DU Dilemma: It is Neoliberalism on Offensive

Ravi Kumar

Apart from asking questions such as what was so wrong with the three year undergraduate course or with the annual academic system the developments in Delhi University need much more attention for two more reasons. Firstly, these developments will have far reaching ramifications for the future of higher education in specific and commodification of education in general in the country. Secondly, it reveals how battles against privatization and disruption of welfarist regime are being lost everyday.

Neoliberal Inroads in Higher Education

The developments in Delhi University represent the most aggressive face of neoliberalism in many ways. Firstly, it redefines the epistemology of ‘innovation’ itself, which emanates through a top-down approach rather than a decentralized practice of dialogic policy making. Ever since the issue of semesterisation it has become amply clear how the different instruments of state and decisions of judiciary combined produced an undemocratic ethos within academia. Otherwise how does on explain that the administration every time takes recourse to legal institutions – whether against strikes or for regimenting the teaching labour force?

Secondly, along with this a new avatar of the University system has emerged, which is otherwise also known to pose challenges to the established wisdom. It is an institution now where the administration (as a conglomerate of academics in power) dictates aggressively and undemocratically the new policies. It expressed through threats to faculty members if they dissented or refused to abide by the recent orders. This aggression is also evident when one is asked to make a course in two weeks time. Consequently, this does not leave any space or time for any deliberative process to take place. The new university becomes a site of authoritarian structures and value system. Surveillance using modern technology and traditional muscle power become prominent methods of control.

Thirdly, by becoming so it saturates spaces of democratic politics and expression or dissent. Symbolically, the Walls of Democracy and the increasing beautification around administrative power-centres are representatives of this increasingly non-dialogic space between those who administer and those who are administered. Hence, the darbars, where the common man is expected to grovel in front of the lord, only become a natural culmination of such a trend.

Fourthly, this is also the time when one finds an unprecedented allegiance of a section of the teaching community towards the administrative lords. It is apparent in the fact that the new structures comprise primarily of teachers who formulate and implement the repressive rules and run the University with a heavy hand. They hunt down the other colleagues. This allegiance is generally countered through a more powerful mobilization of teachers on the other side of the battle-front but that does not seem to happen and it remains a matter of concern. The required solidarities are ruptured as a depoliticized academia imbued with the same logic of an aspiring middle class facilitates the aggressive march of neoliberalism.

Lastly, this whole process is put into place to change the nature of what is to be taught and how is it to be taught. Critical aspects of education are increasingly being excluded, as the demand is more for teaching things, which can give one jobs. It seeks to put into place a system that would impart a new, safe and detheorised education, which would prepare mechanized skilled workers, if at all, for the new economy.

These are only some of the aspects of how neoliberalism can be seen in the ongoing developments in the Delhi University. Being one of the largest universities in the countries its move will become an example for states to follow and UGC has already indicated its support for it.

Lessons to learn

What is happening to the higher education institutions already happened to the school institutions in a certain sense. They were ruthlessly destroyed through putting an unsaid blanket ban on appointment of regular teachers. Their curriculum development and, in many cases, teaching itself is outsourced to private companies. Teachers are not consulted and socio-cultural or political contexts of the sites of teaching-learning are neglected in pedagogical and curricular aspects. In other words, there is a non-dialogic and undemocratic process in which educational institutions are run. When the lakhs of contractual teachers across states protest to make the system more accountable they are beaten up brutally. This has been continuing for more than a decade now.

The University system is under attack now. What to teach and how to teach is being decided if not by private companies as in case of schools then by a handful of people in Delhi University without taking into account the pros and cons of what kind of learning process will it produce. What kind of workers would come out of it remains to be seen. If the education system as a whole is under attack should its constituents such as the teachers not have built bridges and expressed more than mere sporadic gestures of concern. In the new situation the solidarity of the labour force (teachers in this case) is under attack. It is no surprise that the case for biometric attendance argues that if Delhi University had such a system in place the teachers would not have tried to “engage students and members of the public against proposed changes in the curriculum.” Inbuilt into these moves, which are endorsed by the state and its other instruments, is the idea to weaken and destroy all forms of solidarities within the system so that new policies could be implemented without any hiccups. With the growing number of private institutions (and lots of state institutions) one finds that the collective bodies of students and teachers do not exist. In such a situation, which will grow much more acute, it is important to realize for teachers that neoliberal stage of capitalism necessitates a much serious solidarity to encounter its aggression.

Correspondence (Distance Education) Students’ Rights Rally (Jan 21 @10 am, Delhi University)

Protest Rally (from Arts Faculty to VC Office),

Delhi University 

Jan 21 (Tomorrow, Monday), 10.00 am

We, the students of distance learning mode (Delhi University) have come together and launched a campaign that presses for equality of opportunity and dignity. For a long time we have been treated like an underclass in the very institutions of learning that are run through public money raised by our parents’ contribution to the coffers of the state, that is, through the sweat of their brows. We are the children of factory workers, farm hands, office orderlies, coolies, truck drivers, etc. who labour hard through most of the day and all the year round so that our society may prosper. We, the children of the wretched of the world, constitute the majority of every society in the world and yet we are the ones who are denied basic human comforts and dignity.

As we grew we soon realized that we are ruled by a state which demands every sacrifice from us but does not grant us any of our claims. From the early days of our childhood we have learnt the meaning of and are informed by the simple dignity which comes from a day’s toil and hardship. We have grown up watching children of our age play while we worked in their houses; we watched them pay more money as school fees than our parents make in a year. We went to schools run by the government for our ‘welfare’ but found teachers missing. We realized that life is not fair (to some) but that it shines benevolently upon some. Chubby princes and spoilt sweethearts are nurtured to be leaders of our (society?) and us, while we are conditioned to serve them.

It did not take long for us to realize that the world is not fair, but we did not let hope die, mainly because our parents believed in us. We have and continue to watch them sacrifice every small comfort to send us to school, (though it was not always possible). We have watched their eyes brim with dreams and hopes that one day we too would be able to join the ranks of the ‘born’ leaders. Though it was not always easy, we have kept the hope alive, only to see it shatter on passing out from our schools. There is a cut-off, we realized, meant to keep us from gate crashing into the ranks of those ‘born to lead’ and from spoiling their party. We realized that there is no way we could compete with the ‘bright ones’ who paid a fortune to enter the hallowed campuses of well known private schools of Delhi. Their teachers spoke fluent English, they had the latest e-gadgets to educate them, air-conditioned class rooms (and buses), home tutors and above all full stomachs. We were never meant to win for their parents and the state through its dual education policy had caused them to become ‘destined’ to win even before the race could begin.

Naturally, very few of our friends managed to cross the iron curtain of the cut-off marks—it remains to be seen, how long they would survive. But most of us were left out in the cold, hapless and teary-eyed, our tears draining away our parents’ dreams. It was then that we got to know from our benevolent rulers that there was some hope still. We could still be a part of the distinguished Delhi University through the distance learning program. The syllabus would be the same and teachers from DU would teach us. We cheered up and told ourselves (and our parents) that there is hope indeed—if Ekalavya could do it in Mahabharat, we could do it too. But alas, in hoping against hope, we forgot the eventual fate of Ekalavya, it dawned upon us gradually. We were being given classes once in a week and that too if we were lucky. Our teachers were mostly the ones who had missed the bus, and were teaching us as a compromise. The officials barked orders at us, talked to us as one would talk to somebody who is dimwitted; the security staff scoffed at our presence on campus on Sundays (the only day of the week we are allowed to ‘defile’ these hallowed shrines of learning). We were chased out of the campus as soon as our classes got over. The University did and does everything that it could/can, to convince us that we do not belong here. We were given the message that we were here only at the sufferance and burden of the University, and that we ought to consider ourselves lucky for the crumbs thrown at us in the name of ‘public welfare’. We could only seethe in anger and clench our fists, because we were alone in the crowd, we were just individuals trying to make the best of whatever little we had.

But now this is going to change. With our dreams shattered, dignities lost and our parents disillusioned, we have got little to lose. We have come together to put up a fight and with the intent of winning it at all costs. We, the children of India’s labouring class, the underclass of the University system and the pariahs to the ‘fashionable’ and ‘sensitive’ University community, hereby declare that from now on we are going to do everything within our capacity to shatter your peace of mind, your ‘solemn’ gravity and your vacuous sensitivity. We will not allow you, the ‘born leaders’ and your enlightened mentors to pity us, sympathize with us, or cast your benevolent glance at us. We want none of it, though we stretch out our arms to anybody who is willing to join us as an equal and to make a common cause with us. This is just our first step, a long journey lies ahead of us but we are prepared.



Correspondence Students’ Rights Campaign

Contact: 9312654851

Supported and Organized by

Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS)