What does an academic do in her daily life? Whom does she serve by her pedagogical excellence? What topics are they covering for her academic score? What kind of books are they writing for her pupils or, say, for her own promotion and better placement and perks? What kind of research projects are they supervising? Are they superior human beings untouched by lowly million lives? Are they self-serving or serving their respective disciplines with scientific precision, mechanical rigour and disinterested selves? Are they slaves of the vast educational moguls? Or are they ‘free’ to investigate, visit and revisit their disciplines with individual resources, inputs and experiences?
Should they inculcate the spirit of inquiry and freedom into her students, researchers, social media fans and followers, and relatives and neighbours? Or should they live in furnished blocks with latest gadgets and a dozen of modern slaves—drivers, maids, ayahs, personal assistants? Should they be worried about the issues like politicization of religion, everyday communalism, corruption, violent rhetoric of the political leaders, ill health system, dismal transport facilities, job scarcity, unemployment, women trafficking, and so on? Or should they live a life equipped with a 24-hour surveillance system?
Should they write textbooks for the benefit of the students? Should they write notebooks for the benefit of the students? I am happy with both kinds of academics. Why? At least, they have been able to recognise the need of the students who come especially from rural backgrounds. Many of them are first generation learners. Many of their parents are labourers, drivers, agricultural hands, carpenters, masons, and other odd workers. Their mothers are agricultural hands, domestic helpers, ayahs, or keepers of cows, goats, chickens.
Should they write reference books for the benefit of the students? The academics of elite Indian institutes must do it for the progress of the students and for the progress of the country. They enjoy writing. And when they write they become oblivious of their surroundings. Such tenacity they have. They can write theoretical works, or say, groundbreaking works, pioneering works. They can publish them with the help of publishing giants. Book-opening ceremonies, book-events, book-tours will continue for years. Fellow ‘low-born’ academics, ambitious scholars, book wizards, book enthusiasts will dig Amazon for its quickest delivery. Coffee houses, cross-words will arrange gala event for the ‘authentic’ voice of the promoted academics. But, that ‘authentic’ voice has little no relevance outside the classroom, lecture theater or seminar hall. It is a tragedy. The elite academics and their theoretically ground breaking works are detached from the simmering issues the country is facing. Their ‘superior’ works fail to stimulate ordinary students. They are made for the especially chosen few who have some academic compulsion. They are simply a coterie of Ph. D and Post-doc holders. Many of them are living in the virtual world. Many of them, sorry, almost all of them have a single destination—America, the Promised Land.
Indian academics have lost credibility to the masses. People know that they can be bought and sold by the state power. People on the streets abuse them, accuse them, envy them. They call them opportunists. They hardly sacrifice anything for the poor, the jobless youths, and the employment seekers. They recommend their ‘own’ scholars for an academic contract or a university position. They are the gods and goddesses in their particular disciplines, and their scholars must worship her twice a day, at sunrise and at sunset. In many cases, Ph. D aspirants have no academic freedom in choosing topics of their research. They have to follow their academic bosses in order to keep them happy and to get the certificate at the earliest. The topics the students are bound to choose may not interest them. They need a certificate for a job, and the guides need numbers for their academic performance.
Most Indian academics know the reality too much. They are too much in the world. They have to pay a heavy price, they know, if they speak out. Silence is golden. Let the politicians talk. Let the journalists talk. Let the activists fight for their vested interests. Let the mob rule the country. Let the hooligans take laws in their hands and lynch the Muslims, Dalits and Christians in the name of a docile animal cow. Let the scientists deliver a most unscientific speech. Let the politicians polarise the country on the basis of religion. We, academics, have nothing to do with this chaotic dispensation. We are academics. Campuses are our world. Green campus! Greener students!
They know that if they speak out they will be marked. They will be harassed, abused, and even threatened with physical intimidation online and offline. They know the power of a digital army, recruited by the political parties. They are constantly under the scanner. So they choose the path of silence. They are witnesses to their colleagues’ trajectories. Some have been arrested. Some have been trolled mercilessly. Some have been warned with death threats, and some have been killed by the state.
Moreover, some academics have covert or overt political ambition. In India, a layman knows how to live a hassle-free life. From getting admission to a school or a hospital or a club to hiring a domestic maid or booking a flat or a doctor or buying a piece of land—everything depends on one’s political clout. Yes, even political leverage will be ineffectual for buying land or booking a flat if you happen to be a Muslim or a Dalit.
In India, politics is the most viable way to be served with respect and dignity. An honest, industrious citizen whatever profession she professes must suffer in the daily transactions of her life. A file may not be signed for months, a ticket to a show or a bed or a hotel may be denied, a chauffeur may not be hired, a doctor or lawyer may not be booked, and so on. Political tag is the one and only distinguishing mark for pomp and power, for perks and patronage. So the lure of political power is irresistible to the academics also—high-born, low-born all. But most of academics try to keep it secret. Some of them have a secret inner line with multiple party bosses. So they keep mum to avoid any untoward impact on the upward mobility graph of their career. They speak only when there is a chance of getting a personal incentive in the form of an academic assignment in an academic body.
This is the general picture of especially rural Indian academics. Academics of Indian elite institutes, with their excellent publishing records and public commitments, may prove me wrong. But that is a different story altogether.