Universities are considered the nurseries of young intellect. They are meant to be the dharmakshetra of talent to fuel the leadership of the future instead of a kuruskshetra of criminal forces. Parents consider educational institutions as the Arcadia of intellectual and athletic growth for their offspring to flourish. However, the horror stories that regularly come out of various campuses, colleges and even schools indicate that many of India’s hallowed teaching institutions are fast losing the tag of ‘temples of learning’ and are being transformed into houses of infamy.
Children are raped and murdered in schools. Young girls are molested on college campuses. Violent encounters placing life and limb in peril are frequent occurrences in many varsities across the country. Earlier, campuses were forums of idealistic revolt against an oppressive system or arenas of opinion, seeking better facilities and democratisation of academic administration. Now, a cabal of criminally minded youth with caste and political lineage are fast becoming the new symbols of perverse power. With little interest in academics, they dictate and dominate the atmospherics in a large number of educational institutions.
Last week, Banaras Hindu University (BHU), one of the country’s most prestigious Central universities, was in the news not for its academic excellence but for having become a dreaded playground for goons to stalk and molest students. When the victims and their supporters protested, they were treated not with balm but with batons. Police registered an FIR against 1,200 students, placing their professional future in jeopardy.
The kinetics of political power play often end in the perversion of social values. The BHU fracas became an opportunity to settle political scores instead of the authorities stepping in to diffuse the situation. The media and academic world trained their guns on Uttar Pradesh’s BJP CM Yogi Adityanath and Vice-Chancellor Girish Chandra Tripathi, who is accredited to the Sangh Parivar. Tripathi, of course, didn’t cover himself with glory when he spouted uncivilised remarks.
BHU is traditionally known for its sterling academic ethos and healthy political traditions. This time, however, the powers-that-be abjured treating the attack on female students as a negative attribute. The atmosphere has been vitiated by national politics turning into a virulent war of words between parties. Universities and colleges are victims of collateral damage. Criminal incidents within their precincts are being whitewashed with hollow definitions of ideology. If a student commits suicide in Hyderabad, mysteriously disappears from JNU or is assaulted in a college or school, there are always people or motivated NGOs around looking for an opportunity to turn the incident into a controversy to score brownie points.
For the past few years, most of the Indian universities and colleges are in the limelight for the wrong reasons. According to police sources, crimes inside campuses are growing faster than outside them. Since the police are not allowed to enter their premises without the permission of the vice-chancellor or college authorities, a large number of crimes against girls go unreported because the institution is afraid of political or caste reprisals.
Student politics is not new. It has always been a healthy part of the discourse in universities and colleges. In fact, half the Union Cabinet comprises persons who were active in university and college politics. So are the Opposition ranks. But none of them had acquired their political reputations through criminal conduct.
The dark side of Indian academia is that it is a graveyard of ambition and talent. In the absence of gainful employment opportunities, parents choose colleges and universities as parking lots for their children till the time they find an opportunity. Since Indian universities offer education at a relatively lower cost, both students with criminal backgrounds and meagre economic resources find their way into the institutions with the help of connections or caste credentials. And once they come across students from affluent backgrounds, violent class conflicts are almost a certain.
However, the degeneration of academic institutions owes much to their excessive commercialisation. With rising demand for college education, the ownership of universities, colleges and schools has moved from public to private. Over 60 per cent of such new institutions are owned by politically connected persons or those with dubious sources of income. Campuses are their source of making a quick buck while distributing favours in the form of admissions.
Uncountable professional and medical colleges have come up, lacking basic infrastructure. The absence of qualified faculty and the lack of vigorous scrutiny of the social credentials of students is a major cause for the criminalisation of the Indian education system. India has over 700 private and state-owned universities with 38,000 affiliated colleges enrolling more than 20 million students. Over 30 per cent of both of them are owned by corporate houses, political leaders or businessmen. It is a sad reflection on the colour of the money or the mindset of the administrators that none of the Indian universities find a place in the top 100 academic institutions of the world.
Moreover, Indian institutions have produced merely around two dozen world renowned scientists, economists, sociologists and corporate leaders. Fifty percent of the 1.30 million schools in the country are privately owned with little attention being paid to academic excellence and better facilities. Between 2010-11 and 2015-16, student enrollment in government schools across 20 states fell by 13 million, while private schools acquired 17.5 million new students, according to a new study. Schools in the urban areas, too, are hounded by criminals and staffed by sub-standard teachers and poorly-trained staff.
With education turning into primarily a profit-making business, academic ethics and discipline have lost all meaning. Global investors foresee India becoming the world’s biggest education market by 2025, since over 10 per cent of its population would be between 18 and 22 years old, when the teenage population seeks admission into colleges. Indians spend over $8 billion on sending their children abroad to study. Since the Central and state governments are unwilling to spend appropriately on primary or higher education barring the elitist IIMs and IITs, greedy middle-level entrepreneurs in small towns are opening up teaching shops. Not only are they able to manipulate officialdom to mutual profit, even the regulating agencies responsible for ensuring quality education and infrastructure have become their vassals.
As India moves towards the platinum jubilee of Independence, it faces the mammoth challenge of saving its educational edifice from the double whammy of dirty politics and criminal calamities. New India will remain an Utopian dream unless our schools, colleges and universities are allowed to perform their original karma of delivering leaders and visionaries to empower the nation instead of becoming havens for unscrupulous money-makers and career criminals.
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