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Who Is Taking Romila Thapar Down?

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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.

Renowned historian Romila Thapar speaks at the Kozhikode Literature Festival in 2018. (Photo: Dcbteam/Wikimedia Commons)

Finance And Industrial Capital

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.

Impacts Of Finance Capitalism On Us

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 Suffers

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.

Featured image source: Payasam (Mukul Dube)/Wikimedia Commons.
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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.

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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.

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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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