Stifling academic spirit

The suspension of Dr. Rajshri Ranawat, who teaches English at the Jay
Narayan Vyas University, Jodhpur should be a matter of national
concern. Not only for the academic community but the society as whole.
For, she has not been penalised for any financial irregularity, nor
for dereliction of her duties as a teacher. The university has started
this process of punishment to her for having convened a national
seminar and giving platform to an eminent scholar like Prof .Nivedita
Menon, who allegedly made derogatory remarks against the soldiers of
the Indian army, questioned the claim of India over Kashmir and
insulted the integrity of the Indian nation by showing its flag upside
down.
Suspension is no punishment is what the university would say in its
defence. Also that it was bound to act as it was reported that the
platform of the seminar was used to air anti-national views and
denigrate the nation ,which could not be tolerated.
Prof. Nivedita Menon has clarified at her blog kafila.online,in great
details, that nothing that is being put in her mouth by the local
media is correct. She was invited as a scholar in an academic seminar
and was expected to talk about different notion of nation and
nationalism. She was not there to participate in a sloganeering-event.
She was duty bound, as a true scholar, to complicate the notion of
nationalism and encourage her co-participants to think and discuss it
in a more complex way. That is what she did.
The seminar that Dr. Rajshri organised was again not an exercise in
propaganda. It had scholars, activists and political workers from a
very diverse disciplinary and ideological backgrounds. She could not
have given them a brief suggesting what to speak and they would not
accepted it as self respecting scholars either to say something that
was their own thought which they themselves had arrived at after
scholarly deliberation. It would have been deceptive of them to hide
from the students something they knew was crucial but could invite
wrath of the simpletons. This is the risk scholars have always lived
with. You have the examples of Jesus, Buddha, Socrates, Mansoor,
Galileo, Bruno, retc. The list is long and cuts across religions,
faiths, ideologies. That is how knowledge has progressed. Fortunately
for the humanity there have been minds who refused to compromise
themselves for mortal safety and longevity.
Prof Nivedita Menon, who teaches at the JNU is under attack from the
extreme Hindu right wingers for nearly a year. It would have been safe
for her to  take classes ,write papers and books and visiti
universities abroad without getting into the muddy waters of Indian
public space. After all she does not seek to derive authority for
people at large as a politician, she is most happy  being recognised
by her students and her peer group which is international in nature.
But it also means that she does not have to appease any sensitivity.
Her duty is to controvert and not conform.
Similarly, Dr. Rajshri ranawat should not have taken the trouble to
organise a seminar of this magnitude. She would have kept herself
confined to class rooms and her family as all good Indian teachers
do,who after getting  permanent position never go out of syllabus.
They get a good salary, get married after getting this coveted job and
raise their families, buying houses and putting money in ths hare
market to enhance their material fortunes.
Rajshri , liker Sudha Chaudhay of the Mohan lal Sukhadia University
and Snehsata Manav of the Central University of Haryana belongs to a
different league. She is not an insecure academic and therefore she
wants her students to come in contact with scholars who are the best
in their fields. It is tough but she did it, for the love of her
vocation as a teacher.
Rajshri is now being made to pay for this having performed her duty.
This is of course noit the first\case of its kind. As mentioned above,
Snehsata was targeted for having staged a play based on  ashort story
by Mahashweta Devi and Sudha Chuadhary was attacked for having
organised a seminar in which Prof . Ashok Vohra of the Delhi
University spoke. His speech was painted as n insult to the Hindu
deities, a totally false and cooked up charge but which again was
spread with glee by the local media.
A common factor in all these stories is The ABVP, the student arm of
the RSS and its other affiliates. They instead of engaging
intellectually and academically with the persons they think are their
adversaries, target them physically and drag them in the legal
quagmire by filing criminal cases. Media becomes a willing accomplice.
Other political parties have become so narrow in their thinking and
action that they donot even think incidents like this as issue they
need to grapple with. We have lost a common ground on which all
differing political actors can stand, the ground of academics which
cannot be queered for short term or petty gains
What is most unfortunate that the internal life of most of the state
universities has become so rotten that persons like Rajshri are left
alone to face this assault , which the colleagues know is totally
unwarranted and mala-fide. If we go deep into it, we find that even
the ideological anger that is expressed is only a veneer for some
local grudge and the teachers being targeted are chosen simply because
they make themselves vulnerable though such extra-academic activities.
Rajasthan is fast turning into an academic arid land. It has
introduced textbooks in its schools which are horrible, damaging for
the mental health of the children and teachers. Protests from experts
has gone unheard and un-responded. Universities have VCs who cannot
think and act independently. Universities are at the mercy of local
strong arm people.
Dr. Rajshri has been threatened with dismissal by her VC. Would  the
larger academic community of India silently watch her become martyr to
the cause of education and knowledge creation? Do we really need
martyrs?

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