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Archives for : July2018

FTII expels 2 from hostel for ‘hum dekhenge’ graffiti #FOE

Students’ plea on the words borrowed from a Faiz Ahmad Faiz poem falls on deaf ears, as director terms it sullying of the revamped canteen and breach of discipline

In a step that has drawn severe criticism from students “for curbing freedom of expression”, the administration of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) has asked two inmates to vacate their hostel rooms by Saturday for drawing graffiti on the walls of the newly renovated canteen on July 4.

The facility at FTII was renovated and inaugurated on July 3. Security guards at the canteen found two students — one from the 2012 direction batch and the other from the 2016 camera batch — drawing graffiti early on July

4. According to the administration, the guards confronted the students but they continued “defacing” the walls.

Students have drawn a few graffiti, which included words like “hum dekhenge”, from a poem by Faiz Ahmad Faiz. On July 5, both the students — one from Kerala and the other from West Bengal — were issued notices to vacate their hostel rooms by July 7.

On the other hand, several students gathered on the campus and showed their displeasure against the institute for issuing such notices on regularly. Robin Joy, president, FTII Students’ Association, said, “Drawing graffiti on the walls of FTII has always been a way of expression for students. This is not the first time we have had graffiti on the wall. Also, the two students are not from Maharashtra and if they are removed from the hostel all of a sudden, it will be difficult for them to find accommodation. We also tried convincing the directors that the words written are not threatening or intentional but just borrowed from a poem but we have been misunderstood.”

Joy added that there have been too many restrictions on students since the past couple of years. “For every small thing, we have to seek permission from the administration. We are also getting notices for various trivial issues. This is nothing but institutional harassment. It is definitely not easy to get admission in this institute and we have also heard a lot about its rich history and how seniors have displayed their creativity on campus. If drawing graffiti was wrong then the institute should have taken a different punitive measure. Removing students from the hostel is not right.”

According to the notice, the two students will also have to leave the campus daily after 7 pm and will not be allowed on campus during weekends. In case students want an exception, they will have to take permission from the administration. Echoing Joy, another student said, “Earlier, it was easy for us to organise programmes on campus but for the same, now we have to seek permission three weeks in advance. The institute is supposed to encourage freedom of expression but for every other reason, the administration threatens us with security guards who have been given power to even detain us.”

FTII director Bhupendra Kainthola said, “Two students have drawn graffiti with intimidating slogans and defaced the wall and doors of our revamped canteen. The act was carried out stealthily in the dead of the night. The act by the students is unacceptable. Several FTII alumni, many of them leading industry lights, who had welcomed the complete makeover of the canteen are aghast at this defilement. They have also condemned the duo’s act. Many students, staff members and teachers are also saddened by this act of gross indiscipline.”

While the administration has also asked the students to apologise for their deed and clean the graffiti from the wall, the latter have reverted by saying that such notices not be issued as they are not children. Joy said, “We are not kids anymore and should not be made to apologise. Removal of students from hostel just for drawing graffiti is unacceptable.”

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Gurgaon girl stands by childhood friend, reports father for rape #Vaw



She was in a place she fully trusted—her best friend’s house—and in company she had been familiar with since she was in Class 3. But in a flat at The Belaire in Gurgaon that was like another home, an 18-year-old second-year law student was allegedly raped by her best friend’s father in the early hours of Friday while his own daughter slept in another room.

The man, who she had addressed as ‘uncle’ since she was a kid, was arrested later on Friday. Police said his daughter was present when the complaint was filed by the law student and her mother at the women’s police station, and told the officer her father must be punished.

“The student told us she believed it was pre-planned. The accused’s daughter had also come to the police station with her. She told us her father had done something unbelievable and must be punished,” the investigating officer of the case told TOI.

The rape suspect—a businessman who deals in dental implants with two offices on Sohna Road and business interests in Canada—was booked under sections 376 (rape), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 328 (causing hurt) of the IPC and sent to 14 days in judicial custody by a local court. He moved to Gurgaon with his family eight years ago and is originally from Sholapur in Maharashtra, police said. The two families were close and had gone on trips together. The girls had studied in the same school.

On Thursday evening, the Belaire-based businessman had taken his daughter and the law student out for dinner at Cyber Hub. His daughter, who studies in Canada, came home on June 27 and had invited her best friend—who studies at a reputable private university in Haryana—home.

In her complaint, the law student said her friend’s father had betrayed her trust she put in him as a father figure. “My mother only said yes to the dinner plan when I told her my friend’s father will be accompanying us to keep us safe. He took us to Cyber Hub and ordered alcohol. He forced me and his daughter to have hard drinks,” the law student said in the complaint. They returned home late.

Her friend’s mother and brother, Class XI student, was away so there was no one else in the house. Between 4am and 5am, he entered his daughter’s room where the two women were sleeping. “He woke me up, held my hands and dragged me to his room,” the law student said in her complaint. “He then locked the room from inside and raped me.”

She returned to her friend’s room, woke her up and told her what had happened. In the morning, the friend escorted her home. They spoke to the law student’s mother. Around 11am, all three went to the police station to file a complaint. The man was arrested from the Belaire flat. In court, the rape suspect claimed he was innocent and it was the law student who had come to his room in the night.

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Union Minister garlands lynchers , says he was honouring due process of law #WTFnews


Union minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha found himself in the midst of a raging controversy over his felicitating eight men convicted in a lynching case. They are currently out on bail.

Opposition parties on Saturday condemned Sinha, who is the Hazaribag MP, for “honouring and garlanding” the eight men convicted of killing coal trader Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh in June last year in a case of alleged cow vigilantism. A fast-track court had found 11 people guilty in the case and sentenced them to life term in March. Eight of them secured bail from the Jharkhand high court last week. They visited Sinha’s residence on Friday, where the minister welcomed them with garlands and sweets.

Pushed on the backfoot with photos of the garlanding circulating on social media, Sinha said, “I have full faith in our judicial system and rule of law. Unfortunately, irresponsible statements are being made about my actions when all that I am doing is honouring the due process of law. Those that are innocent will be spared and the guilty will be appropriately punished.”

Jayant Sinha with those convicted in the lynching of a coal trader

Sinha, BJP fanning communal tension: Cong

Jayant’s father, rebel BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, also found himself under fire. He tweeted, “Earlier, I was the nalayak baap (foolish father) of a layak beta (meritorious son). Now the roles are reversed. That is twitter. I do not approve of my son’s action. But I know even this will lead to further abuse. You can never win.”

Sources said Jayant Sinha told the men that it was his duty to ensure they get justice. The eight reportedly thanked him for helping them get a lawyer and taking their case before the HC. The Congress accused Sinha and BJP of fanning communal tension. “It is only in ‘new India’ where those supposed to get the noose are being garlanded,” the party said. “A minister in the BJP government, which honours those accused of rioting, is now garlanding convicts of lynching. Is the Modi government encouraging social unstability?” it added.

JMM working president and former Jharkhand CM Hemant Soren tagged the minister’s alma mater Harvard University. “This is truly despicable. @Harvard Your alumnus @jayantsinha felicitating the accused in cow related lynching death in India. Is this what @Harvard stands for?” he tweeted. CPM’s Sitaram Yechury also attacked BJP for “tearing India’s social fabric” and promoting politics of hate.

Seeking to clarify the events, Sinha said, “When these people were granted bail, they came to my residence and I wished them well. Let the law take its own course. The guilty will be punished and the innocent will be set free.” He reiterated that he was a public representative and had taken an oath to protect the law. He said he condemned all acts of violence and rejected any type of vigilantism, but had misgivings about the fast-track court judgment sentencing each accused to life imprisonment. In a tweet, he said, “The Ranchi HC, which is the first court of appeal, has suspended the sentence…and released them on bail while admitting their case. The case will once again be re-heard.”

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Shoma Sen – Demonising a Beloved Teacher and Life-long Activist

A teacher, a reader and learner, an intellectual, an activist and a human rights defender. Shoma Sen is all of the above, and more. The state would like the world to believe that she is involved in ‘anti-national’ activities, but that’s the price that many citizens are paying today for asserting their right to speak out, to dissent, and understand and articulate the world around them.

The early years

Social institutions, thriving on feudal patriarchal notions are disapproving of women’s participation in production and laud her reproductive roles; violence against women at the familial and societal level is given social sanction and women are confined to a dependent life within the domestic space. Therefore, women’s access to economic and political activity itself is a first step to their participation in decision making processes rather than the symbolic steps towards their “empowerment” that are seen in this system.

Shoma Sen, Contemporary Anti-Displacement Struggles and Women’s Resistance: A Commentary, Sanhati, November 3, 2010

Shoma spent her early years in Bandra in what was then Bombay. The 1970’s were a turbulent period. At that time, almost everyone had sympathies with the Left. While in college, she was with the Vidyarthi Pragati Sanghatana (VPS) and she edited Kalam, the student magazine. She was involved in supporting the workers during the textile strike in Mumbai of the 1980’s. During this time, Shoma became a lecturer in Mumbai and a part of Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), and helping bring out the CPDR magazine, Adhikar Raksha.

Shoma moved from Bombay to Nagpur, where her daughter Koel was born. Shoma spent the next few decades of her life living in Nagpur with her partner and daughter, teaching in colleges and working to build a democratic movement that recognises and fights for the rights of the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of society. Shoma and Koel stood by her partner throughout the difficult times that he was arrested and released between 2007 and 2017.

Working with women

As Shoma says (ibid), “If democracy and development are to be really meaningful to women in India, then ways must be evolved to include women in these processes and not simply make symbolic gestures for their empowerment.”

Shoma’s home has always been a refuge for women struggling to survive and make ends meet; she has done everything in her power to help them fight an unjust system. She is an active member of the national collective, Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS). She was an early member of the Nagpur-based Stree Chetna. She later became the founder convener of the Committee against Violence on Women (CAVOW) and edited its magazine, Stree Garjana. The organisation took part in fact finding visits to examine the implementation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur after Thangjam Manorama’s brutal killing in 2004 and the allegations of sexual violence by the Salwa Judum in South Bastar in Chhattisgarh. CAVOW also played a role in organising legal aid for many women political prisoners during the early 2000s. Shoma also convened an adivasi mahila sammelan at Ranchi in March 2006. She has been a long-time Dalit and women’s rights activist, advocating for the rights of the marginalised and powerless. In an essay titled ‘The Village and the City: Dalit Feminisms in the Autobiographies of Baby Kamble and Urmila Pawar’, she looks at the ways in which mainstream feminism has tended to ignore the problems of caste, resulting in a distinct Dalit feminism that acknowledges patriarchal oppression from outside and within communities. In 2011, she was a part of Indian Association of Women’s Studies (IAWS) national conference in Wardha. In recent years, Shoma has been involved with Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR) in Nagpur. She has been helping voices of resistance be heard, voices that are being silenced everywhere in the current socio-political climate.

A life spent teaching

We are appalled and outraged by the arrest of Sen, one of our most distinguished and popular teachers in English. She is also a scholar of national repute in the domains of culture studies and critical theory.”

Supantha Bhattacharya, associate professor & colleague, Nagpur University, Times of India, June 20, 2018

Shoma got involved with the Women’s Studies department at Wardha’s Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, and being fluent in Hindi, often helped cover the shortage of teachers and examiners. She taught in ad hoc positions in several colleges, like the People’s Welfare Society (PWS) College in Indora, Nagpur, leaving home (and her then young daughter) early in the morning to get to work. After college hours, she would visit women (many of them Dalits and victims of domestic violence) in the slums and ghettos of Nagpur to discuss their issues and concerns.

She joined Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, heading its English department. As a teacher, she was appreciated by both students and seniors. Promoted as Head of Department and respected for her intellect, Shoma has been an active scholar in the fields of post-colonialism and women’s studies for several decades. Her articles have appeared in scholarly publications such as the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) and The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. She is a valued member of the University community and an important voice in the struggle to uphold human rights. She has travelled to deliver lectures and talks and is a popular teacher, with a passionate interest in reading, researching and teaching literature and women’s studies. Shoma is due to retire in July 2018 after more than three decades of exemplary service. Today, after all these years, her friends and colleagues are in shock at this brazen display of force by the police on her and the other four arrested, and wonder if this is the fate that awaits all those who speak out against poverty, inequalities and injustice.

Now, days before she was scheduled to retire in June 2018, the university, where she spent so many years of her professional life, suspended her for being detained by the police under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The state that confronts its own citizens

With fifty per cent of the population largely deprived from economic and political activity, such a democracy cannot be real in any sense and the participation of women in struggles is a process of democratisation. If the gender axis of such struggles is sharpened then this trajectory is more likely to lead to equality and women’s liberation.”

Shoma Sen, Contemporary Anti-Displacement Struggles and Women’s Resistance: A Commentary, November 3, 2010 in Sanhati

Shoma was arrested in pre-dawn raids conducted simultaneously across four cities along with four others. They were Surendra Gadling, a respected lawyer who fought multiplepro bono cases for adivasis, dalits and political prisoners and General Secretary, Indian Association of Peoples’ Lawyers (IAPL); Sudhir Dhawale, founder, Republican Panthers Jaatiya Antachi Chalwal (Republican Panthers Caste Annihilation Movement) and editor, Vidrohi magazine; Rona Wilson, public relations secretary of Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP) and Mahesh Raut, anti-displacement activist and former Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow (PMRDF). All those arrested have at various times spoken against the brutalities committed by state forces and the police against its citizens and have fought for the release of political prisoners. These arrests come in the wake of the assertion of dalit, adivasi, OBC and Muslim unity during the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan organised by the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ in Pune on December 31, 2017, and the attack by right wing organisations following the extraordinary unity among the communities.

Shoma has been charged under various stringent sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and has been accused of, among other things, inciting the violence in January 2018 through speeches; of doing so on behalf of the banned CPI (Maoist); of having links with and harbouring fugitive members of this party at various times; and of fundraising for them. By charging her with extraordinary number of sections of the IPC and UAPA, the police want to project her as a “dreaded criminal” and this legal overreach is intended to ensure a prolonged stint in police and judicial custody, irrespective of the validity of the claims. These charges are meant to serve as a life sentence to the arrested by the police, reaffirmed through the media, even if the judicial system finds them innocent in the days to come. Her arrest is part of the State’s ongoing efforts to intimidate and silence people who have been outspoken or critical of its anti-people policies.

It is a matter of grave concern that dissenting intellectuals and activists are being targeted in this manner by the state. Most of the media too is playing its role as an “arm” of the government, instead of doing what it is supposed to do, i.e., to conduct independent investigation before publishing its stories and refraining from sensationalism and media trials.

After a lifetime of working for others, people like Shoma Sen are branded ‘anti-national’ by the Indian State. Humane and perceptive people who have spent their lives working to recognise, transform and build a more democratic society, are being treated as criminals waging war against ‘national interests’. Here, we must ask, whose interests are being served? Dialogue and dissent is a crucial part of any democratic society. The repression of these voices and vindictive and excessive state action is completely unacceptable in a free democracy.

Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a network of women working for a democratic society, against patriarchy, caste discrimination, communalism and bigotry, stands in solidarity with Shoma Sen and all those arrested under these unconscionable conditions and demands their immediate and unconditional release.

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India – Caste Discrimination and the curriculum taboo

Schools, colleges and other educational institutions desist from engaging with caste in the false hope that education will remove the social inequality.

casteism and inquality in indiaIf you are part of the urban middle class, you learn to perceive caste as something remote even as it permeates your everyday world and gives you an identity. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)A news report from Maharashtra reminds us why we must keep on engaging with older issues and debates. Even as a brave new India forges ahead with smartphones and cities, caste remains a major force shaping social relations and politics. Three adolescent Dalit boys were brutally assaulted and paraded naked after they were caught having swum in a well forbidden for use by Dalits. The assault was recorded on a video.

Perpetrators of violence against members of oppressed groups document their act themselves, apparently to establish their brazenness. Perhaps, they also intend to warn others against transgressing traditionally-maintained boundaries of upper caste authority. They don’t believe that history has moved on, towards new social norms. There is something in the current political ethos that persuades them to hope for a return to old times.

The episode reminds me of the role that wells used to play in India’s social life before the advent of piped water. Wells were often demarcated as caste territories. To have a well of your own, in your courtyard, was a symbol of status. There were public wells too, commemorating the liberal vision of an enlightened authority figure. Several short stories by Premchand portray life around a well and the conflict that wells often witnessed. One poignant example is the story Thakur ka Kuan (The Thakur’s Well) probably written in the early 1930s. The plot is brief and the end bleak, although violent horror is avoided. An untouchable labourer’s wife makes an attempt to fetch water from a Thakur’s well. It is dark, and her husband is very ill and thirsty. The well accessible to the untouchables smells rotten because an animal has fallen in it. The labourer’s wife knows the terrible risk she is taking, but she goes ahead. Just when she is close to success, she is spotted and runs for her life. When she reaches home, she finds her sick husband drinking the foul water.

Many would like to believe that the portrait of India this story offers is obsolete. The Maharashtra incident proves that this is not entirely so. We can debate the exact nature of its relevance, but we can’t doubt it. As Premchand’s story figures in school and college textbooks in many parts of India, you can hear audio and video lessons on it on the internet. In most of these lessons, students are told to appreciate Premchand’s masterly treatment of old social problems like untouchability and superstition. Understanding and appreciation of his craft of fiction is important for getting good marks. The audio teacher insists that social problems like caste discrimination are a thing of the past. If they sometimes manifest today, it is only in remote villages. As expected, the lesson has a moral agenda, to establish that education is fighting against such inhuman practices.

Apart from including such literature in textbooks, education in most states does precious little to deal with caste issues in any depth or detail. Indeed, caste remains a curricular taboo: It is not supposed to be discussed directly. Nor is it acknowledged as a major social institution, shaping relationships as important as marriage. Not just schools and colleges, teacher training institutions also avoid engaging with it. All that is discussed is the reservation policy and its Constitutional aim. The hope that caste prejudices will gradually diminish, if not vanish, is based on general faith in education, rather than on any insight into how education works or how its agency can be deployed on a subject like caste.

If we try to answer two questions on this subject, we might achieve some clarity. The first question is: “Has education helped to speed up economic and social mobility among the lower-placed castes?” The second question is: “Has education helped to reduce caste-based prejudice?” The answer to the first question is, yes. On the second question, one can at best say: “Maybe, but not much”. Proof of this second answer can be found in many university campuses. From friendships to politics, the influence of caste can be observed everywhere. Many young people feel undisturbed by it. The rhetoric of being fair, open and unprejudiced is well-established in colleges, but no real learning about caste-based practices takes place. The belief persists that including the caste system in the curriculum will only reinforce it. Many schools and colleges are established by caste associations, and they too prefer to let the magic of caste remain subtle, percolating into the young mind quietly. The same applies to teacher training institutes. You cannot persuade people to take the time to read a book as slim as Indian Society (National Book Trust), written by the late S C Dube to promote informed dialogue about the caste system. Wild ideas and stereotypes nicely co-exist and flourish with revivalist politics which forbids any reference to caste on the ground that it will spoil the country’s image.

B R Ambedkar was right in seeing caste as a barrier to India’s intellectual growth, apart from being the lever of oppression. His teacher at Columbia, the educational philosopher John Dewey, had given communication a central place in his model of democracy. Ambedkar used the metaphor of social endosmosis to explain how the caste system prevents the flow of ideas and knowledge. Endosmosis ensures the passage of fluid through a membrane to an adjoining cell. The caste system, Ambedkar felt, deprives India of this basic means of social health. Like Dewey, Ambedkar had faith in the power of education to nourish democracy. Our system of education continues to be too weak to promote any kind of endosmosis, even across disciplines, let alone social groups. Someone studying science, engineering or management may never be intellectually challenged for holding casteist views. In routine life, such views reassure colleagues that you are normal. If you are part of the urban middle class, you learn to perceive caste as something remote even as it permeates your everyday world and gives you an identity

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Critique of Draft Higher Education Commission of India Bill 2018

BY- Anil Chaudhary

In response to the public notice issued by the Ministry of Human Resource Development seeking feedback on the Draft Higher Education Commission of India Bill 2018 from “educationists, stakeholders and general public”, I would like to strongly oppose this move to centralise, bureaucratise, and establish absolute government control on higher education in the country.

In its Press Release, the government has cited the bill as “downsizing the scope of the Regulator”, “removing interference in the management issues of the educational institutions”, and improving academic standards, but a reading of the Bill, actually reveals the opposite intention, that will have a disastrous effect on the access that India’s young people will have to higher education, as well as the creation of jobs in the education sector.

By withdrawing financial powers from the regulator and handing them over to the central government, and by giving the HECI unilateral and absolute powers to authorise, monitor, shut down, and recommend disinvestment from Higher Educational Institutions (henceforth HEIs), the Draft Bill will expose higher education in the country to ideological manipulation, loss of much needed diversity as well as academic standards, fee hikes, and profiteering. It will also contribute to greater marginalisation and disadvantage of millions of students, particularly from the socially oppressed sections, and imperil many educational institutions. In my opinion, rather than dismantling the University Grants Commission, the attempt must be to strengthen its consultative and enabling architecture, in such a way that promotes access, diversity, and quality.

I would like to place on record my objections to the clauses to the Draft HECI Bill, as below. I urge the government to withdraw this Bill, and initiate a discussion with teachers and students organisations and other stakeholders for suggestions as to how the UGC and its functioning may be improved.

Section 3.6: While the UGC Act 1956 clearly mandated that the Chairman of the Commission “shall be chosen from among persons who are not officers of the Government or any State Government” – precisely with a purpose to maintaining the autonomy of the Commission from any form of direct interference by governments – Section 3.6 of the Draft HECI Bill drops this necessary condition for the Chairperson’s appointment. The Chairperson of the proposed Higher Education Commission can now be selected from among functionaries of the Central or State governments, provided he/she satisfies either of two conditions listed under Section 3.6 – none of which comes into conflict with his/her holding an office of the government at the time of appointment.

Not only that, the same Section 3.6 makes the appointment of the Chairperson of HEC incumbent on the decision of a Search-Cum-Selection-Committee (ScSc), headed by Cabinet Secretary and flanked by the Secretary of Higher Education (both GoI employees). The principle of non-intervention that was enshrined in the letter of the UGC Act, as an acknowledgment of the need for autonomy in educational policy-making, is discarded by the proposed HECI Bill with regard to the very setting up of the Commission.

Section 3.6(b) of the Draft Bill maintains that the Chairperson of the proposed Higher Education Commission of India may be “an Overseas citizen of India”. We find this unacceptable, as the Chairperson of such a Commission must be someone who is a resident citizen of India, bound by its Constitution, with the requisite experience of teaching/administration in the Indian Higher Education sector.

Section 3.8: It is apparent from Section 3 of the Draft Bill that teachers have been pushed out of the Commission, almost entirely. Though the total number of members of the Commission has gone up from ten to twelve, the representation of teachers has been ominously reduced to just two. Whereas the earlier UGC Act ensured a minimum of four teachers in the 10-member Council and that at least 6 were not officers of State/Central governments (Section 5.3, UGC Act 1956), the HECI is proposed to be packed with government nominees, chairpersons of regulatory bodies, university administrators, but no teachers. In a body that is purportedly responsible for determining quality of education, learning outcomes, and other functions of academic content, we find it shocking that university professors — the only group qualified to deliver in this respect — have been so purposely reduced to an ineffectual minority. The UGC Act provision that not less than one-half of the members of the commission must not be officers of the Central Government or of any State Government has been omitted, leaving the door open for a commission comprising an overwhelming majority of government officers. Further, inclusion of a “doyen of industry”, where there are no definitions of who so qualifies to be termed as such, is highly inadvisable.

Sections 8 and 9: The Draft HECI Bill provides for Chairpersons and Members to declare the extent of their interest, “whether direct or indirect and whether pecuniary or otherwise, in any institution of research or higher educational institution or in any other professional or financial activity.” (Section 9.1) We find that the measures to address conflict of interest in the Draft Bill to be highly inadequate — mere publicity on the HECI website and self-recusal from participation in relevant decisions can be no deterrent to attempts to mould national educational policy for self-interest.

Section 12.1: The Bill provides for appointment of the Secretary to the Commission, “who shall be an officer in the rank of Joint Secretary and above to the Government of India”. Since as Section 14 goes on to state, all “instruments” – barring “orders and decisions of the Commission” – shall be “authenticated by the signature of the Secretary or any other officer of the Commission authorised in like manner”, it is amply clear that all policy-correspondence as well as issues of funding will be incumbent on the pleasures of the government. This corrodes the very ground of legislative autonomy that justified the existence of the University Grants Commission.

Section 15: Although the HECI Act is being touted as a means of ensuring both quality of education as well as greater autonomy to universities, Section 15.3 of the Draft Bill empowers the HECI to lead to a further degradation of both:

15.3(a): The HECI is empowered to specify “learning outcomes”, which invokes formulaic expectations of what university education must be oriented towards. Even the UGC’s efforts towards framing model syllabi as guides for all colleges/universities across the country – under the guise of a Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) – have been severally pointed out as inadequate, given the disparate conditions and infrastructures of learning in widely divergent local contexts. To say that students must learn X and Y by the first year, for example, is to void the classroom situation of material references to or historical indices of privilege and discrimination. To argue that SC/ST/OBC students, with their histories of deprivation, must achieve the same “learning outcomes” as those coming from metropolitan contexts of privilege is to argue against the very logic of reservation in public institutions. This will eventually push the frontiers of higher education towards a standard quantum of ‘merit’ (measured as learning outcome), thus forcing those who cannot live up to it to either drop out of universities or fail miserably. While very general directions as what should be the curricular design of what, say, an undergraduate programme should guarantee its learners are desirable, any measure that stamps out diversity as well as innovation is unwelcome.

15.3(b): The HECI is also empowered, like the UGC was, to “lay down standards of teaching / assessment / research”. It should be noted that the UGC could, correctly, only set minimum standards, so the proposed HECI has been given extraordinary powers of undermining institutional autonomy. The substantive struggle of universities with the UGC has been in the last few years, to ensure that its minimum regulations do not achieve the status of maximality. It is imperative to maintain institutional autonomy if quality is to be ensured, and an enabling framework that allows universities to harmonise their standards with the regulator’s expectations must be created.

15.3(c): The HECI has been given the power to carry out a yearly academic performance evaluation of universities. We find this bureaucratisation unacceptable and completely unfeasible. To audit the performance of public institutions and ascertain their fitness to function is to also come up with differential funding parameters for different orders of ‘performance’. This kind of graded financial liability (on the part of the government) towards grossly disparate contexts of performance across HEIs will not only create a few centres for excellence at the cost of all others, but will also strengthen existing hierarchies between regional and metropolitan institutions. Further, it is highly unlikely that the Commission will be able to do any kind of meaningful yearly evaluation of the 789 universities that the UGC website says are in existence today. All that will result from this power is a highly partial process that will disrupt the functioning of universities, and convert ‘performance’ into a punitive category.

15.3(d): The Draft Bill makes the HECI inherit the UGC’s function of promoting research, except that the divestment of its financial powers means that it will only be able to “coordinate with Government for provision of adequate funding for research”: This will make all HEIs subject to the interests of the political parties in power, and subject directly to their ideological manipulation. Compared to the UGC, which had  financial powers, and because it was composed of academics and was tasked with making decisions after consultation with universities, this will make funding for research contingent on political considerations rather than those attendant on international standards of knowledge creation. This will have an adverse effect on the standards of research carried out in Indian universities. Furthermore, it also appears that the HECI will no longer have funds of its own to promote research like the UGC did, so that the Commission’s role in furthering research (through fellowships, research projects, travel grants) will be non-existent.

15.3(e): The HECI is supposed to evolve a robust accreditation system for evaluation of academic outcomes by various HEIs, thereby subsuming the role of the National Accreditation and Assessment Council. This proposal is to tie in NAAC scores to funding allocation, at the very least (as well as performance targets), in a manner that will only prove detrimental to the development of teaching and research in newer and less privileged institutions. One presumes that the metric that will be employed is that the lower the NAAC grade, the lower the government funding and the more impossible the improvement. Such policy direction has already been hinted at in the recommendations of the Subramanian Committee Report for New Education Policy 2016. This will only institute a terrible vicious cycle, which makes performance the policy-basis for funding – rather than the other way round.

15.3(g) and 15.4.(f): The HECI is empowered to “order closure of institutions which fail to adhere to minimum standards without affecting the student’s interest or fail to get accreditation within the specified period”.  This power to close down institutions in a country that fails to provide enough HEIs has to be wielded with great caution, and with checks and balances, and a clear and detailed specification of what protecting the student’s interest must entail. While there is no question of granting impunity to incidents of fraud being perpetrated on students and their families — and it should be noted that this is a penal offence which can easily be prosecuted — the non-availability of enough publicly funded HEIs is the major reason why students flock to such institutions at exorbitant costs. Arbitrary closure, or threats thereof, shall not only deprive students of the only education that they can access, it will also put the livelihood of teachers and staff employed in these institutions in peril. Finally, such unbridled power shall in all likelihood fuel corruption.

15.4(c) and 15.4(d): The HECI is empowered to specify standards for grant of autonomy and Graded Autonomy.  The proposed move, which has in fact already been initiated by the UGC, is intended to divest the state’s investment in HEIs that perform according to standards it sets. This will entail a marketisation of HEIs, fuelling fee hikes and greater job insecurity, and will invariably lead to a complete constriction of access to the better performing institutions to poor and disadvantaged students (who constitute the bulk of the population entering higher education).

15.4(g): The HECI is also tasked with the development of “norms and mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of programmes and employability of the graduates”. The criteria used to determine “employability” do not come from within the educational domain, as the availability of employment in the country has to do with macro-economic factors. To transfer the burden of employability onto the HEIs, in the form of a conditionality for funding or as a performance index, is unfair.

15.4(l): The HECI is empowered to “specify norms and processes for fixing of fee” and to advise governments on “steps to be taken to make education affordable for all”. While The UGC Act had a very detailed section on fees (as well as subsequent regulations) on fees and a prohibition on donations, the HECI Bill makes this singularly most important provision mere matters of advice. This also signals the move from a state subsidy model to a loan-assistance policy for select private individuals – thus making way for a general user-pay principle in the funding of public education.

15.7: The HECI shall also “discharge such other functions in relation to the promotion, coordination and maintenance of standards in higher education and research as the Central Government may subject to the provisions of this Act, prescribe.” With the HECI’s forfeiture of minimum structural autonomy from the government of the day, it is now perfectly possible for the latter to dictate the terms and conditions of enrolment as well as content of academic courses in the name of ensuring uniformity.

Although the HECI Act is being publicised as giving autonomy to HEIs, the provisions of the Draft Bill actually invest the HECI and the Central Government with extraordinary powers, without any checks and balances. Individual HEIs have no power to demand consultation, inquiry, or even appeal against any of its decisions.  The HECI Act sets up the regulator as a gatekeeper who manages the market and the tractability of the workforce it produces — the goal is to create an authority that has total control over the market, including the power to expel those that exact continued subsidy from the state. Compliance will demand from HEIs absolute obedience, to an authority that is ruled by political expediency and with very little expertise in education.

Section 16.1: By this provision, no HEI established after this Bill is passed can start awarding degrees unless it is authorised, and Universities established before it will be considered authorised for THREE YEARS only, after which it may be revoked. This will create grave uncertainty in well-established institutions, and will certainly harm students’ interests, who may be enrolled in courses for longer than three year duration. As the section makes authorisation contingent on achieving a set of goals over a decade, this will lead to re-orientations in HEI policies based not on academic considerations, but severe pressure on administrators and teaching communities. The provision for imposition of penalties contained in Section 23 may be useful for a political party wishing to enforce instant obedience, but are of no value to those actually working in the education sector, where a culture of reasoned argument and careful consideration must be the norm.

Section 24: Sections 12(e)-(g) of the UGC Act 1956 prescribed an advisory role for the Commission, with regard to information necessary or sought by the Central or State Governments. The Draft HECI Bill 2018 performs a complete inversion of this. It mandates the setting up of an Advisory Council within the Commission, chaired by the “Union Minister for Human Resources Development” and with “Chairpersons/Vice-Chairpersons of all State Councils for Higher Education as members”. (Section 24.1) The presence of a government-controlled advisory organ in the Commission, headed by the HRD Minister, puts all pretensions of legislative autonomy to rest and structurally subordinates higher education to the political intentions of the government of the day.

Section 26: The provision that the HECI Act will have an overriding effect is extremely disturbing, as this will effectively nullify the various Acts of Parliament that have constituted existing universities. These acts have promoted a diversity of orientation in institutions, suited to the plural needs of our diverse country, and have maintained the distinctiveness and relevance of our institutions to their local and national milieu. Reducing all HEIs to a dull uniformity will not produce a responsive higher education. Since HECI’s “Regulations relating to promoting quality and setting standards shall have prior approval of Central Government” (Section 29), it is the government who will effectively run every single HEI in the country.

The Draft HECI Bill will entrench a regulatory system that will just liquidate otherwise all the investments in education that the Indian people have made through the taxes they have paid for the last seven decades. The “changing priorities of higher education” – as the Draft Bill 2018 claims to address – do not warrant the setting up of a Commission that delinks regulatory functions from funding commitments. By desiccating the UGC’s grant-disbursal powers and locating them solely in the Central government, the proposed Commission will become a means to ensuring ideological compliance from universities as the pre-condition for public funding. This further produces the risk of a punitive disciplining of institutions, through a deliberate withdrawal of funds by the government at will, on the slightest pretext. Most significantly, not only does the Draft HECI Bill violate the very idea of autonomy that the UGC was modelled on, but it also goes a long way in insisting that universities and other higher education institutions be reduced to organs of the government.

I believe that the HECI Act 2018 has the potential for adversely affecting the future of all HEIs in the country by destroying the ground for their autonomous functioning and mandating a compulsory interference from governments. It would be best therefore to withdraw this proposed Act, in the independent interests of a “scientific temper” and “spirit of inquiry” that the Indian Constitution enjoins us to.

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Saving tigers, killing people #SundayReading

States are evicting and murdering Indigenous people in the guise of biodiversity conservation.

Indigenous women from the Rabha tribe, pictured during prayer. Many Rabhas were evicted from the Buxa-Chilapata forests after the creation of a national park [Photo credit: Global Forest Coalition]
Indigenous women from the Rabha tribe, pictured during prayer. Many Rabhas were evicted from the Buxa-Chilapata forests after the creation of a national park [Photo credit: Global Forest Coalition]

From forced eviction to restrictions on access to resources, conservation practices have long been tied to violence against the indigenous peoples that live in forest areas. In recent years, we witnessed an exponential increase in conservation-related violence across the world.

Today, as conservation efforts become more and more militarised, state-sponsored actors are not only evicting and restricting the movements of indigenous community members, but also killing them for allegedly trespassing on their own ancestral lands.

In India, conservation violence seems to be on the rise.

On June 5, a 40-year-old villager named Roopchand Sonwane was beaten to death by Forest Department Officials in the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, near Pench Tiger Reserve. Sonwane was simply collecting firewood, but officials suspected he was preparing to fell teak trees so they detained him and took him to a forest ranger’s residence. At the residence, they beat up and killed the villager and later burned his body to destroy evidence.

In November 2017, two people were killed and five others injured when police opened fire to disperse protesters demanding compensation before they move out of areas near the Kaziranga National Park as part of a state-sanctioned eviction drive. 


Myanmar denies villagers access to ancestral lands

Also in November last year, over 700 families were rendered homeless by a similar eviction drive in the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary located in the northeast Indian state of Assam. A posse of 1,500 policemen carried out the eviction razing houses, demolishing schools and places of worship, and injuring women and children in the process.

Since 2007, Forest Department Officials shot and killed at least 13 villagers in the Buxa National Park, a Tiger Reserve situated along the foothills of the eastern Himalayas in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. Officials claimed the killed villagers were part of a so-called “timber mafia”. 

Elsewhere in the Indian states of Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, coercive relocation of forest communities is continuing in the protected areas of NagarholeAchanakmar, Udanti, Tadoba Andhari Tiger ReserveMelghat, and Pench.

For decades, India’s Forest Department officials – aided and abetted by the omnipotent National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) – have been implementing a violent policy of “people-less conservation” resulting in human rights violations.

But, of course, people-less conservation is not a problem specific to India. Across the world, governments have long been using the need for the conservation of land and wildlife as an excuse to remove Indigenous communities from their homes, sometimes with the support of large international conservation groups

Targeted relocation and eviction of indigenous and local communities living in biodiversity-rich ecosystems for conservation, have, over the years, brutalised, belittled and decimated them. Communities have gone extinct, their traditions, language and culture vanishing forever.

Take the example of San and Bakgalagadi people who have been removed from their ancestral lands to make way for the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana or the Miwok people who were forced to leave the Yosemite National Park in California. Maasai of eastern Africa were similarly pushed off their traditional grazing lands to make way for the parks that foreign tourists enjoy today. The Dongi-Dongi people were evicted from their homes in Sulawesi, Indonesia and the Banding Agung were removed from the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra.


African tribes losing ground to conservation

One study estimates that as many as 14 million people in Africa alone have become “conservation refugees” since the beginning of modern conservation efforts in the 19th century. In India, the government also admits pushing over a million people out of National Parks, mostly to protect tigers.

Today, most governments around the world imitate this Western style of people-less conservation and continue to disregard community-based conservation systems where communities can coexist with wildlife.

But globally, there is a wealth of knowledge and documentation around Community Conserved Areas (CCAs) where local communities have championed biodiversity protection. 

A growing body of scientific evidence shows that forest communities and indigenous peoples actively conserve and restore biodiversity in their territories, with women often taking the lead in such conservation efforts. Studies show that such conservation governance systems are often more effective in protecting biodiversity than systems that prioritise formation of state-controlled conservation areas.

Moreover, when protected areas overlap with the traditional territories of indigenous communities, they harm the communities’ health, livelihoods and spiritual wellbeing. Protected areas threaten essential aspects of the communities’ resilience, such as their autonomy and self-management.

Community-based conservation systems protect the land and wildlife while also taking local people’s rights, knowledge, culture and skills, as well as their right to land and territory into consideration.

Indigenous communities have conserved their territories for millennia through their own customary practices. They are closely connected to these ecosystems.

Therefore, the mainstream, militarised conservation model supported by states like India and often big international conservation NGOs must change. It must give way to a more humane and community-centred, managed and governed model of conservation that will not only protect our forests and conserve biodiversity, but will also secure livelihoods, provide shelter and ensure the well-being of millions of people who call forests their home.

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The Truth Behind This Viral Video Claiming Hindu School Kids Are Being Taught Namaz

How an exercise that was meant to teach children religious harmony and diversity was used to spread the opposite on social media.


A video showing school children being taught verses from the Quran at a school in Shivamogga, Karnataka is in fact only one video in a two-part clip where the second video shows the same students being taught Sanskrit Shlokas from the Bhagavad Gita.


The video has been viral on social media since the past week. The clip has been shared with a misleading an incomplete narrative that Hindu students are being taught how to say Namaz or Islamic prayers.


The video has been shared on Facebook and Twitter with the message that states, “In Congress-JDS ruled Karnataka in Shivamogga the teacher in a school is teaching Namaz to Hindu children. If the Gita had been taught in any Madrasah, the whole media would have forced the government to apologise. Plz spread this video so that Hindus can know how our religion is been destroyed by these secular parties…

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