Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Education, business, Kolkata burning and Ms. Nasreen again!

Yesterday, I read a satirical take on the state of education in today's world. Humorous though it was, it deserves serious thought and discussion. This Rediff satire on the recent decision of the principal of a well-known Mumbai college to enforce a dress code in the middle of examinations is something worth talking about. Moral policing apart, the satire exposes one simple fact: that some colleges exist solely to make money. As the principal in Vadukut's story puts it so succinctly,
"Must I tell you every day? What do you think we are? A shady outfit merely run to siphon off funds? A platform for political manipulation? Some sort of ragtag institute run by the principal like his personal property?"

"Sir. Why do you even ask such questions and insult me? Of course we are."
Well...can one make it any more obvious why such private colleges exist? The truth is that very few colleges today fulfil their duties as educational institutions. They are simply run to siphon off funds, or to whiten the black money made by their owners and patrons in other, equally shady business deals. Some of the private colleges assume the role of the moral police, when those who run the institutions are themselves totally immoral. Will this ever change? Will private colleges and deemed universities and the like actually be held responsible for their actions before a competent tribunal? It's up to the UGC to take the responsibility. Whether they will actually do it is anyone's guess.

Moving on, CNN-IBN tells me, on television, that Kolkata is burning. When I first heard the news this afternoon, I assumed that the Nandigram issue had finally reached boiling point. But no, I was apparently mistaken. A rather shady outfit by name of the All India Minority Forum (AIMF) called for a roadblock this morning. Soon, the protest turned violent and the army was called in to maintain law and order. Now, in India, when the army is called in to restore peace, it means something is seriously wrong. Otherwise, the army just stays out of internal affairs. The policy will normally suffice. Only later in the afternoon did I realise that the protests were not just against the Nandigram issue. Apparently, the AIMF, which called for the protests, want eminent Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen to be shipped out of India at the earliest possible instance. Her sin? That she said something, allegedly blasphemous, in her most recent book Shodh.

This kind of behaviour goes against pretty much everything I was taught as a kid. Or am I being naive in wanting to actually practise what I was taught in school? I grew up in a liberal, rest-not-until-you-get-answers background. I was taught that it is Man's (and woman's) fundamental right to speak their mind. I was taught that, in a democracy, freedom of expression is paramount. I was also taught that even if you did not have anything to eat, you must have the freedom to say you are starving. What has happened to the India I know? What has happened to that sacrosanct freedom of expression? This censorship of personal opinion began with the banning of Satanic Verses way back in 1988, barely 10 days after its release. It has not stopped until today. The right to free speech is shamelessly curtailed and the press censored in the name of protecting minority sentiments. I do acknowledge that religious minorities in India must be given adequate protection. But, is this not going too far? If the AIMF can bring an entire city to a standstill today, forcing the army to step in to maintain law and order, is there not something seriously wrong with the way things are going?

What irks me even more that the protests, is the fact that nobody seems to be talking about Ms. Nasreen's right to say what she thinks is right. Nobody is arguing she is right. But even dissent must be within the acceptable framework of democracy. Burning public vehicles and causing infinite inconvenience to common people in the name of a protest march is simply unacceptable. Will someone please talk about it? Will the state government, and the Centre forget their pseudo-secularism for a moment and defend Ms. Nasreen's right to live where she wants to and say what she wants to?

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