At JNU, all that is beautiful and “solid has melted into the air”…

A faculty member’s open letter to the vice-chancellor

Saitya Brata Das | July 20, 2017


#JNU   #education   #HRD ministry   #Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar  


Dear “Professor” Vice Chancellor, 
 
When the clamour is made all around us, and rightly so, about the condition of growing degeneration of quality education in the higher institutions of learning in our country, you have justly – for which you must be praised – taken up the messianic responsibility, in a heroic manner, to rescue “quality education” from its shipwreck. How can a colleague, fortunate that one is to be your colleague, not praise you for your mission of life?: that is, to contribute to the social welfare, to the human resources of the nation (the third or second biggest democracy in the world), to make the already great university like JNU at par with the best universities in the world for which it is necessary, so you think, to raise the bar even higher (for your colleagues to be promoted to professor, for example, which is just one example among many). 
 
These are all beautiful things, beautifully beautiful things to be realised, and thanks that you have spent last one and half year of your life in JNU in thinking and realising these beautiful things that we see in your very being and very acts. Your colleagues and students, ungrateful and unthought that they are, have condemned you, filed many petitions in the court against you, but alas, nobody has publicly praised you, let alone calling you “Yog Purush” which you rightly deserve! However, I have a few little remarks to make. Since you don’t like to meet your colleagues nor am I being an authority like you to use up public taxpayers’ money to spend on lawyers in the court, I have no other way but to take recourse to this open letter to you. I hope you will read this letter (since you have never replied my official letters, I presume you have never read them).
 
I have known and been associated with this university for nearly two decades now, first as a student and then as a faculty, and I have never seen the university in such a degenerate condition as now. The question that is to be asked, which is the question par excellence, is: why now? Especially now when the administrative head of the institution heroically and messianically – with a team of worldly wise intellectuals to support him – is trying to uplift it even higher to the sky (like the Tower of Babel?)? This is the question you yourself, even more than anyone else, ought to be asking: why this university now, which was blooming with youthful energy of students and promising teachers – an oasis in our national life – suddenly has sunk, under your very leadership, into the graveyard of intellect? It is the fundamental question that neither you nor I, or anyone of this nation can evade responding to it: your uplifting, in just little more than one year’s time, has shipwrecked this beautiful university which has otherwise helped flourish, in numerous ways, the spiritual-intellectual life of this country for decades. Everybody is shocked, aghast, and anguished at what is happening just in front of their eyes: an oasis turned to ruins, a beautiful garden suddenly demolished and made into the graveyard of intellect. You have been staying for long just on the opposite side of the university gate before you entered: haven’t you noticed this horrible site, so painful to bear, this site of ruins and graveyards with wreckages and garbage all piling up all around in the campus now in just more than a year? An institution takes decades, sometimes even a century, to be built up, and it takes just a year to turn it into a graveyard! 
 
It is now good time to ask a question to you, the question that better be asked by yourself to yourself (since you don’t ask yourself, I take this chance to ask you): is there something wrong in your messianism and heroism? Maybe it is not at all a messianism but precisely is its exact opposite? 
 
Kindly don’t misunderstand me. I do not have much of regret that I am not promoted to be professor, despite knowing that you have found me unsuitable on a ground that does not exist in any rule book (neither in UGC notification nor in JNU Acts and Ordinances), and despite knowing that you have still promoted others who also have no such ground (you have promoted a faculty member who does not have any PhD supervision at the time of promotion). I am also not carrying any bad will against you despite knowing that this is completely unethical and unjust, and is a blatant and condemnable discrimination of me. But this irony is precisely the truth that gives us the horror: while a dalit is soon going to be the president of India, another dalit is discriminated against: it exhibits, more than ever before, that the millennium-long caste discrimination has now become very smart, so smart that even the president of the country is not spared! What to expect from you, dear “professor” vice-chancellor? 
 
To come back to the fundamental question: why is it that the little oasis in an immense country which was blooming only a little while ago, has suddenly turned itself into ruins? It is the question that neither me nor you can escape, for it concerns this entire country and beyond it. The life of a nation, without spirit and intellect, is no life but a cage or a factory (which is the same!), for spirit is the foundation of life, and that is why, poets and philosophers and scholars are the inaugurators of history and are its consummate fullness. I understand that you, coming from Electric Engineering background, will not understand these words that sound like jargon. But these words convey the very truth of the university: that by definition, by its very axiomatic presence, the university is universal in spirit, and can never serve the narrow interests of a parochial nationalism represented by a hegemonic regime. That is why it is absolutely essential that a scholar and intellectual – that yourself are as much as I am – be away from the princes of the world, from the powers of the emanate from the hegemonic regimes at place. 
 
Now this is precisely the answer to that fundamental question: by your very intimate association with the princes of the world, you have distorted the very messianic task that you have given yourself. It only shows that truth that is difficult to agree: the administrative head of the university does not know what the university is, and confuses it with an industry of mechanical (or electrical, if you like) knowledge production that serves the interests of the state from which the dominate class always profits. The task of the university is, unlike what you think as “industry” (this is your word), creative production of thinking that critically engages the fundamental questions of existence, whether social or individual, that go beyond the closures of hegemonic nationalism, and it is this critical thinking that keeps the very national life alive, open to its historical future, and nourishes its intellectual-existential foundation. This is the contribution of the university which the administrative head of the university must cultivate: the spirit of creative thinking that is irreducible to technical apparatus of domination. 
 
Unfortunately, you know absolutely nothing of this, absolutely nothing! Instead foregrounding this as your task and allow the university to grow even higher than where we are now, what we see right from the first page of our university website (where your photographs are everywhere), a factory in becoming, a big mechanical-bureaucratic apparatus of domination. I don’t need to cite the examples innumerable breaking of rules (the refusal of my promotion is just one of them) under your establishment, promoting extremely mediocre people while harassing and intimidating colleagues who are well renowned for scholarly works, and everything else that is leading the university to its utter annihilation so much so that every day when I come to my office, it feels like a graveyard. All that is beautiful and solid, as Marx put it, has melted into the air! And for all this, the judgment is upon the self-proclaimed Messiah whose messianic task has gone all wrong. Instead of taking the university forward, your false messianism has taken the university at least a hundred years backward. 
 
Your beloved colleague.
 

Das teaches literature and philosophy at JNU.                 
 
 
                      
 
 

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