As the raging controversy over JNU shows no sign of cooling down, the entire focus of the discourse is on the students who allegedly arranged the event where anti-India slogans were shouted and subsequent incidents that followed. In this milieu, we forget the role played by the 600 odd teachers, faculty as they are called, of the University.
Students might have erred in their judgement but what about the learned faculties many of whom hold multiple PhDs? Are they mute spectators? Do they just mechanically discharge the function of teaching? Or do they shape the ideology of a large section of students if not all? What about the syllabus in social science subjects? Does this give a jaundiced view of the society or a more nuanced and balanced view? Many such academic questions are at the root of this prestigious University’s prevailing environment. One needs to go in-depth to find out the root cause.
There has been a history of anti-establishment activities and propaganda happenings in JNU campus. While ‘freedom of speech’ is often cited as the fundamental principle underlying these events, one can question the role of the administration in general and that of faculties in particular. Prima facie it appears that either majority of the faculties including those in the administration either approved such incidents in principle or they were indifferent; which is unlikely given that each of these faculties are intellectuals of the highest order. Now that the students have landed themselves into trouble, the faculty remains mute spectator and at best provide lip service in the name of moral support by taking out demonstrations or participating in TV debates, writing OpEd pieces in newspapers. This raises serious concerns about the role of these teachers (Faculty) in shaping the students’ thoughts and ideology in the campus.
While many global Universities have been the microcosm of Political ideologies prevailing in the nations where they are situated; in a socio-culturally complex nation as ours, it is imperative that Universities remain ideologically neutral or encourage teaching of all political ideologies in equal measure so that a student can form his or her opinion based on informed choice, For this to happen the faculty as individuals must be ideologically neutral (which is humanly unlikely) or at least, try to disseminate different dominant ideologies prevailing across our nation. A student’s mind should be allowed to synthesize different political ideologies and enable his or her autonomous agency to form individual political thoughts. Hence, the role of teachers are very critical and that of the course syllabus is equally important.
The modern education system, especially the higher education, has today become bereft of any Moral, Cultural, Religious, National values. By these values I mean ideology, principle, teachings based on these core aspects in our civilization’s context. Chanakya, the great philosopher and teacher of ancient India had mentioned in those times about the importance of a teacher and his teaching to preserve and glorify the concept of ‘Nation’. In modern times talking and teaching such values are perceived to be retrograde. Most of the universities today teach heavily from western philosophers and political thinkers. Though these thoughts may be relevant in their own right but to neglect ancient Indian philosophy and religion based texts and teaching is making an entire generation of young minds totally alienated from their roots. Even the all pervasive English medium school education totally isolates kids from their cultural root. Once the mindset is formed from childhood it is very difficult to remould it at a later age. Higher education in social sciences makes the students parochial in view by only enabling him or her to see the society in caste, class, gender, religion, political terms and totally forgetting the concept and ideals of “nationhood” which subsumes all these notions. Every nation, however liberal, democratic, socialist it may be, protects its sovereignty and other interests at any cost even if it means suspending temporarily few fundamental rights of its citizens or placing reasonable restrictions on the ‘national’ interest. The Patriot Act post 9/11 in the US and temporary suspension of freedom rights in the aftermath of recent Paris attack are the cases in point. The nation or the concept of it is much larger than the individual, the whole is greater than the sum of parts.
Teachers should themselves first subscribe to the non-negotiable notion of ‘Nation’ and its interest and within this framework disseminate a balanced view of various ideologies to the students. This may sound that we are somewhere tied by some restrictions, but this is the price that each of us has to pay to avoid descending into’ as the English philosopher Hobbes said, the ‘State of Nature’.