Before I can explain my title, I must explain two things because without it, I can’t expect my readers to know why and how this is an unfortunate event.
These two things are neo-liberalism and higher education. Neo-liberalism can be simply understood as a way to open up a country to business and a market. Why is it called neo (new) liberalism? What has it to do with liberalism? While the latter is derived from the idea of liberty as applicable to society, government and all other forms of human life, the former is associated mostly with the market and economy but not really, as we will see ahead.
What is higher education? The phrase itself leads us to an assumed hierarchy of knowledge which provides people with different level of functions to fulfil. Hierarchy of knowledge and labour are both rooted in the development and evolution of human societies. To illustrate the point, early men who hunted for survival were exposed to different kinds of knowledge as per their roles in the act of hunting, those who chased animals knew how to approach and exhaust them, and those who tended to the slaughter knew how to skin it.
The point is that as humans evolved into a complex species with complex social, political and economic organisations, the division of labour and knowledge became extremely varied too. But all divisions of knowledge and labour can be placed in a hierarchy of value in the civilisational work. Functions and knowledge directly related to the question of survival were privileged, like that of chasing a wild animal was privileged over dumping the waste meat. (That’s why perhaps we also couldn’t understand that dumping the waste is as scientific a revolution as producing it.)
Higher education can be simply understood through this analogy, being the industry responsible for producing special kinds of knowledge to perform specified functions ranked above in the hierarchy of knowledge. A person holding a B.Ed degree gets to teach at a school, while a someone with a PhD gets to not only teach at the university level, but also become part of advising committees in schools and other places. The same goes for the difference in the job between someone with a B.Tech degree and an M.Tech degree. In a way, higher studies enable a country (state/government) to develop people responsible for planning, maintaining and governing its institutions.
There is one function in particular which I would like to highlight in this, i.e. higher education enables a country (state) to produce knowledge that is crucial for a country to realise its relation to the biodiversity it inhabits. It includes things such study of medicine, agriculture, society, culture, history, etc. which help a country to adjust/know itself to the given nature.
There are two forms of capital (something valuable to humans), namely the physical capital that we can see in agricultural land and natural resources, and the second one can be seen in the form of money, bonds, etc. When a country develops industry, it is either using its own physical capital or importing or divesting some other country’s physical resources. Finance capital functions by way of investment, exchange and selling of capital to those who don’t have either of it in sufficient amounts.
One can say that during the 1800s, the western world developed themselves into industrial capitalists by utilising physical capital both from their own land and their colonies. The second half of the 20th century made these countries so powerful that they held an immense amount of capital, so much so that their government could afford to provide free education, healthcare, etc. to their citizens. These countries also, fully developed, transitioned themselves into finance capitalism. Now they earned money mostly through investments, bonds and loans to countries devastated by them during colonisation.
The new countries (erstwhile colonies) are mostly classified under the banner as the global south or third world countries and are now developing industrial capitalism mostly through finance capitalism. They are dependent on loans and foreign direct investment to stand upon their own feet.
One of the problems that it generates is that the country which is being financed becomes an industry, (imagine a family under such a loan that it has to send its kids to earn rather than study) where everybody is expected to be a person of skill hence earn and sell their labour, skill-based education is thus characteristic of industrial economies, these skills are earned within short periods of time allowing for speedy labour supply. For instance, many people can earn through polytechnic degrees as much as one can do with a B.Tech degree in a university while spending much more time and money.
Since these countries are basically turned into industries by way of heavy foreign investments, bonds and loans, they are supposed to strictly work like one. The finance capitalists can dictate the industrial capitalists (Indian capitalists) about the organisation of their economic lifestyle, essentially changing their political and social lives as well.
More and more people are working and still more people are feeling overworked. There is a paradox in this since finance capitalists cannot make enough profit unless it cuts a brilliant deal with the industrial capitalist. So, it occurs that to allow industrial capitalist earn enough profit, it must make the labour really cheap, which it does by creating surplus labour. More labour than what is required ensures that people are not only there to work but also be exploited by working at lower wages, because if you complain you can be turned away in place of the other. Government universities are forced to taking more than enough number of students, private universities are happy to make slaves out of students and their parents.
Our knowledge industry is suffering; foreign universities and industrial capitalists are draining our brilliant universities so that these can become industries too to produce cheap labour. These are what Harvard and Stanford are to the USA and Oxford and Cambridge to Europe. Institutions like Delhi University, JNU, etc. have been known to produce great world leaders, people capable of running countries and states. Finance capitalists would never like to have talented people in countries where only labour is supposed to work and exist.
While science which claims to be an apolitical field allows the likes of Sundar Pichai to move abroad and become ‘universal’ citizens, social sciences make no such claim as they hold in custody a country’s culture and heritage, its identity.
The recent attacks on JNU and DU are not really about the BJP and the alleged Hindu agenda, they are about selling these authentic institutions of learning and thus capturing the only authentic source of a glowing civilization. Everybody is increasingly proud today of being an Indian, yet they hardly realise for a moment what is Indian about them.
It is not the oppressive Hindu ideology we have to fear, it is the foreign capitalist in the garb of a Hindu which is proving to be lethal. I do not here imply that a fanatic Hindu cannot harm you on the basis of their beliefs. for it will be the majority of Hindus who will face the curse of capitalism, as families will break, human bonds will perish and everything will become calculative and regulated by money.
From the recent change in the Delhi University syllabus adding more than a hundred BA programme courses for what seems to be to train specialised labour, to dragging Romila Thapar from the altar of knowledge, to the recent severe criticism of Harvard-return Suraj Yengde (who is a member of the Dalit community), all have one thing in common. They all undermine our capability to yield authentic Indian experiences. This is not something that didn’t happen to other countries, Kenya’s public universities died similarly, where overcrowded classrooms with underprepared professors were forced to become industries to produce cheap labour.
Asking Prof. Romila Thapar to prove her credentials exposes both the shallowness of an emerging Indian, who celebrates Google CEO’s Indian identity, but doesn’t understand why no Google could be invented in India and why every hotshot CEO is called abroad.
They are all signalling towards the whittling down of not just one or two universities, but a great Indian civilisation. A process of true globalisation? What the BJP now calls “vasundhaiva kutumbakam” (a Sanskrit phrase translating to “the world is my family”) is nothing but a political imaginary of capitalist utopia built upon the misery of at least a billion.