Sunday, September 26, 2021

Anti-intellectual spaces

A government pushing for Hindutva agenda with its strong rabid jingoistic streaks and its ideological underpinnings of reviving a pseudo cultural past may not be directly responsible for the increasing de-intellectual discourse at the highest seats of learning. But the pre-dominant nation-wide discourse it promotes as the only legitimate one, with all dissenters and critics being branded as anti-nationals, not only forbids a free exchange of ideas crucial for educational institutions as well as the entire country, it encourages mediocre educationists or those that wish to pander to the interests and likes of political lobbies of the day to speak out loud unscientific and unhistorical assertions without being challenged. When the vice chancellor of Andhra Pradesh University chose to perpetuate myths as both history and science at the Science Congress, with his unscientific discourse on stems cell surgeries dating back to ancient India and the mythological stories of 100 Kaurava princes, he was not just indulging his anti-intellectual appetite, he was consciously carrying forward the Hindutva project of showcasing India’s non-existent super-power status and its cultural chauvinism. Right at the start of the tenure of the present BJP led NDA government, it was the prime minister who laid the foundations of such a discourse by speaking about cosmetic surgery and nuclear weapons dating back to the times of mythical stories of Ganesha and Mahabharata. Another scientist who virtually called Einstein and Newton as liars while promoting his brand of Vedic science, while vowing to name his counter-theory as ‘Modi wave’, left no doubt of the connection between the Hindutva ideology perpetuated from top echelons of power and the unscientific discourse being promoted at platforms that are supposed to inspire scientific temperament, intellect and a penchant for reason and logic, not chauvinistic fantasies. It is a sad reflection of things when a de-intellectual discourse coming from the top not only remains unchallenged by the enlightened academics and scientists but is fully endorsed as the gospel truth by the latter. Such a trend will eventually promote an anti-intellectual temperament, signs of which are already on display with liberal values and civility being severely challenged and retarded by the army of social media trolls and street hooligans out to shut down and silence all voices of reason and the culture of allowing different opinions to be voiced by promoting Hindutva supremacy and a singular voice of the majority. Such signs in intellectual spaces are worrying because they herald a dangerous trend juxtaposed with the severe threat to intellectual freedom in educational institutions, the robbed autonomy of prestigious universities like JNU and rewriting of school text-books which are based on simple myths, not even distortions of history and scientific knowledge. It is worrying that educational institutions, instead of promoting a culture of debate, are being turned into hubs of jingoism with politics over national tri-colour, bringing military tanks to campuses or turning campuses into sites of main official celebration of Republic Day and other national days. The NDTV reported on Sunday (March 3) how a professor of an engineering college in Karnataka’s Vijayapura was forced to go down on his knees and apologise with folded hands for putting up a post on Facebook, criticizing the central government over border tension between India and Pakistan. There is method in the madness that is stamping out liberal discourse under the weight of military chauvinism, jingoism, abject lies and cultural assertion based on historic and scientific untruths; and promoting in its place hooliganism. That the vice chancellor of Purvanchal University in Uttar Pradesh should take the brazen way of inciting violence and asking students of his university to fight till finish their opponents even to the extent of murdering them is a grim reminder of where things are headed. The seriousness of such a scenario is enhanced when the Uttar Pradesh government headed by a Hindutva diehard looks the other way. That a university professor from Jammu University should be punished and made to apologise by waving his de-contextualised and distorted comments on Bhagat Singh while treating a vice chancellor giving out a clarion call for resorting to murders, which merits criminal charges, with kid-gloves shows the far clearer nexus, reminiscent of Nazi Germany, between the bigoted politics of the rulers and the attempts by loyalist academics to turn highest seats of learning into anti-intellectual spaces.