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Friday 17 July 2015

Who Makes the University?



 ~By Kamran

I
The university space in India has had an inseparable connection with political struggles, but in recent times we see quicksilver decadence in this trend. Similarly, the factories and trade unions in most states of India, particularly Delhi, have seen a decline in political organization and strikes in the present. Is this a mere coincidence or is there an objective condition which ties the fate of the worker and the student together. We shall discuss this matter further in the second part of the article.

A recent scandal took place when certain student activists informed the general public of the fee hike at Hamdard University in Delhi, a minority-based institution. The students of the university had reported to the activists that the university increases the fee by some percent every year. The condition of the students at Hamdard University is also deplorable since there virtually no hostels, and the administration is overly authoritative thereby lessening the extent of liberty  by a great deal in the institution, and the brutal brunt is borne by the students as they are never permitted to register the complaints against the bureaucratic regime of the administration. Even the professors are not spared from the totalitarianism of the college authorities. We should stop for a moment to consider the notion of “college authority”. Who is the one presiding over all the activities of the college administration being responsible (or rather appointing themselves as responsible) for the way the college is supposed to run. In almost all of universities across India, there is a chancellor appointed by the Government of India (I use the capital G here for satirical purposes) who, by the sheer virtue of his appointment holds supreme and unchecked power over the university and enjoys such pleasures of power as expelling any student without cause, demoting him or putting him on academic probation, subjecting him to special scrutiny (blacklisting), barring the student from entering the college premises(though he/she is a student of that college!) and the power goes so far as to firing any teacher(with the most causal of causes), clamping down on any teacher or student union(which is also the case with another minority institution, Jamia Milliah Univeristy) and even call the police inside the university spaces for brutal repression if faced with a peaceful demonstrations of teachers and students(as we have seen in the anti-FYUP protests, the transport protests and the recent anti-CBCS protests in Delhi University). Aside from these administrational powers, he also enjoys an absolute control over the treasury of the university. There are, so to say, administrative officers allotted to each part of the university administration, again either appointed directly by the (Supreme!) Vice Chancellor, or again, by the Ministry (either the UGC or any other state functionary regimes)

It is almost idiotic that India, a ‘remarkable’ example of democracy in the world, a country which describes itself in the first page of the constitution as ‘socialist’ would appoint vie-chancellors to give them all the dictatorial powers that he would then use to repress the democratic spirit of the university space, a space for education and breeding place for academic intellectuals. The conclusion to come out of this is only one- that is the State of India is falling short of its promise on democracy. In HU, the administration has banned the formation of both student as well as teachers’ union (such is also the case in Jamia Milliah). Even in universities like Delhi University, where a distorted, disfigured, corrupt and opportunistic (outright greed-stricken!), but some sort of a student union holds, even there the student democracy is further lowered and the question of student rights unanswered due to the presence of administration and administrative power, and lack of unity among students. An example corresponding to what I have just mentioned took place in St. Stephens’ College last year when the students released a magazine which was banned by the college authorities and when the students attempted to protest, the principal called the cops who violently suppressed the “attempted demonstration”. I will also deal with the issue of increasing political unity among students through means of organization and development of a critical consciousness.

Looking at these examples one has to ask is not this unrequited power given the university administration a form of sate power? For some who see this relation too farfetched, I furnish the history of Jamia’s history of suppression which was around the time Najeeb Jung was appointed the vice chancellor of Jamia and the credit (which the students might call fault) of the ban on student union elections goes to him along with other accolades such as a fee hike of two hundred percent (!), stationing of armed guards at the university gates (with full martial uniform!), fencing of the college premises with barbed wire and installing cameras for complete surveillance. The university space was turned into a maximum security prison or rather a Nazi concentration camp by (Nazi?) Mr. Jung and now the same Mr. Jung having shown unparalleled skill in disciplining a “particular sect” of students (minority class), as a result enjoys the comfortable and powerful (and dictatorial) position of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. We should also try to understand why the student fears the administration, or, why should the student fear the administration (or should the student fear the administration?) even though both parties are mutually dependent on each other, the officials being more dependent on the students than the other way round (like the citizens and the state). The answer, or the hint, I have just mentioned in the parenthesis, i.e. the students fear the administration in the same way as they fear the state. Democracy is just a veil that the state hides behind while it oppresses a certain class of people from who can economically profit. Here we must look at the two great examples, HU and Jamia which are both minority institutions catering to a certain section of society, a section to which the constituent people belong (unlike the population of St. Stephens), more and less, also to an economically oppressed class. And here, in Jamia and HU, it is more than a coincidence that we find the most authoritative and repressive attitude of the administration. There are other universities in Delhi as well, like DU, JNU, Ambedkar, Indraprastha, etc. but nowhere do we see such oppressive measures taken upon the students. Only a few colleges belonging to South Campus and other off-campus colleges which are called ‘lesser elite’ colleges come closer to such ruthless administrational oppression, such as Aryabhatta College, where, on one occasion the principal physically restrained and assaulted a student, when the students protested on the issue of procurement of admit cards for second, fourth and sixth semester examinations. Here also we see a pattern as in Aryabhatta College too, the students do not belong to the same elitist, bourgeois crowd as Sri Venkatesware, but to a more economically backward class (I generalize broadly due to a need to elucidate a point. It is not that there are no economically backwards students in Venky, but the most vocal and visible crowd in the college is that of the bourgeois and the petty bourgeois).This makes the administration think that they have a right over these “low class” students to discipline them.  At this point, one had to be able to reason that if after decades of independence, we still have the colonial mentality of domination and servitude, that we have not been free at all and that we should reject the democracy we have, the state that oppresses, and call for a fuller democracy governed, or rather, dictated by those who are oppressed culturally and economically not by the virtue of the power that they hold but by the virtue of their labor. We should rid ourselves of those pin-up middlemen in the university spaces such as the administrative officers, the vice-principals, principals, university officials and vice-chancellors or at least reduce the power they enjoy by reducing their status to mere workers as they are no producers of intellectual capital in a university apparatus. The professors ought to have more pay and power than the principal because they are the ones putting their labor (though it may not be much, as much of it is only theory) for the purpose of the mental development of the student. We need to challenge the existing structure of the university if we mean to really free ourselves from the kind of education that is overpriced and is taught to us “in slavery”. But we must not forget that in going against the university structure and its culture, we are also going against the dominant state structure i.e. the government and its ideologies as well. So e will require a counter-state ideology that will ensure fuller democracy and representation of the oppressed and the working-class (the oppressed class is the working-class) among the highest orders. We require the weapon of true militant socialism. To understand why the students require socialism, we must observe the nature of oppression in the university very scientifically.

II

A student is as much a worker in the university space as a professor and I would say even far more oppressed (from the professor, not from the worker). The kind of labor produced by a student is similar to the idealistic cognition as the teacher, and it is often the student who has to account for the synthesis of the dialectics that occur between the teacher and the student. Simply put, it is the student who has to put up with the burden of examination and the aspiration of passing with a degree. Rather than rewarding, or at least partially compensating for his intellectualism (in the most honest of terms as the student works towards his theoretical ambitions in a material manner), he has to in turn pay the fees in a sort of a reversal of the ‘concession scheme’ which is granted to certain areas. This concession is being deprived from the student as there is no stipend given to the student for his efforts. The notion is stipend is applicable to only the fields of study from which the state profits such as the armed forces, merchant marines etc. and this in a sense, alienates the average student from his education or academic affairs and the student gets “frustrated” even though he had opted for the course of his/her will. We must understand that the nature of the problem of the students in the university with the administration is economic in nature, and also that the interests of the students and teachers are diametrically opposed to the administrative bureaucracy. For instance, while the student demands for lower fees and the teacher for a permanent faculty, the administration (who are appointed more or less permanently themselves) involves itself not with those demands but things exactly opposite to it such as raising the fees while at the same time cutting down the number of students to be admitted in the subsequent year, and if need be, increasing the number of ad-hoc staff (but oh! Not permanent). The number of oppositions of interests is far too many to be broadly enlisted in the span of this article. But from the above made premise, we can safely deduce that the interests of students and professors are antagonistic to the interests of the administration. This is very similar to the situation of the worker in a private factory where his demands of pay according to his labor (i.e. the entire cost of finished products) is opposite to the demand of the capitalist factory owner which is maximized profits (for him!) for the industry that he owns. He earns more than the laborer by putting no work at all just by the virtue of ownership of means of production. This is the characteristic feature of any capitalist mode of production, even a mode of intellectual production such as the university. In this sense, the worker and the student are united in their economic struggle (on a major or minor scale) against democracy-induced capitalism and against state institutions to put an end to the tyranny that oppresses us. The true nature of a people’s republic is not realized in the economic structure of capitalism, and will not be realized in the near or distant future as long as capitalism and a few greedy, individual-minded capitalists (the 1% who make the 99% bleed) reign the dominant modes of production. True democracy and true republic of the people can only come with a suppression and consequent overthrow of the present state by the truly powerful masses to create an armed workers’ state to run the universities and the factories thus redistributing the dominant modes of production.
Any student activist or any student for that matter who wishes for complete liberty and freedom of expression and criticism in the university ought to strive towards creating an armed workers’ state and reducing himself or herself to the state of a worker (if it hasn’t already become the case). A student is the rightful master of the university and the only aid he requires is from the professors and no more. The Indian universities especially state universities in the 60s and 70s had that proletarian (revolutionary) culture of struggle and intellectual critique. By the end of the 80s and the coming of the 90s, around the time when India opened its doors to globalization was the time when we moved into a form of neo-imperialist subjugation where instead of global colonies, global economic powers and corporate magnates started to govern not just our economy but also our socio-political nature. It was in this period that the Indian universities became a factory for “professional” study as opposed to a haven for intellectual learning. Active discourses about Indian politics and its future were cut off from the university space and vice versa (that is, the student movement detached itself from larger working class and rural peasantry struggles and political movements) by the new millennia with the rise of the foreshadowing consumerist mass culture. It is also the very same reason, that of the student culture being dominated by opportunism and improper social consciousness, that there are no student newspapers (in Delhi University and Jamia, and JNU, to a greater extent) that oppose the inherent contradictions of interests between the students and the university officials. Professors in the university are intellectuals only in talk (paper tigers) as they too make little effort to increase the consciousness of the students and all they do is dazzle the student with radical lectures in the class. What these so-called intellectuals need to understand is that for a struggle so major as to reconstitute the university space, the students cannot be called on to bring a revolution. A gradual process is required to be built up which would create a mechanism of the formation of a revolutionary action. Even students, those who can write and have the ability to bring out newspapers in universities get caught up in popular opportunistic wave which, like an opium wave over the minds, makes them forget about their actual travail. These students cannot comprehend that they have a very vital weapon in their hands which can be used to drastically change the mindset of the average student and fill him with the revolutionary force with which he/she will fight the greater battle with the university for his/her right. University newspapers, especially the ones like DU beat, have the potential of being more popular than they are by inculcating the ability to expose the conditions of the university, wage a struggle and subsequently clash with the university armed with facts and a majority of students on their side. The current outlook of DU Beat, or even DU ki awaz caters to only an elite class of students, for two reasons (1) The sly gabbing and witticism in which DU Beat speaks is not the general colloquial among university students (2) The articles are far too wide spaced and non-contextual to the core of the conditions which make the student life unique. Granted that DU ki awaz has taken up some crucial issues time and again (while DU Beat is too busy taking interviews of Kiran Bedi and covering the treacherous vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh in a positive light!), a student newspaper should not only do the job of throwing current happening on the face of students but help building up a common university culture and that is, and will be impossible without addressing that which unites the student of all classes- the problems of the university and student life. DU Beat, especially, is so detached from students’ lives and their financial reality that it does a short review in some of their editions of the caf├ęs and restaurants. What DU Beat does not take into account is that at least ninety five percent of students studying in DU, especially those living in residential areas around the college and also those studying in the university are seldom simply cannot afford going to these places, even on the rarest occasions. Why, the reader of this article should ask, do they then print this useless article and waste the precious space in their newspaper that can inform the students about the legitimate problem regarding the shortage of cheap and affordable eating spaces in the vicinity of the campus. As much as I would like to answer it by saying that that it improves their rate of circulation, such triviality can hardly sway students to the side of the newspaper so that they can become its regular readers. So I come up with a simple and blunt answer that they do not know and they do not believe that a simple newspaper can turn into an organizational force and gather not just a cult following but a mass support in terms of funds. Or even if they know the fact, they might give the old argument about being ‘neutral’ and not being too political, but they do not realize that by not taking the side of the students, they immediately make a choice of siding with the authoritative forces (for example, the article about the vice-chancellor).

Nothing can be achieved if we stay divided among ourselves and do not utilize the weapons and forces at our disposal to flight for student rights. We have to flush every newspaper full with facts and theories about the nature of exploitation of the students, and if possible every department magazine (especially political science, sociology, economics, English, Hindi and for numbers, the science and math departments) and college magazine that come under the ambit of the university as well, and are drafted by student editorial committees. I urge not just the students but even the professors of the university to use the magazine as a weapon against the authoritative forces of the university and truly show and teach the students how to be an intellectual who carries forward his duties and responsibilities. The battle-ground is already set but we are wavering and fearing our opponents even though we are large in numbers and have ample weapons to use against them (as I have already shown). We waver because we do not really what our nature is, as students and those who do know (who are more than a few) feel insignificant, insecure and scared because  either they are opportunists and prostitute their intellect for better prospects or they lack the strength to confront their individual oppression. If each such student unites with others to form a front of solidarity of students’ mass with the same problems, we can easily fight the battle and win. In order to win the battle however, we need a unity of opinions among our ranks, and we need to understand the sameness of our nature of oppression. And here I repeat again, all of our oppressions arise from the very nature in which (the very dictatorial and non-democratic nature) the university is constituted such that we have no say in how or who the administrational officers and executives are, and they enjoy immense power over us because of the economic structure wherein the administration holds the economic power of salary in the case of professors and college fees in the case of students. We only demand for an economic shift of power from this bureaucracy to a committee of students and teachers to gain ownership over the university space.

Our simple is singular and simple, and it is indeed our only solution. The so-called “democratic” student union has failed us (so far) or in some cases (Jamia), it does not exist at all. Once the students gain the necessary consciousness and ready themselves with the means of organization, they will wage a war for fuller democracy and economic change and they will gain the support of many allies in this war. Rest assured, we will see the fight to its rightful conclusion.