University campuses in several parts of country are reverberating with a kind of unrest that was missing from them for a long time. The near riotous turn of events at Ramjas College in Delhi last month following cancellation of a seminar, was in fact an extension of the JNU ruckus played exactly a year ago. A social media post that recently emerged said that while communists in China and Russia love their countries, the communities in India support disbandment of their country. This is a kind of notion being spread by rightwing student groups while as left wing groups call it assault on the freedom of expression and free thinking –an essence of university life. So what is the right balance?
President Pranab Mukherjee in one of his recent speeches put this dilemma into words and said that institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society. “These temples of learning must resound with creativity and free thinking. Those in Universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest. It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet.”
The President said there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian. India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression. Our society has always been characterized by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion. Freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent.
At the same time, the President also said the time has come for collective efforts to re-discover the sense of national purpose and patriotism that alone can lift our nation on to the road of sustained progress and prosperity. The nation and the people must always come first.
So, in effect the message from President is that while we must provide for freedom of speech, legitimate criticism, free thought and debate, at the same time national interest has a preference. This means that students from both ideologies must make the campus life and discourse vibrant and enriching without hurting the national interest or taking inimical positions on certain issues.
The challenges before our country are huge for which universities and their students have to provide solution through sustained research, knowledge creation and academic leadership.
We must be proud of our institutions of public higher education, these have contributed in so many ways to our standing, our achievements and our hopes. It is time to strengthen their character, add to their stature by removing the governance deficit and resource constraints. Also, let not these become refuge of inimical causes.
(the story appeared as editorial in March Issue of Curriculum)