By Devendra Jalihal and Shreepad Karmalkar
[Editor's note: A group of 56 faculty members from IIT Madras wrote to President Pranab Mukherjee on 23 February (Tuesday) voicing a concern that institutions of higher learning in India have been turned into “warzones”. Devendra Jalihal and Shreepad Karmalkar, professors of Electrical Engineering Department, IIT Madras, and signatories of this petition, explain the rationale of their petition.]
A university is a place of universal knowledge related to the world inside and outside human beings. For practical purposes, this universal knowledge is divided into a variety of disciplines, namely – humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, formal sciences and applied sciences. The goal of universities across the world has been to absorb, store, generate and disseminate this universal knowledge, and transmit it from one generation to the next. This is the reason for funding a university from tax payers' money.
India has a huge young population. Young minds are impressionable. Hence, educating them and ensuring social justice without them falling prey to the language of abuse and hate is a major challenge. This challenge can be met not by agitations, but by dialogue and debate among various perspectives in a calm atmosphere. If instead of the above lofty ideals, “debate and dissent based on unfettered freedom speech” becomes the foremost goal of a university, dialogue and debate may slip into hate and abuse as has happened in some Indian universities. These universities would then cease to attract talent or be crucial national assets in addressing problems; they would nurture despair rather than hope. This is what we alerted in our petition to the president.
The Presidents of India notably Pranab Mukherjee and Late Abdul Kalam are patrons of knowledge and have been calling for Indian universities to reach landmark successes and to be renowned in the world. For this purpose, universities ought to have a metric of success. This metric could be different for different universities and disciplines. For example, IITs are trying to promote a metric based on the contributions of IIT graduates to the national or global economy. A Pan IIT study conducted in 2008 came out with a figure of Rs 20 lakh crore as the the total wealth generated by IITians. Eventually, the tax payer will judge the performance of a university by such metrics and not by agitations and protests.
(Inputs from KK Mukherjee and Narayanan N are gratefully acknowledged.)