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Report provides testimonies of "systematic" onslaught on higher education in India

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By Anil Chaudhary*
The report “Indian Campuses Under Siege”, released by the People’s Commission on Shrinking Democratic Space in India (PCSDS) simultaneously nationwide from different states/regions, records the emerging trends in the educational institutions across the country and the situation of crisis faced in education. This is even more relevant in the context of the increased criminalisation and marginalisation of students in the last few years.
In the face of increasing attacks on democratic space including higher education institutions, students’ bodies, teachers and civil rights activists, a number of civil society organisations came together to form People’s Commission on Shrinking Democratic Space (PCSDS) in 2016.
PCSDS held its People's Tribunal on Attacks on Educational Institutions in India, where about 130 testimonies of students and faculty were received from close to 50 institutions and universities across 17 states in the country, of which 49 oral depositions were presented before a jury panel of eminent persons comprising Justice (Retd) Hosbet Suresh, Justice (Retd) BG Kolse Patil, Prof Amit Bhaduri, Dr Uma Chakravarty, Prof TK Oommen, Prof. Vasanthi Devi, Prof. Ghanshyam Shah, Prof. Meher Engineer, Prof. Kalpana Kannabiran and Pamela Philipose.
Seventeen experts made submissions before the jury panel on the thematic areas being, the impact of privatisation and globalisation of education, distortion of history and syllabus and saffronisation of education, student unions and elections on campuses, criminalisation of dissent and structural marginalisation in educational institutions based on caste, gender and sexuality, region and religion.
On the last day of the tribunal, an interim report was released by the jury panel, comprising their observations and findings based on these depositions. In the final report, the jury concludes that there has indeed been a systematic onslaught on the very idea of higher education in India.
The jury observed that the extreme and manifold crisis in higher education which has grown over the last few decades in India, and has got accentuated in the four years before the tribunal, under the current regime.
This is deliberate, since an educated citizenry can put questions to those who rule and is essential for the furthering and deepening of democracy. Hence, the crisis of education is not simply a crisis of education alone but a crisis of society itself.
Through the testimonies on privatisation and globalisation of education, the issues of withdrawal of the government from funding education, fee hikes, removal of financial aid to Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) students, and consequently, the denial of education to students from marginalised communities, granting autonomy to universities, self-financing courses, removal of scholarships and delays in scholorship and fellowship payments, centralization of admission process, the condition of state universities and colleges, among several other common and unique issues plaguing the higher education institutions in different parts of the country is brought to the fore.
The depositions on distortion of history and syllabus and saffronisation of education reveal the deepening presence of the Hindutva forces in campuses and the loss of independence of institutions responsible for curriculum building.
They record the spread of the Hindutva culture in campuses and through the syllabi and takeover and removal of secular cultures and truths. They also present the dismal state of autonomy in universities under the current regime, on account of the takeover of campuses by placing loyalists and the suppression of dissenting voices.
Several students and faculty have reported through their testimonies the how the whole process of elections is being undermined and influenced in favour of student unions like Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and rules only apply to other contesting students and not ABVP. The repression faced by student unions and associations and farcical process of conducting student elections is one of the major concerns.
One of the major trends that is revealed through the testimonies is the increase in crackdown on dissent and criminalisation of students in campuses across the country. Disturbing testimonies of extreme reprisals have been received from The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Delhi University, Jadavpur University, Allahabad University, Lucknow University, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University (BBAU), Punjab University, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Gauhati University and several others.
Dissenting students and faculty have been subjected to targeted attacks, even use of brute force. Use of criminal mechanisms to curb dissent has seen a startling increase, with sedition law, unlawful activities, rioting, arson and several charges being foisted on dissenters.
Students also presented painful accounts of marginalisation faced by them on Indian campuses on the basis of caste, gender and sexuality, language, region and religion. The increase in anti-SC/ST policies under the current dispensation has led to insecurity and increased marginalisation of the students from the communities, and their protests are met with severe reprisals.
Students challenging gender discrimination and sexism on campuses are also similarly targeted. Meanwhile, the educational institutions have failed to implement the legal provisions and policies in sexual harassment cases being reported on campuses. North-East and Kashmiri students reported the ‘othering’ and marginalisation, and in the case of the former, blatant racism on campus.
In the atmosphere of takeover of institutions by Hindutva forces and the communal rhetoric, Muslim students have been targeted and villified publicly, as communalism is on the rise in campuses as well as society.
The jury has expressed its serious concern on these multiple crises, which unless addressed, pose a profound danger not just to higher education in India but to the very fabric of Indian democracy.
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*Convener, PCSDS. Click HERE to download the report

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