Academic Freedom

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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By Justice Markandey Katju

Academic Freedom

The question of academic freedom in India arose with particular intensity in August 2023 after the resignation of two assistant professors of Economics in Ashoka University ( a private University near Delhi ).

The row began after Sabyasachi Das, assistant professor of Economics in the University, published a paper titled 'Democratic Backsliding in the World's Largest Democracy', concluding that there was electoral manipulation by the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Das resigned after the Governing Body of the University started an investigation into the merits of his conclusions, and his colleague in the Economics Department, Pulapre Balakrishnan also resigned as he felt that academic freedom was violated.

Thereupon 87 faculty members of the University wrote a letter to the University authorities saying that ''to stifle criticism is to poison the lifeblood of pedagogy''.

Students also supported the demand for academic freedom

Over 300 academicians all over the world issued similar statements

I certainly do not support 'saffronization' of Indian institutions, including our educational institutions. My problem, however, is about what our academicians and so called 'liberal intellectuals' were doing prior to this 'saffronization' which commenced from 2014 ?

Freedom is a very rosy and attractive word, but I submit that freedom cannot be an end in itself, it can only be a means to an end. That end must be raising the standard of living of the people, and giving them better lives. If freedom furthers that objective I support it, but not otherwise.

Indian academicians have enjoyed academic freedom for long, and those in institutions of higher learning such as Universities, IITs etc have enjoyed high salaries and plenty of perks. But has that benefited the Indian masses ? I am afraid the answer can only be in the negative.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of teachers in the Economics Departments of Indian Universities and Colleges, often drawing high salaries and allowances, and perks. But have they found any solution to India's massive poverty, record and rising unemployment, appalling level of child malnutrition ( every second Indian child is malnourished, according to Global Hunger Index ), skyrocketing rise of prices of essential commodities like food, fuel, and medicines, etc ?

I have no sympathy for the howling and wailing of Indian academicians and so called 'intellectuals' who complain of lack of academic freedom. What were they doing when they had this freedom? Did they help the people in any way by creating ideas which would benefit the people ?

They have been getting their salaries, allowances, and perks from the taxes paid by the public. Have they repaid the public in any way? Have they done any serious research and found creative solutions to the people's basic problems of livelihood? No, they only made hay when the sun was shining. And if they got the slightest opportunity they migrated to USA or Europe to enjoy a comfortable life there.

Not one of the Indian University Economics Professors and teachers, many of them having high sounding degrees from Harvard, Yale or the London School of Economics, who are teaching and enjoying high salaries and perks in Delhi School of Economics, JNU, Delhi University, or elsewhere, has any clue how to solve the problems of poverty, unemployment, and price rise, which are the major problems plaguing India today.

And I doubt that they even seriously wish to investigate these problems. All they care for is their high salaries and comforts.

So I have no sympathy for academicians and so called 'intellectuals' who complain and lament of lack of freedom. What did they do when they had this freedom ?

(Justice Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. These are his personal views.)

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