Are Students at their Work? Prashant Kumar


Students who are protesting across the country are being charged that they are not doing what they are supposed to do. What I understand this charge say is that they are not doing their “duties” or fulfilling their “responsibilities” as a student. I seriously doubt thislimited understanding of being a “student”. To say this, I feel an intellectual burden to explicate what it means to be a student. I will argue that these students are also the one who, contrary to the charge, does their “duties” and carries out their “responsibilities”.

Generally speaking, anyone who tries to learn and reflect upon what he learnt can be considered as a student. However, one becomes a student technically when he does this job within an academic institution. In this sense, studentship is a job to get mature with the help of institutional academic training(s) as well as reflecting back on these. Maturity, as I discern, is nothing but to understand the real meaning of a world, and act according to this apprehension. In this sense, understanding and acting go together. Lack of one will categorically destruct the purpose of a student.

There is one more aspect of this maturity with relation to, what Kant terms, enlightenment. Kant establishes the motto of enlightenment in terms of sapereaude – have courage to use your own understanding. Here, “use” is nothing but acting on these understandings. In this sense, maturity and enlightenment is closely connected; the students’ job, in order to become mature and enlighten, is to express their understanding where this understanding is nothing but the real/unconcealed meaning of a phenomenon/world. “Phenomenon” is used here to just show that we are not always concerned about the metaphysical questions of world, but most of the time we are dealing events in a world (I am not using “the world” because it is logically incoherent to have this idea. (See, Markus Gabriel’s Why the World does not Exist).

One question can be raised regarding my use of “real” and that would be a philosophical question. What do you understand by realmeaning? In this short description of the job of studentship, this would be impossible to establish a positive description of what I understand by “real”. However, I extend my view regarding this negatively. Most of our experiences are just visible pictures where we assign certain meaning to them. To get the real meaning of the phenomenon, we have to reject the contradictory positions, and the remaining possibilities we are left with would be real meaning of the phenomenon. In this sense, we will be negating the paradoxical position(s) that will help us to dive in-between of this/these, and get the hidden meaning lying behind the empirical evidences. Of course, this demands a rigorous and careful analysis of the phenomenon.

“Modern” people led by technological advances ask the question – what is wrong in understanding any phenomenon which is encountered perceptually? We are perfectly capable of to demonstrate whatobviously there is. Making a claim about any perceptual phenomenon, say five different objects are lying in my reading desk, is quite clear to us, and it is very obvious. What “modern” people call obvious, I am calling vague, and because of this vagueness we have to peel off the lies coated through statements to hide the real intentions. What is looking so obvious, namely, “five” “different” “objects” “lying on desk” is no obvious when we embark in an enquiry where our sole purpose is to understand them. What is “five”? Whether it exists or not? How do things get differentiated? How can we call a same object identical to itself? These kinds of question make this simple and obvious statement more complex and vague. To make it more precise and simple is a job of a student.

Before I go on delineating other aspects of a student, let me state the earlier points clearly. They are following –

  1. The objective of a student is to get mature and enlighten.
  2. The means to get this objective, is to understand the real meaning of any phenomenon i.e. social reality, political event, philosophical concepts and so on.
  3. Acting upon this understanding which includes speaking and explicating with courage. This also consists of other people to whom it is being explicated. In this sense, audience, who is the people of the world, is directly connected to student’s job.
  4. Elucidating the understanding means making obvious things more simple, precise and definite.
  5. The method to attain this would be a rigorous and careful analysis of any phenomenon, and expressing in the same manner.

Let us go back to my first line where I described the condition of an academic student implicitly. His intellectual nurturing is brought out in an academic institutional atmosphere. The maturity of a student will be enriched through a healthy institutional environment, and to understand what a “healthy environment” is, would be a result of careful reflection on this/these institutions. If this premise is valid, the objective to understand the real meaning is “healthy academic institutional environment”.

Let us embark to understand what it looks like to call any academic institutional atmosphere as “healthy academic institutional environment” (henceforth HAIE). Environment is considered as the totality of surrounded conditions. These surrounded conditions, when they get attached to institutions, are prepared by a particular people/a group of people in order to ensure a certain purport. However, these conditions must not violate the fundamental rights (equality, freedom, against exploitation, education, constitutional remedies) of a global citizen.

When we attach “academic” to our phrase “institutional environment, it allows us to enquire about these surrounded conditions theoretically to attain a certain objective of an institution where fundamental rights are preserved. If we find any inconsistency or disparity in these, we propose our ideas/views to reimagine, rethink and reformulate to preserve the objective. This can only be possible if we have audacity to express them (Revisiting Kant’s notion of enlightenment).

If we have to call this whole environment as healthy, all activities of the institution must function normally without any hindrance. For academics, freedom of speech while having the courage to accept that even one can be wrong is the essential component which can make this whole environment healthy. Here, wrongness will be decided in terms of the objective of an institution which may be reimagined if we find any disparity in it.

Rephrase it, HAIE is where each individual of an institution gets the free space to express one’s view/ideas/opinions to attain the objective (maturity and enlightenment) while maintaining the fundamental rights of human being. If any kind of actions/events/policy tries to destroy this HAIE, we can analyse those huddles and present them to everyone concerned to this, and categorically reject them (If we will not reject that, our objective as a student would never be accomplished). In this manner, our job, as a student, would also be to attain the objective of an institution. I remind you again if the objective of an institution even goes against to HAIE, we have to reimagine that.

Let us consider the case of our university, Jawaharlal Nehru University, from the point of the objective of it. Nehru imagined university in these terms – “A university stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of the ideas, and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the university discharges their duty adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people.” The understanding of Nehru about university goes hand to hand with what I called HAIE.

In addition to this, JNU’s environment was/is (I am not sure about “will be”, but our strive will always to maintain its HAIE) always like, what I lately explained, HAIE. To make it more humanistic, it prepared its policies in such a way, so each of citizen from any background can join it. Every citizen, at least in principle, has the opportunity to join this university because of its rational and all-inclusive admission policies. Even if someone is deprived of certain material or abstract means, university policies promise them to judge on their level by the introduction of deprivation point. I could not help but remember Einstein’s famous statement, that is, “if you judge a fish by its capability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”. This university judges the students from their understanding, their capability, their engagement with problems and their solutions. This will give the courage to student think differently, therefore, allows the possibility to have a democracy in ideas.

We, students of JNU, are always being charged to ask for freedom/Aazadi. I remember Rosa Luxemburg’s understanding of freedom to which I am sympathetic to, that is, “freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently”. As I earlier demonstrated how university admission policies allow the students from the outset to think differently. In Nehru’s word, for the adventure of ideas with tolerance and in pursuit of truth. If these are our benchmarks, freedom will always be our priority which is indispensable to accomplish student’s objective. But I remind you again, it is the betterment for the human race as Nehru puts it. Enough for this question!

Until we do not get HAIE, we lack the space where the job of a student can be carried out. If we have to ensure our tasks, and we are serious about it, we can never accept any kind of disturbance in HAIE. Secondly, even it is under the domain of student’s task to consider how HAIE should be. It is because maturity of an academic student depends upon the institutional training, and an open and critical attitude can only lead us to achieve the objective of a student. Therefore, student’s jobis to reassure the HAIE because the objective of a student can only be attained if he gets HAIE.

We are encountering many phenomena that is against HAIE. Firstly, courage (9th Feb incident, FIR against students, Najeeb’s disappearance, rustication of students and so on) and freedom (Teach this, think in this way, do not speak like that, vulgar comments and of course, by force) were attacked which are nothing but the main pillars of HAIE. Secondly, surveilling over the events in JNU, and the proposed idea to put CCTV camera’s all over the premises are to emphasis the attack on courage and freedom. Thirdly, sending notices to any of the endorsed member of the university on anything (literally anything). Fourthly, classifying the space where you can speak or cannot, where you can extend your dissent and where you cannot, and thus creating a boundary which is against HAIE. Therefore, it poisons HAIE. Lastly (there are many, but let me focus on significant one), the all-inclusive admission policy.

Recall when I was saying how policies of JNU opens up the gate for all the citizen of India by providing deprivation point. It is, now, under the attack. Administration manipulates us and the people of India by saying that they will not hamper this special clause. I afraid to ask, how, Sir! At what level you are going to introduce this?

Additionally, objective paper has been proposed the main and qualifying step to come to JNU. I just want to draw your attention towards the debate between social fact and natural fact. Social facts are not fact of sciences where you can seek causes and determine the effect. In social facts, there are perspectives/reasons/intentions which cannot be put objectively. If this is the case, making objective criteria for students of social sciences and other disciplines which share same criteria would be absurd. Secondly, you will be judging each of us on the same ground without considering the plurality of material conditions of us; judging a fish by his capability to climb. Thirdly and most significant, it closes the possibility for the many citizen who belongs to different social background, deprived areas, hence disturbs the space of plurality of the experienced ideas.

Seat-cut is another issue (the introduction of this policy is a different issue though an important one). Everyone, now, knows the implication of this policy. JNU will not take any students in most of the centres in many years to come and in some other departments the number of intakes is negligible. Imagine a university where students are not allowed to enter!I was walking down to KC, and heard a “reason” (I will not even consider that as a reason) that there are 200 positions to fill in JNU. On an average, 800 seats would be there. Seats of the professors, firstly, will not be divided equally. So, it might be the case that there will literally no seats in some departments. Secondly, assume that you manage somehow in this year. But what about next year, Sir? Will there be again 200 posts in JNU? I seriously doubt on that.

I will not be explicating all the implication arises from this policy which are completely against the HAIE. The point, here, is to show how certain activities have acerbatedthe whole academic environment. Parallel to this, it is even not with the Nehru’s understanding of the university. How are these policies humanistic? What kind of truth are you searching through/in these policies? How can there be any adventure ofideas if there is monologue only? This demonstration clearly shows how certain actions and irrational reaction on those actions, immature policies and certain attacks on student(s) have disturbed the HAIE.

In response to this, students have presented their views regarding the whole matter to maintain HAIE. When their voices/opinions were not heard, they had chosen a peaceful means of protest to extend their dissent. Many formal and informal write up had/are carried/carrying out in order to show the real intention behind this whole phenomenon. They have demonstrated the close relationship between these policies and HAIE in the public. In order to hold HAIE, members of this institution, and in the larger picture, and of the other institution(s), have taken many appropriate steps to preserve HAIE.

 As we have already seen that upholding HAIE is a part of student’s job, and if there is any kind disturbance in HAIE, students should come up and make efforts to attain HAIE which falls under the domain of student’s job. It is noted lately that there are students (I afraid to say, “not all”) who are fighting to carry out the objective of the institution and maintain HAIE. Therefore, students who are protesting across the country are at their work.

3 thoughts on “Are Students at their Work? Prashant Kumar


    If concept of ‘ study ‘ is narrowed down to just mugging up what the rulers ask and regurgitate in the exams, society would not have progressed at all..! The process of learning invariably involves ( as educationists like John Dewey and his disciple Ambedkar opined) analysis of social realities scientifically. The ‘ social’ reality is caste discrimination, religious discrimination, gap between rich and poor, etc which provides ‘ conscious awareness’ to the person who is engaged in ‘ study’ or ‘ student’. This is precisely the hindutva forces are against.
    The manu order only allows control – of thought and body. It only allows ‘ rote’ teaching and ‘ rote’ learning. The present right wing rulers want just that ! Teach, Learn, Pass the exam and Find job. This is precisely required for upper – class because they need teachers to teach and learn and find job with merit certificate. The corporate industrialists are doing just that by campus recruitments from IITs and IIMs. They recruit the ‘ cream’ and leave others to struggle for government jobs.
    It is the lower – castes, the OBCs, the dalits and other marginalised sections including Muslims and handicapped ( who were not even considered for M Phil/ PhD) that are a headache to the ruling class. These sections have broadened the concept of ‘ study’ to include ‘ society and social consciousness’ which is causing chagrin to the upper castes.
    Therefore, they are resorting to violence to suppress the eruption of revolt by ironically stating that they are ‘ non- violent ‘ ! The self – contradictory nature of the rulers is exposed and even manu order may not save them.
    The struggle of the colleges teachers and students may be the only way to resolve the antagonistic contradiction

    1. Prashant Kumar

      Sir, I do agree what you had explicated above. Whenever we reflect back upon our understanding (understanding of a world), we find some state of affair(s) at present. There is one group who finds it beneficiary for them and there is another who are suppressed by the first group. The struggle is to change this particular state of affair. It becomes easier for the first group to crush the revolt of the other group because they handle the power and material conditions of both the groups. They can change it according to their benefits.

      The other group can also be, again, classified into two groups. One who does not have sufficient material condition and the other has at least some sufficient conditions (I will put students in that group). The first group always strive to change their material conditions because they think or they are forced to think that if material conditions will be changed, their “aim of life” can be achieved. If this kind of thinking is prominent in that group, they hardly are in a position to think beyond that. The second group which also includes students has the conditions and enough resources so they can think beyond the given status. The ruling class has a serious threat to these people simply because they THINK. Their whole job is to make the hidden intention explicit. This can only be done if one, including students, try to understand the “real” meaning of the world and put it forward in front of everyone. Additionally, they have to make other people think with some serious questions.

  2. Students are generally condemned for taking part in any political activity.That is why there are many universities in our country which do not allow elections to the student councils or other such bodies.Some well-meaning dignitaries and celebrities also subscribe to these views also.The simple answer to this objection is that it is the politics which determines the education policy .Naturally the students are directly effected by education policy.How can you deny this fact?Thus it is the students in the place who should have all the rights to participate in politics.Those who are opposing holding of elections in the educational institutions and denying the students to have their own representative voice in the matters of universities and colleges and other places higher learning will have to concede all rights to the students.It is only then the students would become responsible citizensAny efforts to oppose and suppress the students on this score will boomerang with disastrous consequences.

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