On October 31, the student fraternity of TISS Hyderabad was shocked to hear its BA Social Sciences programme had been shut down. Thought to be a flagship course of the institute, it is an extremely innovative venture to engage with society and practically debate and academically get involved in various issues and concerns of the entire country. A vast populace of students over the last five years have been attracted towards this first-of-its-kind liberal arts programme in India. Having a wide array of disciplines taught in a very comprehensive and critical manner, the course made students think and engage with theory and corollary practical concerns extensively.
Through the sudden repealing of the course, citing logistical and administrative encumbrances, the institute is curbing the students from being inquisitive and intellectually enthusiastic, largely. I would like to highlight some of the fascinating aspects of this course and would like to link it with contemporary socio-political trends, where intellectualism, rationality and logic is trivialised rampantly.
Firstly the course largely has an interdisciplinary appeal. It redefines the social sciences in a meticulous fashion. It has actually changed many people’s narrow understanding of the social sciences, as being just geography and history, through its alumni. To the best of my knowledge, no similar liberal arts programme has a such a dynamic curriculum and pedagogy.
TISS is one of the very few institutes in India that visibly engages with people and communities spread across the length and breadth of the country. To have a very productive outcome from community engagement, necessary knowledge and capability would stand as a prerequisite. The BA programme to a large extent is focused on imparting this knowledge and skills to engage with people from diverse backgrounds and social locations. I would like to give a very simple example regarding the brilliance of this programme. India has a higher rate of female infanticide, especially in the most socially and economically deprived regions of the country. Also, a large number of women are ostracised from families and communities for giving birth to a girl. It is at this juncture where the life sciences courses floated in the first semester of the course becomes really relevant. The course does touch upon concepts like DNA replication and sex determination, amalgamating both biological facts, and tailors it in an apt manner with the lucidity of social sciences. Similarly, the course on gender is inexplicably wonderful as it makes one unlearn all the things they think they know about gender and feminism. It garners the respect of student with a more intense and wider perspective about gender, and intersectionalities within the society.
When it comes to faculty and pedagogy, it is the best a student just out of school can get. All the faculties are well-trained and well-read people who always believe in making students engage in discussions and debates and are interested in sharpening the intellectual capacity of students. All these would now become an object of history due to the closure of the course.
Our contemporary period has been tumultuous and turbulent, where students across universities were targeted and attacked for being rational, asking questions, and debating on issues that questioned and went against the principles of the current political regime. The government has ceased to fund social science research, and TISS is one of the many affected universities. One can very effortlessly find the destruction of perspective from the above instances. For the government, a bunch of young ignited minds that questions them rigorously is threatening and dangerous. TISS has produced people who do not hesitate to question people wielding power and responsibility.
Without a criticality in engagement with socio-political structures, social sciences is futile. Having a disciplined workforce (which questions nothing) is always beneficial to the State and the larger conservative groups persisting within the country. So all kinds of superstitions might be brought back; the practice of untouchability could be reintroduced. More people might be left to die of poverty and hunger. More people might be thrown out from their own land, crushed under the speedy wheels of the fortunate. More women, rather people of all genders, might be oppressed with more vigour.
I would like to reiterate a statement made by the chief minister of Kerala, where he said some customs are to be questioned and changed. Sans perspective, no change is bound to materialise. TISS, through this rolling back of the BA programme, is simply aiding the regime to create a passel of uncritical and irrational individuals who would succumb to one and all in power with no hesitation. This has to be stopped. The course should continue. It should stand true to the motto of re-imagining futures and should educate more individuals to be socially responsive and committed to change. Our society must not lack in people who question power. It should have people who question patriarchal norms. It should have people who challenge caste and ethnicity-based inequalities. Therefore TISS should revert the decision of shutting down the course and make necessary changes at the administration’s end for a larger social cause.