Open letter to S. A. Minister of Higher Education about situation in India
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Dear Minister Ms. Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor
Department of Higher Education and Training, Republic of South Africa
123, Francis Baard Street, Pretoria
Item for BRICS Agenda on Higher Education: recent developments in Indian Universities
We write as scholars in South African universities that associate with fellow BRICS partners, notably India. The development of tertiary education and innovative collaborations is part of the BRICS agenda to promote a more democratic form of globalization. Both countries, India and South Africa, committed themselves to increased access to higher education as part of their shared struggles against colonization and apartheid. Since 1947, several Indian governments have sought to create greater access for previously marginalized and discriminated groups. Many Indian public universities have a proud record of world-class intellectual output through their research, teaching and graduate programs. In our past collaborations with Indian universities, we have been struck by the caliber of colleagues ands students who have often come from non-elite backgrounds who have excelled in this vibrant public university system.
These achievements have been based on a sound system of intellectual autonomy and reputable academic self-governance. We note with concern therefore recent developments which threaten to undermine these traditions. These also affect the possibilities for our sustained and fruitful collaborations with Indian institutions and scholars.
Among these developments are:
A growing intolerance of dissent, and the violent disruption of university life in the name of patriotism and a narrow homogenizing and divisive ideology of nationalism, carried out by groups affiliated with the ruling party. Their hostilities against Jawaharlal Nehru University’s academic community are well documented; some other instances of aggression include attacks on Aligarh Muslim University (2018), on progressive student groups in Ramjas College (2017) and Hyderabad University (2015-16). At various junctures, members of the ruling party and government have defended and justified the repressive practices of their affiliates rather than protect and foster the right to disagree with and question dominant powers and ruling ideologies.
Additionally, there are increased cases of the flouting of well-established internal university process, which bypass the tried and tested university procedures and affect the academic careers of students, and morale and credibility of the institutions concerned. In some instances, courts have stepped in to restore university procedures and provide relief to affected students and faculty members. Furthermore, there have been several instances of academic appointments in university and research institutions made less on merit and scientific standing than partisan political orientation, association with right-wing nativist groups and willingness to defend their historical narratives. These developments suggest that credible knowledge production, and the socially transformative work of the public universities and academic institutions over the last few decades, which have done much to address caste, class, and gender inequalities in India, is under threat. We write to register our profound concern with this assault on the Indian public university system.
On the occasion of the forthcoming BRICS Summit and the visit of the Prime Minister of India, we recommend that the South African Ministry of Higher Education urgently engage their counterparts on this matter. We believe that universities must be thriving spaces for contending ideas to flourish and spaces that can promote egalitarianism. We would like the Minister to register our profound concern with what appears to be a trend to label those who question conservative views on gender, caste and what the nation stands for, as ‘anti-national.’ More so we wish the Minister to express our concern that this labeling is in some instances being authorized or expressed by those leading and administering universities. These administrators are, in turn, seeking to use the punitive force of law to suppress those who question them.
The developments in Indian higher education have placed our joint agenda of transformation and development through education under serious strain.
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