Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

What Price Universities?!!

Universities in India have become newsmakers. Either some of them get ranked in the top 100 or top 200 global ranking lists or some students from these universities get huge pay packages on being recruited by Multinational Corporations or there is student ferment in them leading to police action. Due to the media taking interest, it is the last, police action on students, that has now become a block buster with the whole nation cogitating on the goings on in universities and especially elite central ones like Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and Hyderabad Central University. All this ado over universities has made me wonder as to how relevant they are for ensuring justice for the vast majority of this country. In the unorganised sector which is the source of livelihood for over 90% of the people in this country no one asks for degrees. All one has to do is show that one can work and at the most do some basic arithmetic and read and write. For that one does not need to go to a University. Those who do go to university, therefore, are generally doing so with the hope that they will get work in the organised sector which provides better and more secure incomes and are mostly not concerned with what happens to the majority who have not gained access to university education. And so there is this glorification of Universities that produce the best candidates for the organised sector who basically are adept at maintaining the status quo of skimming off the surplus produced by the unorganised sector for the benefit of the ruling classes and their lackeys. It is the few who are not overly concerned with entering the organised sector job market but more with trying to do something for those who cannot enter this elite strata, that break the rules in the universities and eventually end up inviting police action like the girls of Himachal University below!!
When students enter universities they have just ended schooling and so are unsure of themselves and mostly think about getting good jobs in the organised sector. It is only after a year or two that they realise that in the present context, getting good jobs or starting businesses, which happens to be the latest fad, is not easy and some of them begin questioning the relevance of their university education for their own future and in even rarer cases for the future of humanity. In the end more and more of these students must rebel against university education so as to render universities and degrees and the organised sector that demands them, redundant if humans are to survive as a race.
This is easier said than done, however. For instance I became sceptical of my university education midway through my five year graduation course. Even though I had decided that I would not join the organised sector, nevertheless, family pressure was such that I completed my graduation. Thereafter, I pursued a life among the Adivasis organising them to demand their due from the organised sector!! I learned many things from the Adivasis that no university can teach and apart from some basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills,  no part of my university education was of any use to me. However, there came a time after a decade when it was not possible to keep body and soul together and also continue with my organisation work without participating in money making in the organised sector. So I had to join the organised sector, not as a salaried employee, but as a consultant and the university degree that I had helped me to do this. The money I make from my consultancies is mainly due to skills I have picked up on my own and not what I have learnt in formal university education. Just my school education was good enough for me to pick up these skills but without the university degree, especially since it was from an elite institution, I wouldn't have landed these consultancies.
Later, I decided to get a Phd degree to enhance my money earning capacity!! With time the fight against the organised sector has become more expensive and so one must try and loot more from it!!! University after university that I applied to said that I would have to spend two years doing course work to learn various subjects before I could actually get down to doing research and for this I would have to attend classes full time which I obviously could not do given my work in the unorganised sector where, in my small organisation, I was the only one with some crucial skills required to interact with the organised sector. All my arguments that I had umpteen publications in reputed academic journals and a wealth of field experience fell on deaf ears as the learned professors said that they could not bend the rules for me and so I was left high and dry.
Then I got to know of one new private technical university that did not insist on course work and also allowed the researchers to choose multi-disciplinary subjects and guides from outside the university for the same. I jumped at the opportunity and registered for Phd. Since I chose my subjects and my guides, I had a nice time doing the research and once again I learnt many things for which university education was not required, especially since by now the huge world of the internet was available. But finally when it came to writing my dissertation I had to come face to face with reality. The thesis would go for review to three external reviewers who were bound to be orthodox university professors. Therefore, I couldn't write just what I wanted and in the free flowing modified Joycean Stream of Consciousness form that I had adopted for writing my book "Recovering the Lost Tongue" and instead would have to follow the strait jacket of received scholarly norms, as otherwise it would get rejected. So I had to curtail many things that I would have liked to write and stylistic extravagance and turn in a standard thesis. But what I know about the subject matter of my research, water, is much more due to the work I have done in the field, most of which I have not included in the thesis. I know a lot about many other things also but as I said earlier, very little of that did I learn in the university. Unfortunately for others who would like to pursue such relatively freewheeling Phds, the University Grants Commission later arm twisted this university of mine into closing this programme and instead starting a standard Phd programme in which course work and attendance is compulsory!!
University academics, is not really concerned with gaining knowledge that will enhance the livelihoods and lifestyles of the masses in an equitable and sustainable manner. It is instead all about weaning intellectuals away from organising the unorganised sector and turning them into apologists for the organised sector and the ruling classes. In fact many activists who have at some point of time worked in the unorganised sector, mobilising them to fight for their rights, have later switched completely to academics and the security it offers. Fausts who have sold their souls to Mephistopheles!!
I have tried to convince many young students who are graduating from universities and who too are sceptical about what they have learnt there, to take the leap and jump into the vast unorganised sector. But till date not one has done so, preferring to stay in the organised sector. Seeing the huge ferment among students in JNU and HCU which has struck resonating chords in other universities also I can't help wondering if some of them at least will not turn a cold shoulder to the organised sector!!


Bhavana said...

"The thesis would go for review to three external reviewers who were bound to be orthodox university professors. Therefore, I couldn't write just what I wanted and would have to follow the strait jacket of received norms as otherwise it would get rejected. So I had to curtail many things that I would have liked to write and turn in a standard thesis." This. I remember trying to bring up the issue of citation, who we cite and why and how we cite, of the erasures beyond the citation. I finished my Ph.d. traumatized. And I am not in the organized sector anymore. But it took time to break out. I liked the certainty and security of system. I still am afraid.

Rahul Banerjee said...

Bhavana, since I was doing my Phd just for the degree and not for the purpose of gaining knowledge, I took a humorous view of the scholarly rituals that I had to follow!!!