Teacherliness and Jadavpur University: Pathos and Invidiousness

Prasanta Chakravarty

The hallowed idea of teacherliness is a singular form of patronising drivel. It is only possible to impart a special nobility to tutelage once an institution of education is separated from our experiences of the world at large — which is textured with greyness. Teacherliness will, therefore, lead to infantilising the group of human beings whom we pigeonhole as students — loyal, genteel and, at the most argumentative, in the best traditions of participation. In a different imaginary, teachers might consider themselves to be helping facilitate alternative community bonds that might seem to act as buffer to our everydayness. This, though sometimes a response to our alienated existence, is finally an ethical form of romanticism that hopes to keep the conflictual outside of this community’s ambit. It is another form of tuning in to higher frequencies. Unfortunately, conflicts are not going to vanish, even within institutions and imaginary communities. Visualising student-teacher relationships in and through such equations only discourages either group of the collective from growing up and facing the big bad world with its full panoply of crassness and craftiness as well as its manifold joys and relational solidarities. Holding mere private discourse or opting out of the struggles and travails of existence are not options.

The very idea that an educational institution is a secluded buffer — that it can and ought to be guarded against outside impurities and influences — is a venerable Kantian invention, one that sharply divides enlightened scholars from the hoi polloi. This move is exactly and predictably what we are witnessing from some votaries of teacherliness in responding to the predicament that Jadavpur University finds itself at this point. That JU is a gated community. Or ought to remain such — although we do, of course, outwardly acknowledge the immense outside support in its time of crisis. It is ironical that the protesters in the movement, in spite of the many hardships that they continue to face, are resisting such a distinction between the insider and the outsider (bohiragoto). The bahir (outside) is imbricated within the bhitor (inside) — whether we wish to see it or not. The outside has now spread all around the globe and Jadavpur cannot claim a naive, sacramental and sanitised inside for its inhabitants. The whole political nature of this debate is about conflating the two and taking it to its logical conclusion. Any attempt to segregate the inside from the outside will be a travesty of the things that are at stake for Bengal. The movement can potentially have a far larger fallout. Any attempt to narrow it down to a matter of JU’s internal collegiality — wonderful as it might seem — is going to unsettle and derail those possibilities.

The very notion of a safe haven is a chimera. To invoke goodness and humane qualities in any institute is risible, an unfortunate form of pathos by which the academe is often bound to justify its existence, a delusional and infantile mode of denial of the rough and tumble of our daily existence. Goodness and greatness foment a vision of normalcy that is simply non-existent. It divests us of the same greyness that I referred to — of the university space — that in actuality universities are places of educational exchange and occasional camaraderie as well as spaces of intense manoeuvre, gaming and subtle hierarchies. Just like in any other walk of life. If activists are manipulative, so also are the detached scholars, often in a much more invidious and nuanced fashion. Here is a chance to be self reflexive about a truly political moment. Let us not demean this moment.

The anti-Left Front and anti- TMCP nature of the protest demonstrates not its apolitical nature but its self-organising potentiality to resist its segmenting and straitjacketing within a politics of delegation, representation and etatisation. Such attempts render the movement the very opposite of the politics it posits in its objectivity, by projecting it as one seeking to restore normalcy and order. And reinstating a culture of moral guardianship in the process. Their best bet in this respect is to begin by segmenting the space-time of the university from the outside. In other words: to divide the intellectual from the manual. This is thoroughly insidious. More so at a time when the BJP-led dispensation at the Centre has been trying to fish in troubled waters by seeking to capitalise on the anti-Left Front, anti-TMCP character of the movement through the good offices of governor Kesri Nath Tripathi, a dyed-in-the-wool RSS fanatic.

Dubious scholarly attempts to read, represent and co-opt the larger movement by invoking teacherly sentimentality must be countered steadfastly. Sharply. For that is how universities return to detached, mature and superficial normalcies. By paying homage to collegiality. By creating a bogey of divisiveness among the protesters. By trying to differentiate students from the protesters — as two divergent species of being! This is the time to step up the offensive on multiple flanks — directed at the mercenary goons, of course, but also at the ideological warfare the system is now beginning to wage via the seemingly freelance agencies of the ‘independent’ and ‘apolitical’ scholar-teacher – which is a patronising, rearguard, fifth columnist action by the university don — a pattern all too well-known.

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