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The Year That Was For Educational Institutions In India: Govt Interference, Protests And Bans!

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By Abhishek Jha:

The UPA government earned ire during its tenure for interference in academic institutions while introducing FYUP, the new format for entrance into IITs, and the like. Before the UPA, NDA was accused of introducing inaccuracies in NCERT textbooks for furthering its sectarian agenda. Now, the BJP led government at the centre is again being accused of unnecessary and increasing interference with academic institutions in the country. Recently, Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen told Indian Express and India Today that he had never before seen the amount of academic interference as he is seeing now. “The board wanted unanimously me to continue as chancellor, but the government’s advice was clear: under no circumstances,” he told The Indian Express on his resignation from the post of chancellor at the newly established Nalanda University. Here we list instances where the current government has earned flak, seen resistance, and been criticised for interfering in academic work.

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1. Nalanda University: Established in November 2010 by a Special Act of Indian Parliament, it is mandated to be “an international institution for the pursuit of intellectual, philosophical, historical and spiritual studies“. In a letter to its governing board, chancellor Amartya Sen alleged that “the governing board was kept completely in the dark about an attempted unilateral move by the government to rapidly reconstitute the entire board, and to do this in violation of some parts of the Nalanda University Act (reflected especially in the letters that have already been sent out to foreign governments, departing from the provisions of the act as it now stands).” This is apart from government’s obstinate stand on the issue of Sen himself.

2. Indian Council of Historical Research: Questions were raised about the appointment of Prof. Y. S. Rao to ICHR by historians like Romila Thapar and D. N. Jha. The Hindu reported that in a 2007 blog post Prof. Rao had defended the caste system and opined that rigidity in it had crept in due to Muslim invasions. Prof. Rao subsequently had suggested the names of three historians who are office bearers of RSS’s Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana for ICHR’s council.

3. National Book Trust: Established in 1957 by the MHRD with the objective “to produce and encourage the production of good literature in English, Hindi and other Indian languages and to make such literature available at moderate prices to the public and to bring out book catalogues, arrange book fairs/exhibitions and seminars and take all necessary steps to make the people book minded,” the NBT was given a new chairman Baldev Sharma in March. Sharma was the former editor of Panchajanya, a Hindi weekly newspaper published by the RSS. The incumbent chairman A. Sethumadhavan’s term was cut short by 6 months when the MHRD allegedly asked him to leave in February this year as it wanted to appoint a new chairman.

4. Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, IIT Madras: The study circle, a student group from IIT Madras, was de-recognised by the institute in May this year and asked not to use institute resources following a letter from the MHRD that sought comments from the IIT-M administration based on an anonymous complaint. The ministry’s action on the complaint was questioned as it seemed to flout a Central Vigilance Commission guideline from last year that stated that no action is to be taken based on anonymous complaints. After nationwide protests and a meeting with the institute, the group was reinstated by the institute administration.

5. Choice Based Credit System in Delhi University: A UPA-II initiative, this system is again being pushed forward by the UGC and MHRD. DU professor Abha Dev Habib wrote on YKA that universities with a semester system have expressed concerns about it and that it “has reduced teaching time, over-burdened universities and colleges with examination work, reduced time for in-depth and self-study, and failed to provide a structure that caters to need of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and varied schooling.” Both professors and students have been protesting over the implementation of this system.

6. Film and Television Institute of India, Pune: Students in the institute have been on an indefinite strike from 12 June this year protesting the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, who played Yudhhishthir in the popular TV serial Mahabharat, as the Chairman of the governing council of the institute. The students alleged that the actor did not have the adequate qualification or the vision to run the institute. Harishankar Nachimuthu, president of the student body of the institute, told NDTV that “these are partisan appointments and it is sad that the government is undermining the autonomy of the institute.” Some members appointed to the council have left in solidarity with the students. Popular Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor has supported the students’ demands even as eminent filmmakers and students protest against the appointment. Reports now suggest that government is considering shutting the institute down or transferring ownership to Bollywood as a meeting between I&B Minister Arun Jaitley and student protesters has failed to break the deadlock.

7. IIM: The draft IIM bill, on which the MHRD had sought opinion, drew flak for giving too much control to the government. The bill, which proposes to make IIMs institutes of national importance, also gives undue power to the Central Government. The section “power of Central Government to issue directions” says, “Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this Act, the Institute shall, for the efficient administration of this Act, be bound by such directions on questions of policy, as the Central Government may give in writing to it from time to time” and that “The decision of the Central Government whether a question is one of policy or not, shall be final.

More trouble awaits foreigners who intend to do research work in India. “All research visa applications will be thoroughly scrutinised. An applicant has to submit a brief note in advance about the project in which the research work will be conducted. If we find it appropriate, non-controversial and beneficial to India, then only the applicant will be given a visa,” a senior Home Ministry official told PTI. Former High Commissioner of India to Pakistan Satyabrata Pal responding to Christine Mehta‘s account of her deportation due to her research work for Amnesty International told The Wire that “unlike most governments of the past which took a fairly liberal view on this issue, the current government has a different view on whether free thought is actually good or not.” He also reportedly said that no ministry has the expertise to deal with “anything technical or fully academic“. In March, the Delhi University Students’ Union, dominated by the ruling BJP’s student wing ABVP, asked for a ban on Ankur Society on the grounds that it was “playing drama which is anti-Hindu and giving a wrong message to the society (sic).

Governments over the years have often imposed their hasty decisions on academic institutions and at times tried to further their own political agenda through such decisions. Despite resistance and small victories, this has continued. However, the pace at which it has happened and the amount of friction it has generated in just about a year of this new government makes our academic future look bleaker than ever. With unprecedented majority, there is also little resistance that this government will face in imposing its whims and fancies. Instead of fighting to make the horizon of available freedoms wider, we are battling for basic freedoms.

Does this remind you of an incident that took place in your college or university? Or is there something going on that everyone needs to know about?#RaiseYourVoice, become a correspondent with Campus Watch at Youth Ki Awaaz and share your thoughts with the world. Sign up here.

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  1. Annie

    Hello, Thanks for sharing this informative post about educational system and Indian Council of Historical Research is the main topic.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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