Higher Learning and Exclusion

Recently GroundXero published an article detailing a shocking episode that happened in an elite research institute in the country. The issue and the subsequent struggle reported here has echoes of practices prevalent in most campuses in India, which is why we have elected to republish it here.

This atrocious casteist and classist episode happened in a premier research Institute recently, where a few students demanded that hostel toilets be exclusively used only by the students, and hence by fiat security guards and house-keeping staff (who clean these toilets!) were not allowed to use them. The Institute administration had put exclusive boards “for students only” outside each bathroom.

A few students and faculties opposed this and eventually the boards were removed, but the struggle to restore the dignity of those who were humiliated continues . These students and faculty members summarise the entire episode here. They do not want to name the Institute or their names to be made public.

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Do We Need to Retire Left v/s Right?

The following article is a response to an article1 by Prof. Avijit Pathak, published in the Indian Express on January 6, 2021. While this article is technically a response to the published views of one academic, we believe that his article echoes a sentiment shared by many in academia. It is for this reason that we elected to publish a response.

Liberalism is alive and well in the academy. In a recent article prompted by the protests2 that erupted following the inauguration of a statue of Vivekananda on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Prof. Avijit Pathak bemoans the collective failure to cultivate an “epistemological pluralism”. He writes:

“[G]iven the dominant political discourse prevalent in the country, some might think that the unveiling of the statue of Swami Vivekananda at the JNU campus is just a beginning; it is a step to “purify” the “Left-Ambedkarite” university, and bring it closer to our “nationalist” aspirations. However, as a teacher/wanderer with some sort of intellectual and emotional affinity with the campus, I seek to reflect on the ideal of a university beyond the much-used prism of the “left” vs “right” discourse.”

The suggestion here is that the dichotomy of left and right is a “prism” which refracts reality and occludes our vision; it follows, then, that we might see something more true about recent events in JNU if we set down this prism. Often, we have heard a similar sentiment echoed by our colleagues, especially in the sciences, where it takes a slightly different form: that our analyses and opinions should be unbiased and not infused with or infected by political ideology.

We disagree.

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In Defence of Piracy, Part II: Enclosures and Resistance

– The NotA Collective

We ended Part I by acknowledging the willingness of large publishing corporations to adopt Open Access (OA) publishing protocols, if only in name, in response to widespread demand for it by researchers across the globe. To some, this may seem encouraging. It might even suggest that the publishing industry can be reformed. Indeed, much of academia — being as it is an inexhaustible fount of unbridled idealism — continues to entertain the notion that these companies, when threatened with resignations and boycotts by editorial boards and referees, will succumb to public pressure, renounce their profit-seeking ways, and make access to knowledge free for all.

What motivates this abundance of optimism is unclear, and we will not speculate on this here. Rather, our goal in Part II of this essay will be to better understand academic publishing. We offer the reader two analogies to demonstrate the defects in the current modus vivendi of academic publishing and then discuss the revolutionary departure from it that Sci-Hub and Libgen represent. These will serve as a reminder that appearances can be deceiving, and form is not essence.

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In Defence of Piracy, Part I: Knowledge and Access

– The NotA Collective

On December 21, 2020, three major publishing houses – Elsevier, Wiley, and the American Chemical Society – filed a copyright infringement suit against the pirate websites Sci-Hub and Libgen in the Delhi High Court. The crux of the issue at hand has been neatly summarised as follows:

“In a nutshell, the publishing giants are demanding that Sci-Hub and Libgen be completely blocked in India through a so-called dynamic injunction. The publishers claim that they own exclusive rights to the manuscripts they have published, and that Sci-Hub and Libgen are engaged in violating various exclusive rights conferred on them under copyright law by providing free access to their copyrighted contents.”1

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The Subtle Problem of Exclusion

My story is a collection of my experiences and some “subtle” issues that I faced during my PhD. I intentionally call these issues “subtle” because for a lot of people, the things which bothered me wouldn’t even be noticed. When I used to share these with people around me, the reactions I got were more like

“These are not real problems!”

“This happens to everybody, so it’s normal and you are supposed to face this!”

“You should ignore it!” 

“People face much bigger issues, compared to those your life is very good. You should appreciate that!” 

I do agree that some of these are valid points and some of these are probably an attempt to make me feel better but none of these helped me. Instead, they caused me more discomfort and self-doubt.

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We Are No Longer Afraid: On Institutional Responses to COVID-19

The following is a (lightly edited)1 document authored by students at a prominent institute of higher education. The document, which was shared with Notes on the Academy, speaks of the institute’s ham-handed and bungled response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Interspersed with the excerpts are commentary (italicised) along with links to similar reports from other institutions of higher learning.

[Our university] attracts the sharpest minds, and provides ample research opportunities. But, like all other systems with entrenched hierarchical power structures, [our university] faces several issues unique to it. What the coronavirus has done across the world is to bluntly magnify the issues that existed before the pandemic started. We started writing this article in July, but did not send it anywhere because we was afraid of the repercussions. Now, after all that has happened, we are no longer afraid.

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My Language Barrier

When did you get interested in your current field of study?

I got interested in the field of Architecture when I was looking at options to pursue for undergraduate studies. I wasn’t very passionate about the subject at that point, it was more of a convenient path I took because I had an interest to pursue something in the creative field(arts) along with something technical and this seemed like a good fit.

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Vocational Training in the NEP: What Does It Have to Do With Me?

– The NotA Collective

The new National Education Policy (NEP), despite receiving no deliberation in either house of the Indian Parliament, was adopted by the Cabinet on 29 July, 2020. While substantive criticisms have been made of this document and its predecessors,1 less attention has been devoted to the impact of vocational education on the higher education landscape. We will argue in this essay that the entrenchment and mainstreaming of vocational education it mandates reinforces the already-existing social hierarchies. It does this by placing further obstacles in the way of working class/lower caste students who want to pursue general education. This in turn contributes to the reproduction of the problem of their underrepresentation in academia. It is therefore imperative we, as members of academia, mount a coordinated resistance to it.

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The Spectre that Haunts Academia: Caste and the Thorat Report

– The NotA Collective

Thorat, S., Shyamprasad, K. M., and Srivastava, R. K. (2007)
Report of the committee to enquire into the allegation of differential treatment of SC/ST students in All India Institute of Medical Science

A few weeks ago, a postgraduate medical student, Dr. Bhagwat Devangan, died by suicide at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Medical College in Jabalpur, allegedly due to ragging by his seniors. Bhagwat had on multiple occasions complained of maltreatment by his seniors as he belonged to a “lower caste community”.1 This is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. Just last year, we learned of the institutional murder of Dr. Payal Tadvi, a 26-year old Adivasi Muslim gynaecologist at B Y L Nair Hospital and student at TN Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai. She too died by suicide after being subjected to casteist slurs and harassment (ragging) based on her caste.2 In light of these incidents, we feel that it is pertinent to discuss a significant report that provides evidence of caste discrimination in higher educational institutions — The Thorat Committee Report. 

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An Invitation to Beyond Inclusion

– The NotA Collective

Deshpande, S., and Zacharias, U. (Eds.)
Beyond Inclusion: The Practice of Equal Access in Indian Higher Education (1st ed.)
Routledge India (2013)

Beyond Inclusion is one of the shockingly few books about the treatment of Dalit and Bahujan students by our country’s higher education system. Despite what this description might make it sound like, this book is about far more than just reservations.1 It begins with the observation that getting the disadvantaged admitted into colleges is only the first step in what should be a long process, and sets out to study that entire process. This is an ambitious goal, and the editors have gone about it by collecting chapters on a variety of topics, from both social science researchers as well as people in the field.

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