The 250-crore Necropolis: Welcome to the Indian Council of Philosophical Research

Each year, the Humanities World Report laments that the paltry 6-7 crores annual budget allotted to the Indian Council of Philosophical Research is evidence that the humanities in India 'are inadequately supported'. It then links this lack of financial support to the result that philosophy in India 'is not flourishing'. That's a polite way of putting just how bad things really are. With what is possibly the richest philosophical heritage in the world, we have to assume that a lack of financial support from the government is an incomplete explanation for the profoundly pathetic state of philosophy in India today.

Darshan Bhawan, where the main office of ICPR is

Darshan Bhawan, where the main office of Indian Council of Philosophical Research is

A few weeks ago, while advising a future vice-chancellor about how to best set up a new philosophy programme at an upcoming university, I told him, 'There is no need to offer a standard-model philosophy programme: philosophy in India is a dead discipline.' But after a visit to the ICPR in New Delhi yesterday, I now realise that I was quite wrong.

Philosophy in India is not a dead discipline. Rather, it is the discipline of the undead; of zombies, with the ICPR as their necropolis. Our necropolis, I should say. We philosophers have let this happen. The government's lack of support is not to blame. Sure, the MHRD strongly encourages necrophilia, as a look at the most recent leadership and administrative appointments within this apex-level body clearly evidences. But we could have done something, could have been doing something over the last 40 years that the Council has been (in)active. That's a budget of 250 crores that has been wasted on necromancy, instead of applied to promoting the proper functions of truly living philosophical research, and of philosophy as a public good.

The crucial contributions of philosophy to academia generally and society more broadly are not well understood. To mention a few, the discipline of philosophy preconditions the possibility of the social sciences as such – think of the need for rigorous qualitative research methodologies, dissemination of analytic techniques, understanding the nature of formal and informal fallacies, cultivation of critical thinking, and of course analysis and argument regarding the ethics of public and foreign policy, bioethics, the morality of the market, the scope of rights and duties, and so on and so forth, essential to the progress of disciplines as diverse as law, medicine, political science, journalism, international relations, economics, and even the highly coveted MBA.

If you have noticed a certain stagnation at the realm of theory within several of the other disciplines just mentioned, well, obviously they have their own problems too. But you can also partially attribute that to the zombie apocalypse. For, instead of living up to its obligations as queen of the social sciences and humanities — grounding theories, critiquing practices, influencing policy — philosophy in India has instead tended to spread its epidemic of the undead. Shuffle along, drag your feet, stifle innovation through hierarchy, bureaucratisation, bury vibrancy under files, out with the new, in with the old, the deader the better, and then hide the stench of all this detritus, the graveyards of fallen limbs and hollow souls, with the sweet smell of saffron.

Among other things, the younger generation of philosophers, whose brains have not yet been fully feasted upon by their undead seniors, urgently need to form a new association to collectively evaluate, address, and chart out how to return philosophy to its central position. We are lucky that, unlike in the West, in India there are numerous junior academic positions available around the country. You must ensure that these do not become so many sarcophagi, doubtless their current destiny.

The Humanities World Report may be right to infer that 'the humanities seem to be low on the political agenda' in India. But it is wrong that the problem is one of funding. Unless of course with more money we could hire a skillful army of shamans and exorcists.

The author teaches Philosophy, Political Science, and Law in India and abroad. His most recent books include Hegel's India (Oxford, 2017), and Indian Political Theory (Routledge, 2017).

Published Date: Mar 05, 2017 09:37 am | Updated Date: Mar 05, 2017 09:37 am