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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 26, June 15, 2013

Of Education and Democracy in India: Linkages with Proposed Four Year Undergraudate Programme in Delhi University

Saturday 15 June 2013, by Preeti Chauhan

Now that the cat is out of the bag and finally the Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) is being criticised and thereby being discussed 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 the FYUP is being pushed through in the Delhi University 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 the go-ahead to change the existing Three Year Undergraduate Programme to the 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 the Delhi University administration but now by the MHRD as well that wide consultations were carried out, all stakeholders were consulted and procedures were followed without answering the numerous questions so poignantly raised by some of the best minds in education in India: why was the entry to the Academic Congress restricted, why were Staff Council resolutions and opinions not sought on this, why was no GBM on the FYUP held in all the departments? Why has no heed been paid to the resolutions sent by Staff Associations of around 32 colleges rejecting the FYUP? Can anybody answer: why did the VC not meet the agitating teachers when they sat on relay hunger strike for 53 days right in front of his office and why were letters sent off for deducting the 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 teachers who sign on these resolutions. What can one see in this? Is it 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 the FYUP was constituted.

This is how the consultations took place and consensus about the FYUP was generated, and it is with this thin base of ‘consultation’ and ‘consensus’ the FYUP is ready to be implemented in the coming session in the Delhi University, a university having 17 faculties, more than 80 departments and 77 affiliated colleges. It does not need special intelligence to conclude that a university this big in size and 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 the kind of courses being proposed. These 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 even 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 the AC and especially the EC calls for reforms as the EC is a nominated body except for two elected members from amongst the teaching community. And because no GBMs or Staff Council meetings have taken place on the FYUP, Heads of different Departments and Principals of colleges cannot claim to represent the consensus on the FYUP in the AC.

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

Concerns voiced by well-meaning intellectuals and different sections of the teaching community range from the design of the FYUP to the procedural lapses in the constitution of the syllabi designing bodies and the course content being insensitive towards different strata of the society, including the differently abled. These point towards the surreptitious character of the change sought to be enforced. 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 has not been well thought through and is muddled.

There are scores of such instances which can be chronicled and have been pointed out by many, the latest in the series being a one-day consultative meeting with the teachers on May 12 to fix the foundation courses. A day, and consultations and improvements in the foundation courses seem to be over! That on that very day around the same time a Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) GBM, held in the 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 the FYUP. This again confirms the ongoing trend of reducing the teachers, one of 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 obstructionist than holding alternative notions of development and reforms.

True, 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 educational institution like the 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 the Delhi University.

Preeti Chauhan is an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Lakshmibai College, University of Delhi.

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