Category Archives: education



Image Courtesy: Google Image

Aligarh Muslim University [AMU], every now and then, hits the headlines in the mainstream media. Not much opposed to its tradition, it is now also in the news-debate regarding a strong allegation put by a section of people that, non-Muslims are not being provided food in the hostels of AMU during the month of Ramzan.” Before going to any kind of explanations and clarifications regarding this nuanced issue, I would like to draw your attention to see what kind of messages being circulated in the internet/media.

AMU should not adopt the policy of disengagement with criticism rather the non-disengagement policy will bring spring blossoms to it.

First of all, an online media platform has reported, Nadeem Ansari, vice-president of the AMU students’ union, confirmed to Scoop Whoop News that this indeed is the tradition for “more than 50 years”. Asked how do non-fasting students manage during this time, Ansari said that they “arrange for their food” and it has never been an issue.” Moreover, AMU’s Dean Students’ Welfare member Prof Jamshed Siddiqui said “the tradition of not serving breakfast and lunch in hostel mess has been in place for years and that there are “standing orders” that no food will be served in any function in the campus.” However, the enthusiastic DNA reported that “Jyoti Bhaskar, a student of Mass Communication and a prominent youth activist at the AMU said, “It is sad that religious angle is being given to this entire issue.” “There is a provision in our hostel to provide us lunch (during Ramzan) if we give it in writing.”

Then you come to this post where different viewpoints have been put forward by the resident students of AMU. One female student from Begum Sultan Jahan Hall is claiming that there is no problem of getting food during Ramzan. Coherently enough, another male student from AMU provided a counter-argument of non-availability of meals during Ramzan in most of the Halls. Please mind the phrase- “in most of the Halls”. I will come back to it later. Yet another website called The Lallantop declared that the “Hindu students are starving there at AMU campus as no breakfast or lunch is being served”. However, the authorities have claimed that those [Muslims and non-Muslims both] want to have lunch during the month of Ramzan can approach the authorities in writing.

In this entire episode, one thing is clear that both the parties are losing a beating fight. One section is portraying the half-chewed fact and the other one is trying to save the image of AMU from being fallen prey to communalised discourses. Even the try is to show that AMU’s policy is largely inclusive and not exclusive in nature whereas the actual controversy is largely meted out on the ground that whether food is being served to Gair-Rozadars [those who do not fast] or not during Ramzan. Now, let’s move towards my points and arguments.

But before making any expert comment at this political outset, let me introduce myself first. I have been a student of AMU from 2008 till 2014. In the six-years of my AMU life, I stayed five years at Mohammad Habib Hall and the remaining one-year of my stay I dwelled at Sherwani Hall. I witnessed the six occasions of Ramzan. Frankly speaking, whatever the issue is, giving it a communal colour will lead you to a fool’s paradise. One more thing I should clarify here is that if someone is looking for an objective truth in this issue, will be a futile exercise. All are subjective interpretations. Even, I can only share some valid arguments regarding the scenario in Habib Hall during my stay. Let me come to all the arguments one by one.

First, whether food is being served to non-Muslims during Ramzan or not. This statement is equally valid and invalid too. Indeed food is being served but the point is when. The usual timing of serving food to all the resident students was sehri, iftar[1] and dinner and Habib Hall was of no exception. Breakfast and lunch are missing from most of the boys Halls, which is synching with Dean Students’ Welfare member’s statement, whereas the same is being served to the girls’ hostels [Abdullah Hall, Indira Gandhi Hall and Begum Sultan Jahan Hall], if I am not wrong. During my stay at AMU, when I shared the story of non-availability of lunch during Ramzan, my female friends would reply me with opposite facts. When I asked them the reason, they told me that the mess in the girls’ hostels are run by private bodies whereas it is not the case with Habib Hall, at least. One probable explanation of not-providing food during Ramzan might be like this; as most of the staffs [even in some cases all] working in the dining halls are Muslims; working in the dining may break their fast [loosely speaking]. But one could still be in apprehension about the validity of this claim.

Secondly, as opposed to my experience I shared in the earlier paragraph, an article reported, Another hostel, Habib Hall, on the other hand, prepares food at regular hours for non-fasting students, but only on demand. Dr Suhail Sabir, provost, Habib Hall explains, “Since the number of students eating lunch in mess is very low, we don’t make it as usual but on demand. If any student wants lunch, he can inform the mess incharge and food will be prepared for him. There are several non-Muslims who’ve demanded food while several others have not. We make food accordingly.” Although the Provost of Habib Hall is claiming of serving food on regular basis now, it was not the case during my tenure. I do not know the actual scene of Habib Hall now but still I have apprehension about this claim. However, as Dr. Suhail Sabir has been a good, hard-working and dedicated Provost as he has proved his credentials by bringing revolutionary changes in the picturesque of Moshinul Mulk Hall during his tenure, he deserves little criticism. Taking the cue of his honesty forward, I hope that his words about Habib Hall were implemented well before AMU hits the headlines.

But, one thing is very much appreciable of my Rozadar friends that they will not leave you alone while they are having their iftar. They used to invite people around to attend them in iftar as they regularly did this to me. I cannot remember a day, during my AMU life, when I was not invited for iftar by any of my Rozadar friends. This issue of food is about the policy of AMU administration and not about Muslims and non-Muslims. Giving this issue a communal direction is absolutely unwarranted. Dining issue has always been a problem in AMU, be it quality, quantity or both. Every now and then the rhetoric of solving the dining issue comes, but eventually it is being tactfully dealt to rest it in peace. The dining issue needs immediate consideration from the administration.

If I conclude my arguments, I could only say one thing that the issue is not about Muslims versus non-Muslims rather the issue is dining versus the AMU administration. Closing the dining during Ramzan will bring [and has already brought] negative images to AMU. Even the surrounding dhabas are closed in this month and the only way out is to cook. When a student is regular member of a dining hall, why should s/he be subject to cooking during this month? Why this double-standard? Despite of some communally directed and misleading headlines in the news, AMU still did not prove itself to claim its position beyond criticism. When AMU faces criticism, a sub-intellect kind of argument-“as BJP is in power, it is trying to communalise the environment”- is ready to come out from some sections of AMU. This pre-conceived notion needs to be deconstructed. It is always not profitable to perceive every action of any particular political organisation with suspicion although RSS-backed-BJP has its politics thieved on hatred. The issue of dining in AMU should have been given serious attention and it is good that a political organisation has taken up the issue. AMU should not adopt the policy of disengagement with criticism rather the non-disengagement policy will bring spring blossoms to it.

The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at Institute of Development Studies Kolkata and has been a student of AMU from 2008 to 2014. He can be reached at @modontanti

[1] Please bear with me if I write the Urdu/Arabic words improperly.


People’s Politics Is Not About People – the Lesson ‘Progressive’ Politics Taught Me

Note: this writeup is largely an ‘insider’ criticism about the ‘radical left’ that the writer has come in contact with, online and offline, mostly in Kolkata.

A few experiences with ‘progressives’:

Case 1: “He’s brilliant, y’know, he topped the Joint Entrance Examination! This organization has excellent members, many medical and engineering student.” – is how I was informed about a certain students’ organization. Many of the members of the organization often took pride in the academic records of their own and the fellow members. They took pride in the educational institutes which were ‘centres of excellence’. I saw some of them recently organizing a talk on meritocracy and the problematic conceptions of merit.

Case 2: A discussion was organized. The discussion was attended by quite a few, including students, some of them Dalits and Adivasis, who participated in the discussion. The chief speaker, however, was an upper caste teacher with no history of regular participation in anti-caste struggles. No one said a word when this speaker spoke. No one asked about his neighbourhood, the demographics, the flat-owners. However, there were several interruptions of enquiry – about landholding, demographics etc. in his village – when an Adivasi student was speaking right after him. The discussion was about caste oppression, organised by a platform against caste violence in college campuses.

Case 3: A conference was to be organized in protest against some atrocities. The progressives sat together to decide which persons to invite as speakers. The speakers’ list was decided according to how important the mainstream media finds the speakers.

Case 4: “Ew, look at all the fat on him!” said one progressive person, pointing at a fellow comrade. Another progressive fellow, at a different moment, said to a girl, “you’re pretty!”

Case 5: A progressive person, in a public meeting, described a girl, “she doesn’t do much, she just walks around the campus wearing shorts,” progressively making it a point to mention her clothing.

Case 6: A progressive fellow, eloquent in his description of alienation in the society and the cruelties of capitalism, mentioned of someone, “he’s a waste, he’s just a depressed guy who can’t stick to one job.” On another occasion, the fellow said to another guy, “it’s a low-skill job, which is why you’re paid so low.”

Case 7: A progressive election of committee members – one progressive fellow who has been part of the previous committee calls some others aside, and asks whether they would like to be a part of the new committee. One of them says this cannot be decided like this, others too must opine. Then, the member proposes the names in the meetings, and asks if anyone objects. No one does, and thus the committee is elected.

Case 8: A progressive fellow writes in a magazine that a ‘glorious minority’ emerging from ‘castles’ of progressiveness, which happens to be two of the elite educational institutes of the city of Kolkata, will possibly play a crucial role in ushering in progressive social change (or something of the sort).

Case 9: One progressive to another, “you need to get him into our organization before someone else recruits him into theirs! He seems to be hanging out more with them. What are you doing?”

Case 10: One progressive, at the dissociation from ‘JNU Nationalism’ in a statement condemning anti-Kashmiri violence and RSS-ABVP-media’s role in shutting down discussions on Kashmir, said that she could not stand for ‘militant anti-intellectualism’.

And so on. What I meant to say is that in its practice, as far as I have seen in my limited experience of them in Kolkata, ‘progressive’ politics often marginalizes the vulnerable, the shy one, the ‘ugly’ one, the one who’s struggling to carry on in a world that is so cruel to them, the ones without much ‘social capital’ and upholds the ones with it, just like the rest of the society does, as long as they sing its tune. It talks about debates and discussions, but finds ways to shut down interactions and forms mutually antagonistic cocoons within the ‘progressive’ circles, often through outright slander.

I know I too am far from its vices. I’ve been insensitive, casteist, patriarchal, ableist and so on, and I still often am. This is not guilt-mongering, this is the admission of a problem which needs at least an attempt at a solution. Similar problems exist in various ‘progressive’ quarters, those I am acquainted with, with very little admission, and far less attempts at finding a solution. Take the case of caste. Leftist politics, the kind I’ve seen and have been a part of, owes much to Dalit-Adivasi movements and articulations in developing its understanding of caste oppression and it still has a long way to go, but I’ve hardly seen many admitting to this contribution of Dalit-Adivasi politics (which now compels even the arch-elitist leftists to give a lip-job in condemning the conventional idea of merit and meritocracy). Interestingly, many of the voices critical about Dalit politics (‘identity politics’) do not ascribe any general negative description to left politics. I have come across a post on Facebook strangely describing Salwa Judum as ‘identity politics’, since Salwa Judum talked about getting rid of non-Adivasi ‘outsiders’ from Adivasi-inhabited lands. I wondered if the same poster would also draw an analogy between Marxist-Leninist leftist politics and proponents of theocracy, since the former speaks of a group of ‘vanguards’ who are of an ‘advanced consciousness’ and thus more fit to be leaders, quite like the theocrats who find their religious leaders to be of advanced consciousness. I wondered whether the leftist who described the Dalit-Bahujan web-platform Round Table India as ‘cynical’ (as if after all these years of ignoring and marginalizing the caste issue, there is no reason to be cynical) would also describe Kafila, a website run by various university professors and ‘scholars’, as casteist, if such general descriptions are to be given to them. At the same time, I am hardly acquainted with the various strands of Dalit politics, but I’ve come across constitutionalist, patriarchal, elitist assertions claiming to be propagating the anti-caste cause.

There is no ‘pure’ human being, not even close, nor can there be in this society where one’s self-preservation and gratification are often at odds with those of others. The term ‘progressive’ assigned to oneself is thus often little more than vacuous self-aggrandizement. Yet we must engage with each other, and find modes of socialization that are beneficial to all parties involved. We should engage with all, and at the same time, while oppression exists, we should all have relatively ‘safer spaces’, for it is hard to imagine a person who is not oppressed in some ways. This is cliché, but needs repetition – if the gratification of one rests on the subjugation of another, then that is a problem. Even the informal social networks that we create are often based on hierarchies within, which we need to be mindful of and guard against. We need to stop celebrating social capital in all our engagements. It is NOT politics against oppression where oppressed people don’t get much space to express their thoughts. Neither does it help when various kinds of oppression go unnoticed. We need to get greater participation for all in a political process, find out ways in which people are wrongly excluded from greater and more meaningful participation, and try to resist them.

by Sutanaya

Scrapping non-NET Fellowship: No Merit in That

Here I would try to argue that the University Grants Commission’s decision to scrap non-NET fellowship is problematic by calling into question the idea of merit and entitlement based on which some are trying to justify this decision.

After the JRF amount was hiked, many expected that the same would happen for the non-NET fellowship amount which stood at Rs. 5000 and Rs. 8000 per month for MPhil and PhD students of central universities who are not getting any other UGC fellowship. However, the committee that was deliberating on the topic of increasing this fellowship amount has decided to scrap the fellowship altogether.

Then, what could be the argument in favour of continuing with the fellowship? After all, aren’t we talking about students who could not qualify for JRF, and hence have proven themselves ineligible? Why must the government waste more money on them?

If we are to honestly answer this question, a look at qualifying for JRF as a metric for eligibility must be called into question. For that, let us take a look at the ‘education’ system.

Schooling: What Is Excellence?

This education system provides education in a language that is not accessible to most, in a manner that actively dissuades students from thinking critically and analytically, and with content that is tainted with class, religious, caste, gender, and other biases. Broadly speaking, the education system has different approaches towards the poor, the Dalits, women and the ‘third’ gender, the disabled in the society, people from various ‘underdeveloped’ parts of the country, and neither last nor the least, the disobedient and the critical thinker – the said categories are NOT mutually exclusive. And the idea of excellence in such a system reflects all those biases.

What is excellence in a system where in maths and sciences, your tried-and-tested formula for excellence is a list of ‘suggestions’ – questions which will presumably appear in the examinations you are preparing for, which either your elite private or government school or your tutorials whom you pay a shitload of money will provide you with, so that you can ‘excel’ by mugging up the answers to those questions? What is excellence in a system where the teachers trained by the same rote-learning methods will not accept a correct answer because that answer does not come from the books or notes they have mugged up? What is ‘good writing’ in a system where students speaking various dialects are forced to write in the elite Brahminical dialects (which are not even recognised as dialects, but are seen as the ‘shuddh’ expression of the language) and are penalised with humiliation and low grades when they struggle with it? What is ‘good history’ in a system that is mostly preoccupied with the lives of the rulers, and that too with strong Hinduist Brahminical taints and hardly permitting analytical expressions from the students, demanding mostly memorising of dates of battles and names of rulers? What is excellence in literature in a system where the literature of and by the marginalised in terms of caste, class, ability, language, culture and gender hardly finds its way into the textbooks, and while their stories in their narration stay far from the syllabi, the literature by the authors revered by the elite is almost never subjected to critical analysis to explore the existing oppressions in different social systems and to inspire thoughts regarding how to change the systems? What is excellence in a system where ‘specialised’ education methods and equipments for PwD students are seen as a waste of public money where a little spending could have made it possible for many of them to study the subjects they would’ve liked to, even though the government has money for the bureaucrats, parliamentarians and corporations? And how easy for a student to speak up for their rights when they are crushed under the weight of the one teaching this monstrosity of an education system strives so hard to impart – that you deserve to be treated as shit if you fail the system?

‘Underdevelopment’, or deliberate negligence on part of the governments to provide proper educational facilities, has turned getting education into a struggle for many poor, dalits and tribals. The lack of teachers, books, pencils, blackboards, computers, internet, various educational toys to aid the learning process, free time from housework and other labour, electricity, guidance from parents and other sources etc has created and keeps on broadening the gap in accessing materials necessary for their ‘good performance’ in schools between the poor students and their wealthier counterparts.

Colleges: An Open Space?

The schools send some through to colleges and chuck the rest out at various levels. In higher education, along with rote learning, marginalisation based on class, caste, gender, ability, culture, good English which is a privilege of the elite too enters the rank of ‘merit’, further throttling the expressions of most of the marginalized, both in the classroom and on the answer script which determines one’s entry into the next stage. The silencing mechanism incorporates, among others, ridiculing and ignoring their contributions to classroom discussions, both by teachers and many other elite students. This delivers a blow to their confidence and takes a toll on their studies.

A System of Exclusion

UGC-NET is the crowning glory of such a system. Further, it espouses another attribute present in the education system – that of exclusion through competition. Whether you will get the JRF does not depend on your score alone, rather it also depends on how others perform on it. This other attribute of the education system fosters animosity among students and reduces cooperation and learning from each other. Many have attacked UGC-NET for its stress on rote-learning, but that will tell only part of the story. It is not to be seen as an aberration of the education system, but as reflecting its values. And the education system is not to be seen as some benevolent failure, but is to be seen as a violent system which has integrated the values of irrationality and uncritical obedience to authority which protects its classist, Brahminical, elitist fabric.

This education system needs to be overhauled for a better one, and that will not happen in isolation while the society continues with its classist, casteist, ableist, patriarchal, elitist practices. But this decision to scrap non-NET fellowship is a step clearly against that direction, as this will deny many a shot at MPhil and PhD, making higher education further exclusive to those with privileges and barring many from the marginalized a chance at contributing to the academic discourse and changing it for the better. The MPhil and PhD students are research workers, and the non-NET students are paid quite low for their work, which often involves travel expenses to field sites, libraries etc, purchasing of books and other materials, arranging for accommodation and food where there are no free hostels and messes and so on. Even access to many online journals and articles are privileged and one has to pay if one is outside the privileged circles. The elitist ‘logic’ that justifies a lower payment to a contract teacher compared to a permanent teacher, a higher payment to a manager compared to a factory worker (where this education system worked to determine their positions in the society) is the same ‘logic’ where JRF and non-JRF students’ getting differential compensation for the same work finds justification. It is high time we rebelled against this.

For a more detailed exploration of the casteist nature of merit, see this.

by Sutanaya