Monday 25 October 2021


Monday 20 February 2017

Media Overlooks Dalit Issues

Being focused on corporates and overcome with celebrity mania, media either overlooks or totally ignores the plight of the Dalits and the Minorities in India. This should come as no surprise since majority of the media is owned by the upper castes and led by a majoritarian agenda. 

Take a look at the conditions they have to have their meal

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Article: Development Needs Harmony

Development Needs Harmony

In the run-up to the 2014 elections BJP and Modi claimed to have campaigned on the development plank, presenting the Gujarat Model as the replicable development paradigm on the national level. Much has been written on the real efficacy of Modi’s Gujarat Model as statistics clearly show the lopsided development that resulted from such a model. Let us only look at the social development index in Gujarat: The latest Human Development Report of India places Gujarat at the 9th rank much below States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Haryana and a few others. Again, Gujarat’s basic health indicators have been lower than many others States of India – Kerala, Tamil Nadu for instance. The maternal mortality ratio has been much higher in Gujarat than that in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra. Even for the Under 5 mortality ratio Gujarat has fared poorly. In nourishment, or rather undernourishment, the experience of Gujarat has not been encouraging either. Fifty percent of the children were undernourished in Gujarat in 1992-93 and in 2005-06 even more children (51.7 per cent) were undernourished. Health indicators of the marginalised groups such as dalits and tribals only deteriorated. So much for the success of the Modi model.

But businesses and media readily acquiesced to Modi’s brand of development without much deep reflection and analysis and eventually became the propagators of the brand themselves (with exception of course). When you say a lie a few times it might resemble a truth. This is what happened to Modi’s development model in sections of the Indian public sphere prior to the general elections, and Modi was able (lucky too) to reap the benefit.  In reality it was an ominous union of economic liberalism and Hindu nationalism masquerading as the grand governance model of Gujarat.

It is now clear to anyone that Modi came to power not only on the development plank but by the calculated polarization of votes, especially in Uttar Pradesh. Years ahead of the elections the Sangh Parivar under the umbrella organization RSS set up thousands of new shakhas in that State to execute the divisive plan. Modi’s henchman, protégé and party incharge of UP Amit Shah was the CEO of this meticulously planned operation. The Muzzafarpur communal riots and other riots were pre-planned towards the winning of as many seats as possible in UP so that Modi could ascend the PM’s chair in Delhi. The 71 Loksabha seats that Shah delivered to Modi was the outcome of this polarization. As everyone knows by now, in Indian politics the path to Delhi is via UP. But no one expected Modi and his company to do the unsavoury act of religious polarization in order to gain votes.

Shah’s anointment as the BJP chief (reward for his excellent performance in UP) is aimed at taking this UP model (not of development) of polarization to all-India level. In the meantime UP came into focus again as the by-elections were announced. UP had the largest number of by-election seats to be won. The Sangh affiliates under the leadership of Shah took the polarization model to another level – “Love Jihad”. By spreading sheer calumny against the members of the major minority community in UP and by dividing the voters on religious basis the Sangh sought to win the by-elections. Alas! Such a false propaganda was punished by the voters (no doubt by sensible Hindus too, who refused to buy into the lies of the Sangh) by defeating the saffron cronies of Shah and his company. The electorate by now sensed the glaring contradiction in the party’s stand – playing ‘development’ to the general gallery but using communal passions in selected pockets to win votes. Moreover voters seem to have realized the great mistake of giving the party a brute majority at the centre.

Prior to the by-elections the religious venom of hate that came out of the saffron clad Adityanath was simply despicable. Perhaps under the sane advice of Rajnath Singh (who would like to be seen more as a moderate in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee mould) Adityanath was not chosen as the chief campaigner in the by-elections. But the development poster-boy Modi did nothing to restrain the hate-monger Adityanath, the five-time BJP MP (party should be ashamed to flaunt this) from Gorakhpur. “Sadly for Indian democracy, individuals who should be behind bars flaunt their electoral victories as sanction for their toxic brand of politics,” says Brinda Karat, Politburo member of the CPI (M).
Within months of Modi coming to power at the centre, the Sangh affiliates and its members have become extremely bold to attack the members of other religions – especially Christians – and their legitimate, constitutionally valid religious activities. Prime example of this is in Madhya Pradesh where a BJP government is in power. Precisely under the nose of this government Gram Sabhas of 50 villages in Bastar and Jagadalpur districts had the guts to outlaw non-Hindu religions. This was a clear violation of the fundamental rights of the people of other religions.

Since Modi’s coming to power a few months ago there have been numerous communal riots and skirmishes in various parts of the country resulting in disharmony. The social and religious atmosphere in the country is gradually being vitiated. Modi’s development agenda (for whom the development bell tolls is quite another question) doesn’t sit well with this climate of disharmony. For, it unleashes a whole lot of ‘unfreedoms’ to use the words of the famous Nobel Laureate Economist Amartya Sen: “Development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as intolerance or over-activity of repressive states.” The ideological intolerance perpetuated by the Sangh will be the major hurdle in executing the development plank of Modi government. Where there is no freedom for pluralistic views to be expressed and shared real development cannot take place. For, in the words of Sen development is freedom meaning the end and the means of development is freedom.

In an atmosphere of ‘unfreedom’ resulting in disharmony the electorate might vote out the Modi government in the next general elections not for its development plank but for the communal plank.

Dr. Francis Arackal 

Article: President Modi?

President Modi?

From the style and substance of Modi’s announcements and pronouncements and acts of omission and commission so far it would seem that he has ushered in the Presidential form of government, though he contested to become the PM and his supporters (only 31% of the voters) cast their votes for this purpose only. Slowly and with Machiavellian cunningness he has begun to subvert their trust in him by assuming to be a President and not PM.

Choosing Weaklings

The whole thing started with the picking of the members of his cabinet – some of the weaklings (with hardly any grass root support) with some exceptions of course. The prime example is the appointment of serial actor Smriti Irani to the important ministry of Human Resource Development. For all practical purposes it is a very sensitive ministry, handling education, the most important factor in forming the minds of future generations of Indians.

Naturally, her appointment lead to much controversy, for not having the minimum required qualification to hold this post, which has to deal with the highest echelons of educational institutions in the country, leave alone having to deal with prestigious universities and other education institutions  abroad. During the first NDA regime this was the ministry which churned out controversy after controversy – saffronization of education, re-writing Indian history, interfering in the autonomy of higher education institutions, especially the IIMs. This time around Modi has chosen a pliable young woman to head the ministry to make amply sure that his writ runs on every important matter.

Undermining the Cabinet

Right from his first day in office, Modi made it sufficiently clear that it would be a one man show. An ordinance in the TRAI Act paved the way for the appointment of Nripendra Misra as his principal secretary and a series of directives were issued to the council of ministers, bureaucrats as well as the BJP MPs. Soon enough, Modi’s office in the South Block became the hub of all the government activity.

Modi also vetoed the choice of personal secretary to Rajnath Singh, passing a diktat that none of the bureaucrats who have functioned under the UPA will be allowed a space in the NDA. Lately, Rajnath Singh’s position in the government was being speculated as mere cosmetic as reports claimed that Modi’s office was clipping his wing as the Home Minister especially in terms of appointments.
Modi’s desire to address school children across the country on Teachers’ Day is an effort to present himself as the ‘supreme leader’ in the lines of what they do in a country like North Korea ruled by an autocratic military junta. The directive of the Human Resource Development ministry in this regard was forced upon schools and teachers disregarding the practicalities involved in terms of expenses, logistics and infrastructure. The directive clearly stated that, “Any laxity in the arrangements shall be viewed seriously.” This was sheer high-handedness, to say the least. No wonder someone said Modi is like a headmaster (“Prime Monitor” heaved another headline) to his cabinet making them to do his bidding. Cabinet colleagues’ views apparently do not matter at all. Modi is the sole central executive authority for all government decisions that are undertaken. BJP spokersperson Sambit Patra unwittingly under scored the reality when he said, “We have a tough leader now. So far we have had weak statesmen like Manmohan Singh”. In the new government, Modi is the final word on everything, in the executive as well as BJP.

The very fact that finance minister Arun Jaitley had to come out openly and dismiss any perception that power is centralised with Modi only confirms the misgivings about a Presidential style of functioning of the chief executive of the country.

Marginalization of Leaders

There is the gradual marginalization of all key leaders. The two founding leaders of the party, L. K. Advani and M. M. Joshi, have been turned mentor and virtually forced retirement sparking off debate even within BJP about the “high-handed” manner of Modi and Amit Sha. Within days of Modi coming to power the news of bugging of Transport and Highways minister Nitin Gadkari’s residence came out lending credence to the view that Modi is basically insecure, as all autocratic rulers generally are, and would trust no one.
The “slow-motion assassination of UPA appointed governors” is seen as Modi’s desire to control the state governments through his hand-picked governors, including the appointment of former CJI Sathasivam who is alleged to have done some favour to Modi and his protégé Amit Shah in cases connected to Gujarat riots and fake encounters.
Planning Commission with think tank

Modi’s discarding the planning commission so abruptly without feeling any sense of loss is a clear manifestation of his desire to centralize and control all instruments of power. One of the main functions of planning commission has been to allocate funds to the states through dialogue between the deputy chairperson of planning commission and the chief ministers of states. Such an exercise symbolized delegation of power in the larger interests of the country. Now Modi is replacing the planning commission with a think tank. Knowing the ideology of Modi and his party it is anybody’s guess that who will be part of the think tank. According to Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, broadly there are two attitudes to the process of development: one view sees development as a “fierce” process “with much blood, sweat and tears”. It demands calculated neglect of various concerns that are seen as “soft-headed”. What are the concerns? Having social safety nets that protect the very poor;  providing social services for the population at large; favouring political and civil rights; favouring the luxury of democracy – to mention a few. For those favouring the “fierce” process of development these are not priorities at all; what is needed here and now is “toughness and discipline”. The alternative outlook sees development as a “friendly” process. The congeniality of the process is exemplified by such things as: the working of social safety nets; political liberties; social development; and all the supportive activities. After hearing Modi’s announcements both in India and abroad – red carpet for businesses, bullet trains, FDI even up to cent percent in various sectors of the economy -  it is anybody’s guess what model of development Modi and his think tank would adopt. 

Hundred days later, and still counting of Modi’s rule, there is a strong feeling that Modi would turn out to be an absolute autocratic ruler and it might continue to be so for the next four years. During the 2014 election campaign this writer had expressed the fear that Modi is likely to mount the biggest surveillance in history – on political rivals, colleagues, and on all Indians – overtaking the one mounted by the National Security Agency (NSA) of the US. This will further cement the perception of Modi being more of a President than a PM.

Dr. Francis Arackal

Article: The Quest for Academic Excellence

The Quest for Academic Excellence

I tell my PG and UG students that if given the chance – enough money and other related things – many of you would have gone abroad to study (the favourite countries being the US, UK and Australia). A couple of months ago I read the news in the Indian media that Indian students are going abroad even for undergraduate studies. Sure, some of our students should go abroad for study in the hope that they would return and add variety to the intellectual deposit and technological know-how of the country. One of the union ministers, the other day, advised such students to “learn, earn, and return”. Even from advanced countries such as Germany or France students go to the US, UK and Australia (or other way round) for higher studies. One may wonder what is the most important reason for Indian students going abroad. The general presumption being that educational institutions in the advanced countries have better standards. But how do they maintain the standard? One answer could be - by maintaining the standards of all that is related to academics: infrastructure, faculty, library, labs, research, recreational facilities, sporting facilities and so forth. Sure, all these costs more money. That’s why the annual college fees is exorbitant, for instance in the US it is $ 35, 000 (Rs 21 lakhs in today’s exchange rate), compared to Indian standards.

However, it is not a question merely of the higher quality of infrastructure and facilities alone. It is the whole mental framework, environment and ambience. Maintaining an atmosphere of academic formality (surely, combined with friendliness) is one of the key factors. What do I mean by that? I invited a friend of mine, who has just returned from the UK after completing his Masters, to speak to my students to make them aware of the academic atmosphere prevailing in the institution where he studied. This was partly to remove the false impressions harboured by students in India about academic terms and conditions that are prevailing abroad – especially images of excessive freedom (I don’t mean academic) to do whatever they wanted. My friend shared the following: At the beginning of the academic year during the orientation the students were given the necessary instructions meant for the whole programme and that was that: no cajoling with regard to attendance in classes, no going after the students with regard to the completion of assignments, and above all no spoon feeding as happens in Indian universities. Students were given minimum necessary inputs by each course director and then the students are left on their own to build on it. For this of course, the academic facilities mentioned above – especially library (physical and online) are at their disposal. Guess what? Students either perform or perish.

Why wouldn’t the Indian students perform? – Surely the will. For, as I indicated above, education is mercilessly expensive. Most Indian students join colleges abroad after obtaining educational loans back in India. Today most American parents cannot send their children to college, due to the high cost of education, without taking loans. So why wouldn’t the students take studies seriously? In most higher education institutions in India many students (especially those coming from well-to-do families) do not take their studies seriously because they have invested very little monetarily. (After all, many of the rich parents became so by milking the State-cow: bureaucrats through outright bribe-taking; business people through lobbying on the corridors of power to twist economic policies in their favour; farmers by not paying taxes and by taking undue benefit of the state subsidies; politicians through corrupt practices; and traders by not issuing proper bills and tweaking the accounts.)  They not only do not take their studies seriously they are also a bad influence on others who have monetarily struggled to get into college and on those who would like to do well in their studies. Even if they are held up for a couple of years due to lack of attendance or lack of internal marks (applies to autonomous colleges), they lose only a paltry sum. This is all the more true in government run higher education institutions, where the annual fees are abysmally low. The bottom line is that higher education in India should cost more; it should pinch every parent and every student. Then there is a probability that studies will be taken seriously. Or else the money spent by the government (even though it is only a paltry sum) is going down the drains; a pure national waste. I am unable to fathom why the Indian education system should subsidise the rich. Rather the fees should be increased to a proximate level that’s being charged in advanced countries and provide the necessary facilities to an approximate level that is being provided abroad, leaving enough fund to subsidize (even offering full scholarship with stringent conditions attached) the meritorious poor students from the lower strata of Indian society. This will offset the poor from the effects of raising the cost of higher education in India.

You either perform or perish is the formal academic principle that has to be embraced in higher education institutions in India. There should be no room for mercy and compassion in academics. Mercy and compassion can be shown in cases of emotional, psychological, or financial problems and difficulties faced by the students. Or else the country will be churning out unemployable degree holders as is already happening today. Many students realize the mediocrity of their academic performance only when they get the semester-wise marks card in their hands. Till then they are bindass walking around perfectly relaxed, glued to the screens in their own gadgetry world, unmindful of what’s happening around. When the naked academic truth strikes, they devise ways and arguments to twist and manipulate the concerned authorities (lecturers, controller of examinations, office staff ...) stooping so low as to request an outright increase of marks for the subjects in which they have fared badly. There are teachers who would succumb to the pressure. Needless to say, that there is an absolute lack of educational ethics and morality on the corridors of many higher education institutions in India.

If some of the NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) graded (A) academic institutions can follow up on the proposals for drastic improvements the country will have at least some institutions with academic standards on par with those found in advanced countries. Sadly, some institutions are averse to bold initiatives; they seem to be happy and content with the status quo. For, it calls for innovative academic programmes and efficient and transparent administration. Innovative academic programmes combined with efficient and transparent administration can build up excellent educational institutions drastically reducing the need for Indian students to go abroad, in the process saving much money and preventing brain drain, which has been a curse for the country at least since the time of independence.

Dr. Francis Arackal

Article: Teachers Under the Shadow of Students?

Teachers under the shadow of students?

As part of a series of guest lectures held in the second half of Saturday mornings I invited a young film maker to talk to our media students. At the very outset of his talk he asked the nearly 100 students gathered whether anyone of them was compelled to be in the hall. No one said he or she was. But the young speaker felt that the vibes coming from the students weren’t that positive or energetic. Soon he spotted a girl whose head was on her desk. The speaker said, “Mam, you seem to be sleepy; please go out and wash your face and come. Or if you feel you needn’t come back.” Of course, she came back. Another girl was almost in half-bedded/reclining posture to one side in her chair. The speaker said, “Mam, you might fall off, try to sit straight.” Half way through the talk the speaker noticed another girl who was very busy writing. The speaker said, “Mam, is my talk so important that you are taking down every word; what are you busy writing?” This girl was honest to admit that she was writing the notes that she missed from the previous classes.

For the two hours or so the speaker shared about his inspiration, interest, education related to films and film making. He also spoke about the process of film making and his own experience in it. During the question-answer session that followed his input he stressed the importance of media students asking pertinent questions and communicating them properly. “Communication students should communicate effectively,” he added. He was lively, interactive, dripping with energy almost – just brilliant. Even in the midst of it he noted a few other cases of misdemeanour by the students in the hall. Imagine this young man as a regular teacher. I would like to think that he would nip it in the bud the indiscipline and erratic behaviour of the students. For, he seemed to be a man of courage, conviction and commitment.

It took the faculty by surprise that the guest speaker had the guts to pull up these students. What these students were up to was perhaps a reflection of what they usually do in the regular class rooms. How many teachers would have similar guts to pull up the students, I wonder. I feel not many. Reasons: The craze among some teachers for popularity within the student community. This is particularly evident among young teachers. This might also be due to their own insecurity about keeping the job, in view of being unpopular among students, which the management may have to/might take note of. Surely, there are managements which are least bothered about discipline – academic or otherwise – once they admit the students and fees is taken. Also there are managements who would like to treat the students with kid-gloves for the sake of popularity, the consideration being quantity of students and not their quality. Or it could be that the teachers themselves came from a similar unruly background when they were students – in Indian education system this is certainly explicable. It is known that in the Indian education system degrees can be obtained through favours given (even sexual) or through sheer direct bribery.
Gone are the days when if a student misbehaves in the class and the concerned teacher pulls up that student then the rest of the class might shun or disassociate with that student, which in the long run might serve as an automatic corrective to the concerned student. Today, if a student is pulled up by the teacher, for the rest of the class he/she becomes a kind of a hero. The teacher becomes the bad guy under the arbitrary presumption that his/her teaching was boring or he/she didn’t have the looks to cater to a generation brought up with ephemeral, skin-deep beauty standards and values. Gone are the days when if a student told his/her parents that the teacher pulled me up or punished me for indiscipline then the student is bound to get punished also by the parents concerned. Today, parents would immediately run to the educational institution in question to seek explanation for the punishment given or to take revenge, or to threaten the concerned authorities. This is partly because many parents today are living in the fear of their children. If you do not defend your children – no matter what your children have done, terrible – you had it!

The writer walked into a V semester undergraduate programme in June to teach a course for the rest of the semester. To my surprise I found many students in a very disorderly manner – chatting away, leaning on the desk, disinterested, totally distracted, day-dreaming … This indicated that these students had been let loose for the past four semesters due to the inability of their teachers to control the class room or for the reasons mentioned above. In class presentations by students mediocrity is applauded loudly whereas good ones are played down to discourage the students who would like to do well. Similarly those students who would like to contribute to the class by way of interaction, questions, related comments, and observations during a lecture are shouted down (outside the class room, surely) by their class-mates. So much so in the course of the academic year such students are quietened down, as they fall in line with the majority, who are there just for a degree which they think can be obtained by hook or by crook.

Isn’t the same thing happening in Indian society where the corrupt, rapist, criminal politicians and goons are treated as heroes and the victims are made to suffer more? This is partly due to the unsavoury media attention they get. Victims are sometimes socially boycotted and even subjected to honour killings. Would one be off the mark to conclude that what’s happening in the class rooms is symptomatic of what is going on the society?
Dr. Francis Arackal