Research is an act of rigorous academic commitment, which must be guided by the spirit of academic freedom, and in which the researcher’s right to ask pertinent questions that may disrupt the various power structures that mark our times should not be limited.
The UNESCORecommendation on the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel‘He declared, in 1997, that higher education institutions, particularly universities, are communities of scholars who preserve, disseminate and freely express their views on traditional knowledge and culture, and seek new knowledge unrestricted by established doctrines. These ideals of freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression are the cornerstones of committed research in any society.
Recently, a circular issued by the vice chancellor The Central University of Kerala made visible some of the flaws that mark the future of academic freedom and dedicated research in our country. The circular contained problematic clauses stating that research at the university should be conducted according to “national priorities”, that research in “irrelevant areas” no longer had to be promoted, and that the faculty would draw up a list of projects from which Prospective research scholars will be asked to choose their research topics.
Central Kerala University Circular by Tech2 on Scribd
Because I resigned
Being a member of the Board of Studies at the same university, a circular like this, which is detrimental to the prospects for free and academic research, struck me as appalling, made me register my protest for resign from the board. With my act of resignation, I wanted to draw attention to the many dangers that are latent in rules like this, in the hope that higher education will become a matter of public debate.
The decision on the part of the University to implement a request limiting prospective research to select areas that are in accordance with “national priorities” is highly hostile to the purpose of higher education in public universities. At a time when there is much debate about government attempts to restrict free speech cases that articulate dissent in different ways, such a move must be understood with great caution.
Highly anti-democratic and restrictive, the clauses in the circular remind the discerning reader of the kinds of restrictions that are generally imposed in dictatorial regimes. This even feels like the basis for a change to such a disciplinary regime, if that change has not already occurred. It was equally alarming that very few voices responded to this, and that many didn’t seem to have a problem with it.
Who determines “national priorities”?
It can be said that the use of the term “national priorities” in itself is problematic within academics, since it limits the autonomy of the researcher and compromises the ethics that should form the basis of any academic endeavor. Many of us who work in the Indian university system, lately, have been alarmed by the structural and ideological changes that have spread throughout the academic world. In several universities, there have been attempts to suppress acts of dissent, acts of freedom of expression and protests of different kinds. In such a context, the smooth acceptance of “national priorities” should be questioned, especially when asking questions such as who can decide the nation’s priorities.
The nation is made up of hundreds of regions, ethnicities and linguistic groups. The idea of the nation is further complicated because we live in a time when the nation, in a sense, is trying to create anti-national individuals by virtue of what they believe, what they eat, and what they eat. think. A circular stating that the investigation can only be carried out in accordance with national priorities must be countered and rejected for these multiple reasons.
The circular must be fiercely contested.
While the proposed order is intended to discourage research in “irrelevant areas,” in effect, the order will act as a buffer that prevents highly valuable research on issues of criticism and dissent from finding a voice within the academic portals of a university. The very notion of defining the relevance of research in terms of national interest is something that should be strongly questioned. Some of the interesting research at the University of Kerala, for example, focuses on highly specific fields such as Kerala modernity or 19th century sartorial politics in Travancore. Such works analyze various pertinent aspects of Kerala’s past, such as the fact that the saree was never really Kerala’s dress, or that there were women who did not cover their upper bodies at one point in history.
Would such research, which explores the entire debate on gender and dress in ancient modern Kerala, be relevant in the national context? Who says if it is irrelevant? It was recently news that NCERT has deleted a chapter. at the Chest Cloth Revolt in Kerala, a momentous moment in Kerala’s past, where women marched for their right to cover their upper body. Whether they are not comfortable with the word “breast” being printed in the textbook, or they are ashamed of a past in which women did not cover their breasts, those ridiculous reasons are not an excuse to authorize a act that will finally end up erasing the particular stories of the genre in a region.
What should be noted here is that the Breastcloth Revolt, or the Channar Revolt, has very crucial pointers to the histories of rebirth and modernity in Kerala, and is an indispensable chapter in the past of gender and caste in the region. When a national board takes it away, calling it irrelevant, it amounts to a conscious erasure of specific stories, alerting us to who gets to decide what is relevant or irrelevant.
The freedom to choose is at stake.
Academics should inculcate spaces that are democratic and inclusive, rather than instructing researchers to stop at the eccentricities of regressive regimes. What often strikes me from a teacher is that each generation of students I teach is brighter than the last. When a university positions itself as the authority that can decide what is relevant and irrelevant in research, and when it tells students to conform to a predetermined notion of relevance, in a sense, they are trying to pigeonhole the next generation, limiting their Vision and hindering their right to choose. It resembles the rebirth of feudal structures, where a few decided what the role of everyone else in society should be.
IISER Pune students. Image: Twitter
A university that makes such undemocratic research assumptions implies that boys and girls who are old enough to vote are not capable of critical thinking. They are questioning the values, logic and fundamental principles of democracy, making our academic institutions the most exclusive space. Decisions like this run the risk of removing the political margin from public universities, which have historically been bastions of protest against authoritarian and fascist regimes.
Some of the commenters considered similarly damaging logic on the issue that held that if a student’s research is funded by taxpayer money, then they should listen to the taxpayer. Nothing could be more regressive than this. Leaving the contributors, Isaac Newton would never have sat dreaming under a tree and discovered the theory of gravity as a result. But modern scientific theories don’t seem to matter much as far as contributors are concerned these days, many have blatantly argued that all the science India needed was in the ancient Vedic texts.
The dangers of corporate interests trying to regulate research.
It is equally worrisome that the spirit of higher education in our country is being increasingly subsumed by the interests of neoliberalization, privatization and corporatization. In general, the market model has also entered the sphere of education. In such a context, authoritarian attempts to define the contours of the investigation could risk corporate interests trying to regulate what the investigation goes into and what doesn’t. Such dictations can have serious consequences for research in all disciplines, including the sciences, but they will affect the arts, humanities and social sciences much more.
These disciplines give space to fields of research that are subversive, the study of caste being the best example. An academic take on the Dalit movement is also an attempt to record a particular narrative, a discourse, which is silenced in the course of history. At Kerala University, topics such as Ambedkarism and Dalit politics are therefore an integral part of the curricula, and there is vibrant research on caste-related topics. It was recently reported in the news that protests from students were made at other universities who were denied the right to research on similar topics. Such matters need to be treated with great vigilance.
If opposing the right to freedom of expression was political, I was political
My resignation was prompted by the fact that I did not want to be part of any power structure that limits freedom of thought, the right to ask questions, the right to disagree, the right of a young student to choose what to study instead of studying. . Of something that is predetermined. Many of these motives were viewed as “political” by commentators.
If opposing the right to free speech was political, I was too. If defending a student’s right to dissent and criticize is political, he was being political. By politics, if they meant any of these things, I’m proud to be a politician.
Politicians like Rahul Gandhi and Shashi Tharoor have responded to the problem, clarifying their position. The Chief Minister of Kerala also stated that he intended to convey that the research should be useful to the common man and that it was not among his intentions to make judgments on the relevance of the research but on the need to conduct various types of research.
After a public debate began on the research issue, one of the national newspapers reported that the DHR has denied giving such instructions to the universities. If that is true, then it is inevitable to ask where a circular of this type originates from. Now that the MHRD has also declared that they were not part of said directive, it is time for the circular to be withdrawn. If that is done, it would be a great triumph for the spirit and values of democracy and free thought in India.
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