It is unusual for a bright young scholar like Amrendra Narayan, with a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from Mississippi State University, preceded and followed by research stints at Indian Institutes of Technology at Kanpur and Mumbai, respectively, to go and work at a relatively little known Veer Kunwar Singh University in a small town Arrah of Bihar near his native place. His own family and friends would have probably dissuaded him from going to Arrah and for good reasons. After working there for three years he was physically assaulted on campus on 13 August, 2020, by one Vivek Kumar alias Jitendra Pandey, who hangs around in the University without any formal affiliation there.
It appears that a section of people with the University were not happy with the reforms that Amrendra was trying to bring about in the prevalent ‘academic’ culture there. Using his technological capabilities, the University created a Computer Centre facility for computerized result preparation saving crores of rupees and freeing it from the clutches of private agencies and from external and internal manipulation. His biggest attack was on plagiarism. He introduced software to detect plagiarism which made it difficult to obtain an easy Ph.D. from the University. In his attempt to rid the system of higher education of the malpractices and corruption by strictly implementing the University Grants Commission norms, he shook the entire set up.
The Vice Chancellor was supportive of his efforts in the beginning because of which Amrendra was able to accomplish a number of things. But after the assault incident, the VC has decided to go mum.
The scenario at University in Arrah is not an exception. To a lesser and greater extent all the malpractices here can be found in any academic institution in other places too. Using unfair means in examinations is very common and is a collaborative exercise in many places with students, parents, teachers, and management of school or college, education department officials, administrative officers and people’s representatives all colluding. It is an important factor responsible for fall in quality of education activity at educational institutions. Students of renowned institutions like King George Medical University, Lucknow and IIT, Banaras Hindu Univeristy have been caught impersonating for candidates in respective entrance examinations in exchange for money. Incidents of plagiarism have been reported at very reputed institutions too. Erudite economist Jean Dreze accused IIT Kanpur Associate Professor in Economics, Somesh Kumar Mathur, of having completely copied one of his articles published in Economic and Political Weekly when Mathur was a Ph.D. student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Mathur just added a section to Dreze’s article and published it in another journal in his name. Inspite of charges of plagiarism in other works, Mathur continues to serve the IIT Kanpur.
What is probably a rarity at IIT is a common practice at universities like the Veer Kunwar Singh. Dishonesty in research and teaching is rampant. The practice perpetuates from one generation to another. Any intervention to rectify the malfunctioning is likely to receive a violent pushback as experienced by Amrendra Narayan.
Campus violence is also not uncommon. From carrying the feudal-casteist disputes from the rural hinterland to academic campuses, clashes between student groups more for asserting their dominance than for any ideological reasons, giving vent to their frustration against any attempt to discipline them by indulging in vandalism have been common incidences. Banaras Hindu University at Varanasi closing down sine die after campus violence was an expected annual event before the University decided to ban students union elections. This January we have seen masked gang going on rampage in JNU campus. A rowdy group forcibly entered the Gargi College in Delhi in February and molested girl students in a shameful act.
Most of our institutions of higher learning have no pretensions of being the ideal centres of learning and scholarship. Inspite of high numbers involved in higher education India has a poor record in research. It is no surprise that no scholar working in an Indian institution has received a Nobel prize till date. The quality of research also reflects in the economy. The manufacturing in India is highly dependent on foreign designs and imported materials and products. China has infiltrated the Indian market to such an extent that in spite of our wish to boycott Chinese goods because of its infringement of Indian territory we’re unable to do so. The Prime Minister may dream of an Atmanirbhar Bharat, the fact is we cannot do without external help, whether of finance or technology. A recent trend is even governments hire foreign consultants to advise them on matters of domestic policy.
It is quite clear that India has not taken its education seriously. Education is a ritual to be completed for upward social and economic mobility. The ultimate objective is to possess a degree irrespective of any capability acquired through the process of education. The more smart among the educated use their knowledge or skills to make money for themselves, legally or illegally. Corruption in India is a product of the educated. Education is disconnected from social reality and does not even attempt to solve the real problems of our country. Corruption, violence and mediocrity are endemic to Indian education system. The system is deeply entrenched intertwined with powerful vested interests.
However, if the policy makers want an overhaul of the education system, as is desired in the recently released New Education Policy, the reality would have to be confronted. Some people will have to stem the rot. This will definitely involve risks as Amrendra’s example has shown. But the wider society and at least the intellectual academic community will have to support persons who attempt to reform the system and not abandon them.
Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Social Activist & Professor at IITs & IIMs