The Centre is seeking to establish complete control of higher education through the new National Education Policy (NEP), several academics said at a convention in Kolkata on Wednesday.
R. Mahalakshmi, a professor at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the threat from the NEP emanates from the fact that it is premised on a biased and exclusionary approach.
This exclusionary approach seeks to otherise and this otherisation culminates in bigotry, said the JNU professor.
“The instance of a Railway Protection Force (RPF) constable shooting three Muslim passengers to death on a moving train is an insidious outcome of this divisive mindset that is being foisted on us,” she said at the National Convention on Higher Education: Crisis and Challenges, held at University Institute Hall, off College Street.
Gaurav Vallabh, a professor at XLRI, Jamshedpur, said the bigotry has spread so far and wide through “WhatsApp university” that a time has come when the Union government should think of a National Brotherhood Policy, junking the NEP.
Yogendra Yadav, a former member of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and a political commentator, said the Union government was trying to control campuses through concepts like the NEP because they want to “capture the idea”.
Yadav said: “The real crisis is a new hegemonic empire that is being foisted on us. You acquire hegemony not through army or coercion, you acquire hegemony by capturing ideas.”
Resistance to “this control of the idea”, he said, has to come from the campuses.
“The NEP talks about ‘Bharatiyakaran’. Now what is this ‘Bharatiyakaran’ actually? It is obvious that what we are looking at is the communalisation of education at the core. ‘Bharatiyakaran’ is not about India, the Indian knowledge system, the attainments in the field of knowledge through Indian history, from the ancient past through the medieval period into the modern period, but focuses specifically on the ancient period…. This needs to be called out as communalisation, rather than seeing it as idiosyncrasies,” Mahalakshmi said.
She sought to argue that this attempt at communalisation through education creates a mindset that, in turn, leads to an environment where an RPF jawan does not hesitate to kill passengers because of their religious identity.
“It is also the reason why today on a train somebody picks up a gun and shoots passengers because they do not fit with the idea of Bharat that this person carries in his head. All of these are linked to the kind of education that we are offering. Therefore, when we talk about the challenges in higher education, we cannot de-link it,” Mahalakshmi said.
Vallabh said: “The biggest challenge before us, and I always say this, is that the National Educational Policy should have one chapter: on how to unlearn national WhatsApp University messages because that is creating the biggest damage to us. What kind of education and crisis we are talking about when a so-called educated person on a moving train sees the Aadhaar card and sees that he is from a different religion and shoots him. Forget about the NEP, we need NBP — National Brotherhood Policy.”
Bengal education minister Bratya Basu said the crisis in Bengal’s higher education stemmed from the Bengal governor’s attempt to establish his hegemony on campus by appointing VCs without consulting his department.
The convention was hosted by a platform of former vice-chancellors of Bengal’s state-aided universities.