TODAY -

Curtailing academic freedom: State's idea of sensitivity

Yenning *

Director of Education (University and Higher Education) Building in Imphal ; Photo taken sometime in March 2013
Director of Education (University and Higher Education) Building in Imphal ; Photo taken sometime in March 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam



In recent years, the Government of Manipur has taken up several measures as a proof of its "concern for the welfare" of the teaching community at the college level. But a scrutiny of these measures taken up so far reveals half-heartedness and blissful ignorance of certain ground realities that mar higher (middle level) education in the state. Further, we witness a certain form of colonial governmentality in circulation which inhibits academic freedom of the teachers as well as perpetuation of freakish control mechanism and above all formation of alliance with capitalist firms in the name of extracting accountability from the teachers.

These recent measures have been justified on the grounds that the age of superannuation have been extended and teachers are paid the UGC pay-scale (all in line with the UGC recommendations), which they believe is much more than what the teachers in Manipur actually deserve. The assumption is that as the Government has acceded to the demands of the teachers, (although the salaries of the teachers are without travel allowances and special compensatory allowances), now it is the turn of the teachers to give back to the society (to put it mildly) or in other words, go by the whims and fancies of the Government who are their employers.

Reproduction of Colonial Governmentality: Earned Leave & Station Leaving Permission - Prior Government Permission

In continuation of the Government letter No. 14/1/2012-SE dated 30th November, 2011 an order was issued (under Priority section) on 29th April, 2013 by the Secretariat: Higher Education Department on the subject "Earned Leave & Station Leaving Permission - Prior Government Permission". The order was addressed to the Controller of Technical Education and Addl. Director, University & Higher Education, Government of Manipur and copy to PPS to Hon'ble Minister (Edn./CAF & PD), Manipur, the P.S. to Commissioner (Hr. & Tech. Edn.), Govt. of Manipur, and all Principals, Govt. College, Manipur for information to all staffs for compliance with the Government instruction.

While there have been norms and procedures for availing leave and station leaving permission and that taking prior Government permission was a must, what is new in the recent-most circulation is the inclusion of the clause "avoid unauthorized tours / particularly on sensitive matters where the focus of the comp./international conference may lead the State / Government in negative ways/approach". The circular adds, "This shall be strictly complied and action taken report may be intimated to the Government in the negative ways/approach", and finally, "Tours of the college teachers/employees without prior permission of the Government shall be seriously viewed".

Prevention of misuse of earned leave and station leaving permission is one thing but curtailing academic freedom is a gross violation of intellectual rights and freedom. What constitutes "sensitive matters" is debatable. In fact, what cannot be sensitive that lies in the realm of the episteme. Almost every teacher from any discipline/subject can be barred from attending conference or seminar if we go by the dictum of the Government. Take for instance, a history teacher will be barred from stating the fact that Manipur was once a sovereign kingdom and was annexed by India in 1949.

A sociology teacher cannot talk about the oligarchic form of government that exercise authoritarian power in Manipur today. There are Human Rights, Defence Studies and Political Science departments in the Government colleges but the teachers cannot attend any international seminar and conference on human rights because human rights violations and extra-judicial killings are sensitive issues in the State.

The teachers will be barred from telling the truth that state police are notorious for fake encounters as recorded and revealed by the Supreme Court-appointed special commission which probed into some selected cases of extra judicial killings in Manipur in March-April this year.Ironically, the same killing machines are being conferred Gallantry Awards by the Government every year. Furthermore, an economist will be barred from attending international conference on human security because she/he shall be speaking on how the Government has colluded with private firms in the name of development and are displacing thousands from their lands.

The Kabo Leikai experience and oil and natural gas exploration and drilling in Tamenglong and Churachandpur are notable cases. Or otherwise, none of the teachers will be allowed to speak on bastardization of the Loktak Lake by the Government and private firms, which have not only led to death of the Lake but also led to forced eviction of the phumdi dwellers.

Characteristic feature of colonial governmentality is maintaining law and order by using any means. And they are anti-people and cannot tolerate opposition or criticism. What we are witnessing in Manipur in any sphere of life is the penetration of this form of government at the expense of freedom. But the more important issue at stake is, if the teachers are denied their intellectual freedom, who can take up the role of disseminating knowledge not only to the students but also the larger society? One is reminded of the Maintenance of Internal Security Act implemented by Indira Gandhi during the emergency days, and how she used the Act to finish off opposition. Numerous teachers from Delhi University and others were jailed. Is the Manipur Government toeing the same line or are we witnessing extension of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to the academic institutions? Well, in the name of law and order!

Installation of Bio-Metrics in College to Check Teachers' Attendance
Installation of bio-metrics in college to check teachers' attendance is merely an act of making money. If Mr Okendra could come up with this solution to check teachers' attendance, Yenning fears this is the ultimate death of rationale. Perhaps, the 30 or so lakhs (ruppess) and the kick-back involved were too tempting to be ignored.

When Mr Okendra took up the helms of education, his relentless rattles on improving the quality of education converted the un-believable into believing that certainly there can be positive change and improvement. People started having faith in the emancipator power of education. Everyone thought there would be regular Principals in colleges to run a proper administration with authority including checking of attendance of teachers and students, infrastructure development including improving the health of the libraries, women-friendly lavatories, decent classrooms, etc, filling up of vacant posts not only of the teaching staff but also non-teaching staffs such as sweeper, hostel warden, librarian and others. At the same time, expectations ran high as with the implementation of certain norms.

Take for instance, introduction of internal assessment by the college (including term paper, book review, open book examination and presentation, etc) instead of blindly following the rot-learning semester examinations conducted by Manipur University. If this is followed, then the chances of classroom attendance both on the part of the students and teachers will be obviously high.

Tinge of doubt started overcastting minds of the people when the Hon'ble Minister proposed channelizing the funds from UGC for college development through the Government. Obvious reasons, people mulled, could be to deduct certain percentage or allow his stalwarts (thikadars) to undertake the development works of the colleges. Then, out of the blues, comes the news of introduction of biometrics.

Principals who attended the training on bio-metrics at DM College, Imphal returned home disappointed. The failed attempt to introduce the same at the Tata institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai somewhere in 2009 was fondly remembered by them. When installation of bio-metrics was mooted at TISS, the first voice of opposition was why emulate the corporate style and destroy the integrity of the teachers by creating an atmosphere of distrust. The other reason of opposition was - those who stay nearby or in the campus can punch the machine in the morning and return back by evening and punch again. In between, they could do whatever they wanted to do and there could be no surveillance on them.

Finally, the whole idea was scrapped. In the case of Manipur, too, such similarities are not too far. Take for instance, Imphal is such a small place and majority of the colleges are here. Any teacher can come in the morning, go away and do whatever they desire and return by evening and punch the machine. The case of the far-flung areas is another matter of concern. First of all, there is problem of electricity. Even if generators or solar power are used, then again there will be the problem of transmission of data from the colleges to the Directorate office at Imphal. To sum up, money and kick-back involved was the main motive behind the introduction of the bio-metrics in colleges. We can only wait and observe if the system can bring about a positive change.

Are We Really Serious About Education?
Rhetoric apart the reality points to the opposite. Yenning's opposition to certain measures taken up by the Government does not necessarily mean to say that the teachers are full of integrity and genuinely practice their trade. Our criticism of the Government again emanates from the fact that it often misplaces its priorities and taken for a ride by private firms (suppliers and builders, etc). Larger society too is the same. We have encouraged corruption, malpractice and have discouraged our children from developing the capacity to be a thinking person. Even the institutions of justice have contributed to the downfall of education.

Take for instance, on May 28, 2013, Manipur High Court took up a Public Interest Litigation on the incident of young students who fainted inside a school van of Northeastern English School located at Khewa Bazar along Tinseed Road after inhaling poisonous gas on May 23, 2013. This happened at a time when the private schools are attempting to induct their own carriers at the expense of the van operators.

Our contention is that around this time more serious cases are in front of the Hon'ble High court such as the issue of Integrated Child Development Scheme and mid-day meals. The National Human Rights Commission has issued notice to the Chief Secretary, Manipur calling for a report into irregularities concerning these. However, none has filed a report including any form of PIL.


* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express as part of "Hoi Polloi And Mundanity" Column
The writer can be reached at yenning05(at)rocketmail(dot)com or visit hoipolloiandmundanity.blogspot.com
This article was posted on June 09, 2013



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