Opinion: Attacking Humanities Leaves Us In Danger Of Becoming A Market-Driven Society

There is a fundamental change happening within universities, starting with the radical gap between the public and private universities. Apparently, private universities are primarily market-driven, in the sense that they focus on equipping students with certain skills that are directly applicable or required in the market, and where the students become potential employees with skills that can be exploited by the companies in return for barely dignified wages and other facilities. The trends are visible where students are considerably unsatisfied with their work and seem too exhausted and alienated from what they do, but this is not something that concerns us here. What we are talking about is related to the changing nature of the very idea of a university, and its function for the nation.

One of the fundamental merits upon which the private universities attract students is the radical divide between the public and the private universities, in terms of infrastructure and practical knowledge designed to develop students for jobs. As indicated earlier, private university-run programs seemingly train students to immediately adopt skills and become labour in the market. It’s like handing a gun to a person during a war, without informing them of their fate.

The two popular areas are management and engineering, where engineering stands for all courses that provide easy convertibility of students into skilled laborers and operators of various technologies. One could say that these private universities are trying to command education in sciences and commerce, whereas they are miserably failing in the study of humanities and social sciences.

These universities claim to constantly upgrade their syllabus, according to the market, and are hence thought to be more practical in delivering results as opposed to public universities, which often have an outdated syllabus. Public universities seem to have become filled with a shortage of infrastructure, poor quality of teaching, excessive politics, and no output for the good of our nation. Public universities have therefore become both a site of strong resistance and change. Protests in public universities, to me, are indicating that they are not able to do what they should be doing, which is studying and reflecting upon the society, not just necessarily by taking to the street but by allowing themselves to exhaustively read, analyse, and write about the changes.

But what exactly are they resisting and what exactly is changing? The most fundamental impulse behind creating universities, or any institutions run by humans like hospitals, banks, religious shrines, and temples, etc, is a spirit in the benefit of not just humanity but also the nature we inhabit. While the study of sciences and commerce helps us understand, deal, and manage our world effectively, the humanities have, for a long time, sought to record, study and analyse the impacts that science has caused upon our planet.

It is this spirit that animates the subject of humanities, it attempts to record, systematise, reflect, and analyse the impact of humans upon the earth and is hence, a more philosophical approach towards things. It doesn’t, however, mean that it lacks practicality. It has the vision which science cannot have, for science is never fully aware of its potential effect on the planet and life forms.

One classic case is that of diabetic patients and their status in biology today. They have become permanent consumers of medicines, where neither the companies nor the people involved in manufacturing these drugs care about the seemingly cruel nature of these medicines, which instead of curing the patient, makes them a regular customer who keeps buying their own life from science.

The Biotechnology Department at JNU. (Photo: Psubhashish/Wikimedia Commons)

It is this cruel nature of the impact of science that humanities, as a subject, partly deals with, in subjects like sociology, anthropology, and economics, and not to mention literature, which continues to be a faithful mirror to the progress of human societies.  Public universities like DU, JNU, and Ambedkar University have been known for their great contribution to humanities, and it was only for this reason that IITs were provided with a department of humanities and social sciences, so that science can benefit from the insights in humanities and social sciences and become complete. The fee-hike in IITs could lead to the less economically privileged students to drop out, and the divergence of their talent towards these private universities. These private market-driven universities can become even more productive in the shallow tasks they perform.

Sadly, the decline of these public universities and now the recent attacks on IITs show how difficult it is becoming to continue the study of social sciences and the humanities, because mindless technology is the sole desire of modern societies. It is not profitable to think of a permanent solution now, because the problem itself has become profitable, hence, it is really beyond our control now to provide a solution.

With the decline of these universities, a great thinking tradition is dying which is leading us to worlds beyond repair, because the problem is what keeps these worlds in motion. The fundamental change in universities today is a shift from a wise humanitarian-thinking to a more short-sighted market-driven thinking. Money is the ultimate symbol of modern’s India’s status. Values and history must be kept away, and those who bring them out must be publicly humiliated on the fourth pillar of democracy, which really, has become the Roman Colosseum where the authority displays its ludicrous spectacle of power for the slaves they are training.

One can no longer go to college to talk about dreams, aspirations, and a bright future for the nation and society. Universities, therefore, cannot make their students feel anything except the bitter truth about the modern world. There is a ruthless struggle to rise above each other, and yet, contribute nothing significant, but just end up degrading each other even more. Where the environmental crisis has started strangulating masses already, our public figures are still worried about how much they can make from announcing sales on Amazon and Flipkart, and how much gains can be made in politics. Public figures, who almost own the nation today, are terribly silent on environmental issues. Where can one find the true university in this ruthless society, a university which studies the history, cultures, and the sciences to suggest more humane ways ahead in the future?

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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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