By Avneesh Kumar:
This is a rejoinder to an article written by Mohandas Pai that appeared on 15th February. The article blames JNU for not promoting “new thoughts and vibrant debates,” and not allowing the “flowering of alternate views.” The author also recommends that universities should be “more open,” where merit should be the reason to hire faculty, not a particular ideology. Mr. Pai, these are the things for which students in Indian universities are also fighting.
Let me take this opportunity to remind you of the protests at FTII (Film And Television Institute Of India) and Hyderabad Central University. I presume you know the rest.
About ideology and merit, some other day, some other place. Today, I want to concentrate on the issue of subsidising education by using taxpayers’ money. Mr. Pai believes that students should only be studying, and probably thus become wonks. He writes that taxpayers’ money should not be used for funding politics.
Dear Mr. Pai, first things first. Like you, I also pay taxes – directly and indirectly. And so do my mother, father, brother, friends and many other fellow Indians who I know and do not know. They might not agree with my views and actions, but neither do they ‘taunt’ me about paying taxes and funding my studies. Since you are obsessed with “funding [my] studies, not [my] politics,” let me express it very categorically that funding my studies in a public university does not mean you determine what I should indulge in. I decide about my interests. Yes, despite enrolling myself into a university, I will take part in politics, and I will involve myself in activism, and more importantly, I will do what I think is right. This should be none of your business or, for that matter, anyone else’s. I am not your slave, and neither are other students. Please note this.
Let’s keep the matter of funding education aside for a moment and move on to the other things that ‘we’ fund. First, let’s talk about the North-East. It may seem hard to accept, but we fund a draconian law like AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) and, therefore, institutionalised rape and murder. You remember naked women protesting in Manipur with banners that said, “Indian Army Rape Us.” The protest was organised because a young girl, Thangjam Manorama, was raped and killed. Amnesty International notes that AFSPA has “facilitated grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape and torture and other ill treatment.” Who pays for the salaries of the people involved in horrendous crimes like these?
Let’s discuss the Indian parliament now – the essence of democracy, temple of democracy and so on, as is repeatedly said. Do you remember the MPs watching porn in Parliament. And the government has acknowledged that each minute of running our parliamentary establishment costs Rs. 2.5 lakh. We all know how much parliament has functioned in recent times. Ask yourself, do ‘we’ want to fund all this?
Next, the country is bracing itself for the statues of Sardar Patel and Shivaji that are to be built. If completed, Shivaji’s statue will be 190 meters tall, the highest in the world. We are going to shell out over Rs. 5,000 crores on these two statues. I wonder whether people paid taxes to build these statues.
Now the NDA’s (National Democratic Alliance) celebration of the completion of its first year in power. According to a report, which cites Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP) data, the NDA government splurged over Rs. 50 crores on advertising, including advertising to mark its first anniversary. Wasn’t that taxpayers’ money?
Consider government’s spending on advertisements to promote ‘Yoga Day’ and ‘Mann ki Baat’. An RTI (Right To Information) query revealed that the government wasted almost Rs. 24 crores to promote these two programmes.
I can go on and on describing where the Indian state uses taxpayers’ money. But I do not wish to make this piece unnecessary long. You are more experienced than me and know better than I do how the Indian taxpayers’ money is spent.
I am sincerely making a request to you, Mr. Pai. Please give up the idea that you appear to hold so dear that subsidised education means you can control students’ minds and actions.
Also, I have a few questions to ask to you, Mr. Pai. What do you want university students to be? Do you want them to accept the authority of governments without questioning them? Are you suggesting that we should change our principles with a change in government? Do you want us to be party to the corruption, hooliganism, and shameful policies of our governments?