Of Education and Democracy in India: Preeti Chauhan

This is a guest post by Preeti Chauhan Now that the cat is out of the bag and the four year undergraduate programme(FYUP) is being criticized and thereby being discussed threadbare by some of the leading scholars of the country, one needs to also think of its relationship with the current state of democracy in India. The manner in which FYUP is being pushed through crushes the very idea of a university and with it the ideals and ideas of democracy.

Even if one assumes and believes that the “Academic Congress” held last year in the University gave a go ahead to change the existing three year undergraduate programme to FYUP and frame courses accordingly, then also the way the University administration has functioned goes against the very values that the University of Delhi or for that matter any university is supposed to promote.

It is being repeated ad nauseum not only by Delhi university administration but now by the MHRD as well that wide consultations were done, all stakeholders were consulted and processes were followed without answering the numerous questions so poignantly raised by some of the best minds in Education in India: why was entry to the “Academic Congress” restricted, why were staff council resolutions and opinions not sought on this, why was no GBM on FYUP held in all departments? Why has no heed been paid to the resolutions sent by staff associations of around 32 colleges rejecting FYUP? Can anybody answer why the VC did not meet the agitating teachers when they sat on relay hunger strike for 53 days right in front of his office and why letters were sent off for deducting salaries of teachers who sat on strike taking leaves or even on gazetted holidays!

And now the VC has also reportedly told principals to announce in their colleges (it was announced in the staff council meeting of the college I teach in) that no staff association can send their resolutions or opinions against what the university is deciding and if they do, action would be taken against the office bearers and the teachers who sign on these resolutions. What can one read of this if not an open intimidation and coercion to say ‘yes’ or face the wrath? Does it not amount to threatening the teachers to be silent and let destruction be done? Nobody still knows how the ‘task force’ to frame FYUP was constituted. This is how the consultations and consensus about FYUP has been generated and it is with this thin a base of ‘consultation’ and ‘consensus’ FYUP is ready to be implemented in the coming session in Delhi University; a university having 17 faculties, more than 80 departments and 77 affiliated colleges. It does not need special intelligence to say that a university this big in size catering to lakhs of students from diverse backgrounds needs more than a year or two to think through the nature and content of academic reforms as well as kinds of courses being proposed. They cannot be made in a months’ time as has been done and on some non-verifiable grounds of future employability.

What is important to underline here is that this kind of behaviour, of flagrant violation of procedures, of not engaging in dialogue and debate, of threatening the dissenters is not new to our polity; the uniqueness of course is that it has now reached and penetrated the university. All these signs have been plaguing democracy in India for some years now where time and again policy decisions have been taken without consulting the people on whose name this democracy runs, where representatives of people behave as representatives of corporate houses promoting their interests, where bills are passed in parliament without discussions, where numbers have become synonymous with democracy. But alas, democracy cannot be reduced to majority rule and therefore the argument that the Academic council and the Executive council have passed the FYUP cannot be a mark of its righteousness. The constitution of AC and especially EC calls for reforms as EC is a nominated body except for two elected members from amongst the teaching community. And because no GBM’s or staff council meetings have taken place on FYUP, Heads of different departments and principals of colleges cannot claim to represent the consensus on FYUP in AC.

Democracy demands that even a lone voice be heard and registered and when so many teachers and scholars are raising the concerns on FYUP, Delhi University needs to pause and debate seriously. People who are proposing FYUP might have some arguments but they have barely been thrashed out in public with open mind of persuasion and reason. Such far-reaching changes in any democratic setup have to be brought through wider consultations and dialogue between people holding diverse opinions. It is not only about the haste with which FYUP is being pushed through but also about its usefulness in Indian setting. MHRD is putting the cart before the horse by saying that objections are being raised only at the speed with which FYUP is being implemented for one cannot predict the outcome of the debate and dialogue if at all FYUP is relooked at. This is but setting the agenda in favour of FYUP and presenting it as a fait accompli. The recent remarks by the MHRD that it is not in favour of intervention to halt FYUP and thereby setting a wrong precedent of interference in an autonomous institution is an oxymoron for such a big change overhauling and digressing from the existing national policy on education and that too in one of most reputed and biggest central universities of India cannot be but with the active backing of MHRD and the Central Govt.

Concerns voiced by well-meaning intellectuals and different sections of the teaching community ranging from the design of FYUP to the procedural lapses in constitution of syllabi designing bodies and the course content being insensitive towards different strata of the society including the differently abled points towards surreptitious character of the change being brought forth. The stop gap responses of the DU administration towards such suggestions as for instance dropping the nomenclature of the degrees to be awarded from Baccalaureate to Bachelors and Diploma further cements the perception that the change being proposed is little thought through and muddled. There are scores of such instances which can be chronicled and have been pointed out by many, the latest in series being a one day consultative meeting with the teachers on 12th May to fix the foundation courses. A day, and consultations and improvements in foundation courses seem to be over! That on that very day around same time a Delhi University Teacher’s Association(DUTA) GBM held in open in Ramjas College after being denied permission to use its auditorium, rejected the FYUP has not cut any ice with anybody in the university administration or the government speaks volumes about the disregard for any consultation with people having an alternative view on FYUP . This again confirms the ongoing trend of reducing the teachers, the most important link between students and education, to a voiceless agency made to carry out the ‘reforms’ being rolled out from above. It is also indicative of the larger environment of disdain towards trade union activism and their demands, which are mostly perceived as obstructionists than holding alternative notions of development and reforms.

True that change is resisted and is being resisted in this case as well but equally true is the fact that change which takes us backward to destroy an established public education institution like Delhi University needs to be resisted. Democracy and democratic systems and institutions might also need some ‘yes men and women’ for their functioning but they start malfunctioning with only a cacophony of these voices around. In other words, Democracy will die without debate, dissent and deliberations and so will Delhi University.

5 thoughts on “Of Education and Democracy in India: Preeti Chauhan”

  1. “Democracy will die without debate, dissent and deliberations and so will Delhi University.”

    Democracy does not thrive on debate dissent and deliberations. It thrives on the blood and sweat of those who keep autocracy at bay. So don’t mourn for democracy fight for democracy…. But for people who wants to be in the good books of autocrats can only shed crocodile tears for democracy.

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