Post Mortem

Dystopian: Freedom of thought and expression under siege

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 3/20/2021 1:09:05 PM IST

 Education is the base that lays the foundation for any society. Education is vital for a country to grow and prosper. If a society is educated, then all other aspects of the society will function in healthier ways. An educated society forms the present and future destiny of a country. And so, education plays the vital role in any society. By saying this, I’m not referring to literacy i.e. reading, writing and arithmetic (3 R), but education. And so, education is different than 3 R.

Education is for life that enables us to know about the world in which we live and the world around us. Education enhances our critical inquiry thereby pushes us to ask questions. Education is not banking-type, but creates critical awareness, leading to action-reflection-action process. Therefore, education is a process that offer tools to enlarge human potentials and capabilities for betterment and well-being of humanity at large.

Education inculcates, imparts and strives for better governance, citizenry and values promoting common good. Education in sum should enable us to transform us and the world around us.   Education has a purpose, an agenda, and a perspective. Hence, education is complex and reformatory. In such a complex scenario, education can be described in many ways. There is no one definition, but many, but converges on the key word ‘transformation’.

People look at education from their own standpoints and perspectives. Education is viewed by philosophers of education in many ways. On the one hand, education is a socializing activity, organized, funded, and regulated by authorities who set a curriculum managed (or changed) in the classroom by teachers. While on the other, education is a social experience for tens of millions of students who come to class with their own dreams, and agendas, sometimes cooperating with and sometimes resisting the intentions of the school and the teacher.  

While conceptualizing, articulating and translating education we come into conflict and thus clash with others in terms of philosophic- ideological frameworks. Conflicts are bound to arise because we are dealing with concepts, theories, and ideas and all these resonates our value premises and perspectives. However, the purpose of education is transformation through the development of human beings as members of society. 

Education is not to turn humans to machines who can be used as instruments in the expansion of the economy and wealth alone.It is to turn out men and women who have the know-how and ability to expand and transform all facets for the benefit of all. Education as we move to higher levels it should help the learners to enter into critical inquiry leading to creative application. Therefore, education basically is to enable learners’ critical consciousness and to act creatively to the world they live and the world around them.

A glimpse into the third decade of the 21st Century posits that we are plunged into dystopia characterized by human misery, vengeance, ego clashes, suppression, detention, arrests, intimidation, false accusations, suppression of freedom of expression and many others. The State via the Government of India (GOI) is gradually tightening its noose. A classic example is Ashoka University, one of India’s premier institutions that hit the headlines some time ago following the resignations of noted economist Arvind Subramanian.

Few days ago, Ashoka University hit the headlines as Pratap Bhanu Mehta, tendered his resignation. Responding to Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation, Arvind Subramanian said it was “ominously disturbing” that it could “no longer provide a space for academic expression and freedom”, and the disclosure of Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s letter to the vice-chancellor earlier, he wrote, “After meeting with the founders, it has become abundantly clear to me that my association with the university may be considered a political liability.”

Mehta, a newspaper columnist and public intellectual, also told Vice Chancellor Malabika Sarkar in his letter, “My public writing in support of a politics that tries to honour constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens is perceived to carry risks for the university.” “It is clear it is time for me to leave Ashoka,” he wrote. Continuing further, “A liberal university will need a liberal political and social context to flourish. I hope the university will play a role in securing that environment.”

Quoting Nietzsche “no living for truth is possible in a university”, he hoped that his prophecy would not become true in this case. But said “In light of the prevailing atmosphere, the founders and the administration will require renewed commitment to the values of Ashoka and new courage to secure Ashoka’s freedom.” 

Another parallel example is Arvind Subramaniam, a renowned economist who was the chief economic advisor to Modi during his first terms happened to be a teaching faculty had to resign from Ashoka University some time ago who in his letter to Sarkar, said, “The circumstances involving the ‘resignation’ of Professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who is not just dear friend but a truly inspirational national figure, have devastated me.” 

Adding further, “I am acutely aware of the broader context in which Ashoka and its trustees have to operate, and have so far admired the University for having navigated it so well. But that someone of such integrity and eminence who embodied the vision underlying Ashoka, felt compelled to leave is troubling … Ashoka – with its private status and backing by private capital – can no longer provide space for academic expression and freedom is ominously disturbing. Above all, that the university’s commitment to fight for and sustain the Ashoka vision is now open to question makes it difficult for me to continue being part of Ashoka.” 

The university faculty in a statement addressed to Sarkar and the chairman of the board of trustees Ashish Dhawan on the 18th March, 2021, said Mehta’s “departure … raises urgent questions about the university’s commitment to academic freedom as well as its internal processes … It seems quite plausible that his resignation was a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government. We are greatly troubled by this scenario. Even more troubling is the possibility that our university may have acceded to pressure to remove Prof Mehta or to request, and accept, this resignation …”

This is how a fascist state employs its brute force on the public and organic intellectuals. History informs us that totalitarians show their intolerance against those who write and express their views. The state would employ its apparatus to silence the critics and public intellectuals. Sometimes it could go to any extent of terminating those who speak or write against it.This trend we have been witnessing since Modi-01 to the present vis-à-vis Modi-02. 

BJP-ruled state governments as well as the government at Centre are equipped with brute power. They are equipped with apparatus and so whenever attacked they tend to unleashbrute force against those who defy their narratives, politics and programs. Across the country those institutions that have faculty and students who question the politics of majoritarian, lawspromulgated against the farmers and citizenship amendment act, rip opens religious fundamentalism, violating fundamental rights and exposing the fake narratives are under attack.

There are many organic scholars and intellectuals in the student and faculty like Arvind Subramaniam, Mehta continue to dare the nefarious designs of the governments -- states and the Centre. Clamping and throttling freedom of expressions by all means be defied, since it is our constitutional and fundamental rights. Though majority have fallen to the dictates of the State, there are a few who  stand for freedom in thought and expression.

Dr. John Mohan Razu

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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