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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 40 New Delhi September 22, 2018

A Glimpse of State of Academics in Indian Universities

Tuesday 25 September 2018

by Harish C. Sharma

I have come across an article in the recent issue of EPW on Agyeya’s Shekhar Ek Jeevni.It is a profound understanding of Western influences on Agyeya’s novel. It shows the commentator’s deep understanding of both Western philosophies and their impact on Agyeya’s mind and expression. The author in reference has worked on the writings of Agyeya who was, no doubt, first among the Indian writers deeply influenced by the Western literary aesthetics, fiction, poetry, philosophy and ideologies. The author of the article, Dr Prem Singh, is one scholar who has been able to comprehend successfully the shades, contra-dictions and enrichment that is born from this literary union. This is an important accomplish-ment of Dr Prem Singh that he has explored and given expressions to the sensibilities hidden in Agyeya’s Shekhar Ek Jeevni, an iconic Hindi novel published during the 1940s.

Dr Prem Singh is an Associate Professor of Hindi in the University of Delhi. He started his career as a research scholar in the University of Delhi in 1981 and has by now more than 36 years of teaching and research experience. The study of Comparative Literature, Sociology of Literature, Modern Hindi fiction, translation and editing are his strong forte. He has served as a member of the Academic Council of the University of Delhi for two terms. He has an enviable career. He has been a Fellow at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advance Study back in 1991-94. A great feet at that stage of his career. He has served as Visiting Professor at Vilnius University, Lithuania and Sofia Univer-sity, Bulgaria; published papers in prestigious journals. His works have been published by the Indian Institute of Advance Study, Shimla and other established publishers of Hindi literature and criticism. Not only has he participated inseveral national and international seminars, he has organised a number of inter-disciplinary seminars/study weeks/workshops/conferences in which eminent scholars and researchers from different disciplines have participated.

Besides this he has his own views on contemporary political and socio-economic conditions in the country and has his own political ideological leanings. It is commendable the he has from time to time commented fearlessly on different issues in various journals and newspapers of Hindi and English. From the very beginning he has been a vocal critic of the neo-liberal policies, particularly the decision of privatisation and commercialisation of education by successive governments. I remember that he wrote a thoughtful critique of the Ambani-Birla Committee report. The committee, formed by the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, was a long leap taken towards privatisation/commercialisation of education in the country.

He had to pay for his anti-establishment ideas and actions when he was not promoted as a Professor of Hindi by the University of Delhi in 2009 even under the Career Advancement Scheme (CAS). The University authorities were quite explicit about their decision. I was told by one of my scholar friends in the University of Delhi that Dr Prem Singh accepted the decision gracefully and never made any complaint about the injustice done to him by the university authorities in collusion with the subject experts and the Visitor’s nominee. However, he elaborated the whole episode to the President of India in a letter to put it on record. The friend said he had an opportunity to see that letter which was an eye-opener. But the President, who is also the Visitor of Delhi University, never replied to the letter.

On an enquiry I have found out that Dr Prem Singh did not apply for a fresh interview supposed to be held after one year under the CAS. Neither did he apply to the open posts advertised by the university after his rejection under the CAS. On his part it was a way of protecting his dignity as a teacher and scholar.

As enshrined in our Constitution, freedom of expression is not only a fundamental right, but a duty towards the building up of a strong and healthy society and nation. It is a pity that in a prestigious learning institution like Delhi University a sincere and honest teacher’s career was obstructed in a revengeful manner. This is a saddening and distressing scenario that a scholar who has created a niche for himself is still languishing in the University of Delhi whereas people with much less experience and scholarship are enjoying positions much above the level of an associate professor.

Vice Chancellors of Universities and the Ministers of Human Resource Development from time to time cry hoarse that the standard of academics in universities is declining and there is an urgent need to attract new talent. But what is being done to allow the existing talent to grow and develop? The simple answer with reference to the above case is to deny the deserving their due and leave them to rot by recruiting mediocre and average teachers in universities and colleges. In the present case there was so called ‘progressive’ and ‘secular’ dispensation in 2009. It leads me to conclude that whether secular or communal, no dispen-sation has the capacity or ability to tolerate the views held by ‘others’. It is a hard and unfortunate fact that in most of our universities mediocre and average people are heading various departments. Will they allow new talent to be recruited or promoted?

It is also a reality that there is a crisis of finding talent in the subjects of humanities and social sciences. Fresh talent is not opting for these subjects. At the same time the universities deny due promotions purely on the basis of political considerations. In case of Dr Prem Singh, the then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Delhi and the Head of the Hindi Department told him that he had to pay for his political activism. Is it a crime to have one’s own political views? It means that those who have such views and opinions cannot enter academics and get promotions. What an irony!

The example in reference is not an isolated one. It is just a tip of the iceberg to show how deep the malaise is. It is a sad commentary on the functioning of Indian Universities that such scholars who do not toe the line of the “establishment” are doomed to remain where they are.

Prof Harish Sharma is a former Head, Department of History, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. He is also a former fellow, Indian Institute of Advance Study, Shimla and an erstwhile member of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR).

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