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Atmosphere of "fear" in Gujarat institutes bogs all: School teachers to varsity professors

By Prof Hemantkumar Shah*
The present education system is a matter of great concern. There is an increase in the establishment of universities since 2001. Currently, there are more than 50 universities, whereas in 2001 the count was only 15. The concern with these newly established universities is there affiliation as private universities.
The largest and the oldest university in Gujarat is the Gujarat University, established in 1949. Presently, accumulation of colleges has happened which was then bifurcated in different areas and regions during 1949 to establish new universities. With this new initiative of the government opening their own universities, there has been bifurcation.
In reality, several of these universities have no buildings, professors, vice-chancellors (VCs), clerks, registrars, etc. Several of them are said to be in primary government schools or in the teshildhar’s office. After some years, a budget of Rs 10-15 crore was allocated for infrastructure. The question arises: how did this privatisation occur?
According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), 28% of primary schools are private schools in Gujarat. The standard fee for a first standard student is between the range of Rs 15,000 to Rs 1,10,000 per month. Around five months before the last state Assembly elections in Gujarat, the Assembly passed a law in response to a movement started by parents of students regarding the high fees structure in private schools.
However, the implementation of this law is far from reality. The education minister himself has gone on record asking parents to submit their children’s fees in time while promising to attend to their concerns later.
A problem with regard to the democratic space in educational institutions has also come to the forefront in recent years. In late 2012, the Assembly passed a bill which is known as the Gujarat Higher Education Council Bill. As per this Act, the Gujarat Education Council was to be established under the chairmanship of the chief minister. In response, many professors confronted the bill and a petition was filed before the governor. Despite this, the Act got the approval of the governor for the council to be formed.
It raises the question: what is in this council? Under Section 15(a) of the Act, there are 32 members, 15 are government officials. The head of the council is the chief minister himself while the education minister and state level education minister will be the deputy chairmen. All the appointments for the post of VC etc. will be done by the government.
The VC or pro-VC have a minimum role and are restricted to put forward their concerns. Under Section 15, the chief minister can recommend anybody, but he/she may not even recommend. Section 22 denies the right of seeking constitutional remedy. Section 22 specifies that no citizen, either affected or non-affected, residing in Gujarat, can approach the court for the decisions taken by the council.
Another provision says that any professor, she or he might be from any government, private or aided university, can be recommended to other universities. This Act is draconian as speaking or writing against the government can lead to transfer.
The Gujarat government has formed an institution called the Knowledge Consortium of Gujarat (KCG). Instead of getting into the quality of its staff, I would like to shed some light on one of the functions of KCG. KCG conducts training which is higher in number than what the existing colleges do and doesn’t engage with the academic staff of colleges in Gujarat University. Beside, KCG only conducts training of those professors who don’t speak out against the government.
Apart from structural changes in the educational system, there are content changes both in school text and in higher education, particularly in subjects like Sociology, Economics and Literature, etc. These changes, in a way, are promoting communalisation. There is a general hesitance to question against these changes arising out of the repercussions which follow.
When I was there in the Economics Curriculum Formation Committee of the Gujarat State Textbook Board for Schools, I was kicked out when they came to know that I am the one who has been speaking out against the government. This is the usual tendency in every level of the education structure in Gujarat.
In Gujarat, the most important thing is that there exists the ‘Mahajan culture’. Kasturbhai Lalbhai, the great industrialist, donated a huge piece of land for just for Rs 1 in 1949. This initiative was made possible for the establishment of the largest and first university in Gujarat. On the contrary, Nirma’s Karsandas Patel and Reliance’s Mukesh Ambani are also starting universities – with the focus on profit-making. This means education is a commodity just like a piece of soap from which profit can be extracted.
The culture of investing for education among the industrialists has almost changed. Now, former Supreme Court Justice PN Bhagwati’s Gujarat Law Society and even Kasturbhai Lalbhai Ahmedabad Education Society are private universities. The Assembly enacted separate Acts for them and they are running self-financing courses. This high fee self-financing course excludes several key areas.
In my own college, which is one of the best arts colleges in Gujarat, the SK Arts College, the principal urged me to take Environmental Science classes. I asked him as to where should I hold the class; this is also a compulsory subject for all the students in the second semester. The principal suggested that we could use the hall which has a seating capacity of 735 people.
One class, all students and the technical requirements are met for the compulsory subject! I objected saying that it will be a sabha (community gathering) rather than a class. The principal supported his stand by mentioning that the college doesn’t have enough professors to take division-wise class. This is the agony students and teachers are faced with in several colleges and universities across Gujarat.
In the current scenario, the condition of a principal or VC is reduced to that of a clerk. In a meeting with the higher education commissioner, I said:
“What is left with a university now? First, you decide how many classes are to be taken in which stream, how many classes are to be taken in Chemistry, Hindi and Economics etc. Second, you decide how to appoint professors and also how much to be taught to students. No value of university is left anymore. So, the higher education commissioner can put their own stamp and distribute certificates.”
This point is important because the higher education commissioner and education minister in Gujarat has sent circulars to all the colleges mentioning various ministers’ itinerary and expecting the presence of the students for the same. In this aspect, the work of the NSS project officers become restrictive and specific.
Prof Hemantkumar Shah
This is happening even at the national level and is named as ‘development in education’. Education today is being used for political benefits by the political class in colleges and universities, and among students and teachers there is very little or no room to dissent.
In Gujarat, across the state, there is an atmosphere of fear; schools, colleges, school teachers and university/college professors are all sensing it. The present state doesn’t allow anyone to speak or write. Doing so means getting restricted – and these restrictions applies in other aspects of life.
For instance, when I wrote a column in the second largest daily newspaper in Gujarat, ‘Sandesh’, that column itself was blocked by instructions given by the then state home minister, who is now heading BJP at the national level. I had basically written that universities are for students and teachers and not for the government.
---
*Professor of economics, Gujarat University; this is the text of the testimony by Prof Shah  at the People’s Tribunal on Attack on Educational Institutions in India. Click HERE for proceedings of the tribunal and other testimonies in the report "Indian Campuses Under Siege" 

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