As we complete a year of the surgical strikes on Pakistani bases, universities across the nation have been geared up to celebrate the occasion- the writer puts forward her argument as to why this is opposed to the idea of the university and is contradictory to its purpose.
Monika Maini is a Doctoral Researcher at NIEPA, New Delhi.
Two months ago, the Ministry of Human Resource Development, India proposed Higher Education Commission of India Act, 2018 repealing the University Grants Commission of India Act, 1956 on the grounds that the new act will ensure the autonomy of the educational institutions and will promote the free pursuit of knowledge. However, after two months of this proposal, UGC on being directed by MHRD has come out with the instruction that 29th September 2018 shall be celebrated as “Surgical Strike” day in universities and educational institutions across India.
The circular along with the instruction to observe ‘Surgical Day’, also suggests the ways in which this day may be celebrated. The education minister has indicated that this order is not mandatory, yet stressed that celebrating ‘Surgical Strike day’ will develop patriotism among youth in the universities.
The idea of celebrating ‘Surgical Strike day’, in universities is itself a violence on the ‘idea of the university’, as it confers suppression of academic freedom and critical thinking, the two foundational pillars of the idea of the university. When a stalwart like Kant (1979) gave the ‘Idea of the University’, he proposed university as a community of scholars involved in the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. In this university, it was the prime responsibilities of the scholars to critique actions and instructions of state, businessmen and teachings of all branches of knowledge through the public use of reason and to make the public aware about the intentions of those actions (Kant, 1979).
When this idea of the university was carried forward by Humboldt, he too thought of the university as a community of scholars engaged in the pursuit of knowledge through collaborative learning (Habermas & Blazek, 1987). The search for truth was the only passion that would engage scholars to learn at depth of concepts. The outer life of the university, described as the resources to carry out academic enterprise was the responsibility of the State and the inner life of the universities described as the curriculum and pedagogy was entirely under the realm of scholars without any instruction by the state (Humboldt, 1970).
Humboldt also proposed that through the disinterested pursuit of truth the scholars are prepared for a way of life that makes them suitable to carry forward the culture and tradition of the society (Humboldt, 1970). This was the idea of a university in German context and coming to the idea of an Indian university, one can think of Tagore’s idea of Shanti Niketan as that was the only original idea of the modern University in the Indian context. Rabindranath Tagore in his essay, ‘The Eastern University’, proposed that a university should be the centre of civilization, it should perpetuate peace and aim at bringing harmony that comes from knowing the other by situating them in unbiased context (Tagore, 1921). A university shall be a place to ignite critical thinking of scholars, to understand east and then to compare with the west, to think for themselves and not merely follow instructions. A university as a place to compel scholars to question rather than comply to conformity (Tagore, 1922).
The idea of celebrating ‘Surgical Strike day’, in universities is itself a violence on the ‘idea of the university’, as it confers suppression of academic freedom and critical thinking, the two foundational pillars of the idea of the university.
Now, if we situate the idea of celebrating ‘surgical strike day’, within the postulates proposed by these philosophers, it goes against the idea of university due to three reasons. First, an instruction like this is an infringement of State into the internal life world of the university, the course of which is to be decided by scholars, hence a violation of the autonomy of the universities, that MHRD itself wanted to protect and promote through HECI. Second, the subject matter of instruction (surgical strike) is related to war, an idea debated and discussed in academia rather than being celebrated.
A surgical strike is an expression of power, it can compel citizens into the danger of war without even asking if they want it or not. Protecting one’s nation in the defence is another thing but celebrating surgical strike that was propagated as a success of regime is definitely a matter of debate in universities rather than celebration. Still, remember the discussions happened in the university among scholars the very next day of this surgical strike. Everyone was skeptical about its intentions and its consequences. Scholars were worried if this action would initiate an imposed war.
Imposition, of course, because no common man in any part or on side of land has ever asked for a display of arms and guns in the name of safety. No such display of power has ever worked for the empowerment of humanity; each and every such act has always dispelled people into the loss of life, hope and faith in humanism. So, instead of being happy or proud, the scholars were worried about the consequences of this action.
What about the life of people living in nearby villages, who did not have any idea that they were going to face the terror of their life? What about those whose home was devasted? These were among many other questions for which no one had any answers. So, while a large number of people along with government were boasting of ‘Surgical strike’ as an act of courage, giving a much-needed answer to the people on the other side of the fence, the followers of knowledge in academia were flabbergasted by the blatant display of power. This act on surface highlighted the courage and dedication of the Indian army but underneath conveyed the hidden message to youth about the power of Nation- State, not to be mistaken with the power of the nation. Hence, instructing the scholars to celebrate ‘Surgical Strike day’ is to bereave them of their academic freedom of being critical.
Third, it is being said that celebrating ‘Surgical Strike’ day in university spaces will inculcate the nationalistic spirit or the love for ‘Nation’. Patriotism and Nationalism are two distinct values, one associated with love and faith for the country where you are born and the other associated with love and faith for the Nation-state defined by the social, political and judicial system of the nation. As described by Humboldt and Tagore, such values are to be fostered through pragmatic action in universities. Students shall imbibe these values through a constant stimulus in the academic environment that helps them to exercise their fundamental rights as a citizen along with bearing their duties in mind.
These values would be fostered if our institutions will be of inclusive nature if voices of students from different sections of society are listened, acknowledged and addressed with equality. However, at a time when the freedom to speech is being curbed at spaces inside or outside the educational institutions and when students from marginalized sections of society struggle to express voice, developing a feeling of patriotism through such celebration appears to lose ground for validation.
Besides being paradoxical to Idea of the University, the instruction does not seem to achieve its intended purpose by the way it is proposed to be celebrated. The act of sending greeting and messages of respect to our Army men or listening to the story of their bravery may arouse a feeling of proud and respect for them but does not suffice our responsibilities towards them. Youth needs to listen not just the stories of pride but also, the reality of hardships faced by them and their families. Young students also, need to be critical of all those voices that reflected issues of mismanagement among the army, how they surfaced for little time and how they were lost without being addressed?
Celebrating ‘Surgical Strike Day’, thus, appears more to be an instrument of creating a manipulative sense of achievement for the present regime than celebrating the lives of those who sacrifice for their country. 29th of September, came last year too, and the central government did not pay any heed to what happened a year ago, neither celebration of power nor commensuration of the loss accompanied by the surgical strike.
However, instructing the universities to celebrate, ‘Surgical Strike Day’ two years after the action, when elections are approaching indicates towards this celebration as a technique of government to divert the attention of youth towards the power of the nation-state. The Republic day came and passed, the Kargil Vijay Diwas came and passed and even the Independence Day came and passed, no such circular was issued by UGC to celebrate patriotism. Then, why centring all the attention on the ‘Surgical Strike’ day?
This celebration highlights the surgical strike as a personal achievement, a result of directives of state and somehow sidelines the efforts of the army. It seems more of a celebration of the power and ideology of government than celebrating citizenship or patriotism. Instructing universities and other educational institutes to celebrate ‘Surgical Strike Day’ is, hence violence on academic freedom of the community of scholars.
I conclude my thoughts here while wondering about the consequences of being critical of celebrating this day in Universities. Will I become less patriotic? Will I stop being proud of my nation? Will I be less responsible as a democratic citizen?