University is using public money to self-promote the image of a particular leader. Earlier, the same job was being done by the mainstream media. It does not miss any opportunity to indulge in hero-worship and give all credit to Prime Minister Modi for every success. But when failures occur, the same media makes the opposition parties a scapegoat. For example, if the BJP won elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, it was because of Modi’s magic. But when the same party lost elections in Karnataka and West Bengal sometime back, the mainstream media blamed other than Modi for the defeat. The University administration appears to be falling into the roles of Godi journalists.
The Selfie point with Modi’s image has not been put up for the first time at my college. From book fairs to trade fairs, such selfie points with Modi’s photo were erected earlier. The new development is that the educational centres have also been brought within the ambit of propaganda machinery.
These developments are manifestations of the rot in our educational institutions system. The acts of hero-worship and self-promotion of a particular leader pose a serious threat to our democracy. If such a trend is not counter deed, our democratic system will become more authoritarian. They signal an abject absence of autonomy.
Look at the double speak of the Hindutva forces: while the BJP has often criticised student activists and activist intellectuals at the public university for politicising education, the same party is silent about the act of hero-worship in politics. Take the example of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Since the Modi Government came to power in 2014, JNU was demonised as “the den of anti-national activities”. The Hindu Right propaganda spread the myth that JNU students do not study and only indulge in politics to waste their time and the resources of the country. While the Hindu Right feel challenged by the politically conscious youth raising people’s issues at the university and outside, it does not consider anything wrong with the act of cult-making of a particular leader in a democracy. Worse still, this hero-worship is being institutionalised at the university which should act as an autonomous body.
The youth wing of the RSS/the BJP is the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). It claims to be the largest student body in the country. How many times has the mainstream media accused the ABVP leaders of doing politics at colleges and universities? Several leaders of the BJP, including Arun Jaitley, came from the ABVP, yet the saffron leaders are assumed to be “non-political” during their students’ days. Even the current Modi Government has two ministers from JNU: Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance of India and S. Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs. They are the product of the same JNU, which is being vilified as an “anti-national” university. These examples are given to underscore the fact that the Hindu Right never accepts the fact that it uses the university space to serve its petty agenda more than other political parties, yet it creates a myth that only the secular and left forces have politicized the university.
Hindutva forces have often argued that the university space has been misused by the secular/left forces but they never speak about how our education centres have been saffronised. From recruitment to the distribution of scholarships and projects, the political factor and one’s affiliation to the ruling party work more than the merit of the candidate and the strength of the work. Even the syllabus and courses have been modified to strain the country’s secular fabric. The falling of the educational institutes as a saffronised space could be better grasped by looking at the act of setting up selfie points ahead of the General Elections 2024.
The members of the ruling party may argue that there is nothing wrong in putting up the selfie point for the PM since he is the “0leader of the country”. If so is the case, then the image of the President, as the Head of State, may be a better option. In a Parliamentary system, the prime minister is first among the equals vis-à-vis his/her cabinet colleagues, then should not PM’s image along with all cabinet ministers also become part of the selfie point? Moreover, some may argue that Parliament is incomplete without the presence of strong opposition, should not the image of the opposition leaders be shown at the selfie point to give a message that Indian democracy has become quite mature? Is the ruling party ready to take up these questions?
Long back Babasaheb Dr. B. R. strongly criticised the culture of hero worship in politics. In 1943, he gave a lecture on “Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah” and called hero-worship “dangerous to the country”. However, it appears that these negative trends have become stronger under the Modi Raj because even the autonomy of public education institutions has been eroded.
Those who do not see anything wrong in the selfie point with the image of Modi, are quite silent to see the formulation of the draconian policies by the JNU administration to curb student activism in JNU. Recently, the executive council of JNU passed a manual under which if a student is found protesting within the 100-metre radius of any administrative and academic building and around the residence of a member of the JNU community, he may be punished with a fine of Rs. 20,000 and rustication from the campus for two semesters.
Such a move is being justified in the name of depoliticising the educational spaces, yet how the university has come under threat under Modi Raj is being ignored by the mainstream media. The recent manual of the JNU administration goes against the fundamental rights of the Indian constitution to free speech and the right to dissent.
Look at the irony: while the self-promotion of Modi by the university administration is considered a “non-political act” by the mainstream media and the Hindu Right, the articulation of genuine grievance at university spaces by students is demonised as indulging in “dirty politics”. These examples show that our educational centres are fast becoming propaganda machinery for the ruling party and indulging in hero worship, while they are eroding spaces for the democratic voices. While public money is being misused for the cult-building Modi, the majority of the members of the education community, who work in informal sectors, suffer from the lack of basic facilities.
(Dr. Abhay Kumar is a Delhi-based journalist. He has taught political sciences at NCWEB Centres of Delhi University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)