Monday, June 28, 2010

Future Imperfect

In an interesting blog entitled Net the NET(Random June 27th 2010), Dr. Smriti Singh, a conscientious academic from IIT Patna expresses her concern about the very few students who qualify in the examinations for lectureship and research conducted by the UGC from the various universities in Bihar particularly from the Departments of English. Just for the record, she has every right to express her anguish because she belongs to a select band who had qualified through the same examination a few years ago at the start of her career as have some others such as Achal Sinha, Anuradha Biswas, Minu Manjari and Beauty Yadav. They are from the Department of English, Patna University and I have been privileged to have taught them and supervised their doctoral research.
For the under-performance, Smriti’s observations indicate the following possibilities:
a) A syllabus that is perhaps not up-to-date
b) Reading bazaar notes instead of Primary Texts and Critical works
c) Tuition which specifically caters to university examination needs AND
d) The nature of university questions that do not challenge a student’s critical acumen or reading.
I agree with her on b, c and d but wish to mention that the Patna University syllabus is one of the most contemporary syllabi in the country. However, it is true that b and d completely undermine that advantage. There is something else that needs to be reviewed and this involves the constituency of the departments themselves. A quarter of a century ago, the Departments of English comprised academics who were educated in a different system and shared a different background. This may be defined as cosmopolitan with accompanying attitudes that were plural and it involved greater exposure to learning and teaching processes, wider access to multiple cultures , wider dynamics of interactions and teaching English in English. The Departments of English were apolitical which would have pleased Jean Boudrillard for whom history is a source of humankind’s problems rather than being its site but to Ania Loomba it meant accepting status quo and acquiescing to a disguised political agenda by not encouraging the possibility of political change. The faculty then was thought to be the children of Macaulay who unquestioningly carried the colonial agenda restricting active opposition to an elitist political establishment. Then the monster called theory happened and on the wings of the instability and indeterminacy of meaning, things began to change in a two-fold manner. The postcolonial dismantling gave rise to provincialism and parochialism. The political ascendance of this group gave them positions of power and decision making while a streak of postcolonial sub nationalism encouraged popular legitimacy. A limited few moved on hybridizing the interpretative possibilities of the new critical strategies with a global vision. The latter comprise the minority cultural constituency in the departments. The two-fold influences are observable in the students as well. To my mind the issues that Dr. Smriti Singh has raised are connected with these organic changes.
There is another issue among academics which is of serious concern. Of late there have been a plethora of exercises undertaken by the government of Bihar to set right a number of what they believe are anomalies in terms of salaries paid. The fact of the matter is no teacher fixes his or her own salary. For instance I cannot draw a lakh of rupees if I want to. Someone in the university/government has fixed my salary which I am entitled to draw. So if there are discrepancies, the authority to sanction the salary needs to answer to the anomalies not the teacher. But the teacher is made the victim of a sustained public propaganda for incorrect practices. This is greatly de-motivating as is indeed the fact that while the central universities and many state universities have implemented the provisions of the 6th pay commission recommendations, Bihar continues to drag its feet with numerous subterfuges. This attitude is not going to draw the best minds into the academia. The Chief Minister has proved to be an astute politician; he needs to prove his statesmanship by making quality university education his theme for the future of a developing state. If he loses this opportunity, history may not give him more than a passing paragraph.
We need to build a scholarly community devoted to the quest of knowledge and wisdom, skills and good citizenship where the state has to play a responsible role and the teachers need to be accountable partners in the process of development. Only a harmonious relationship can ensure that there are more Smriti Singhs from the state universities.


  1. Thank you sir for extending the issues raised in the blog. I humbly acknowledge the fact that the syllabus in the PG Dept. of English is an updated one. But what about the undergraduate level? Thought processes and critical acumen need sharpening at that stage as well.
    Salary is another equally important issue. Sadly, it is the people whom you may have taught who sit in judgement over your salary and perks. Moreover, in India people think that a teacher (since its an honourable profession) can and should survive on meager earnings. They don't realize that even teachers would love to lead a comfortable life style like other professionals!

  2. With Francis Fukuyama's End of History and the Last Man pronouncing the final triumph of liberal democracy, free market wages determine social identities. Academics= corporate support staff.
    We shall celebrate the 5th of September with rare vigour this year. Cheers