Reality Bites: A Tale of Two ‘Liberal’ Indian Universities, one old and the other new

Since marrying rich men empower women, or so a don argued at BHU, there was nothing wrong in inviting Mukesh Ambani’s wife as visiting faculty. Meanwhile Ashoka got clearance for new campus at Mohali

Reality Bites: A Tale of Two ‘Liberal’ Indian Universities, one old and the other new

Rupa Gulab

A few days ago, the Jan Shatabdi Express hurtled backwards for over 20 km in Uttarakhand.

Railway officials say that this weird thing happened because an animal was run over. They did not specify which animal, but we can safely assume that it wasn’t a cow because the engine driver wasn’t lynched.

It will go down in the records as a technical glitch, which is completely incorrect. This was actually an Act of God, to send a message that India is going backwards. It’s no coincidence that around the same time, the new chief minister of Uttarakhand expressed his distaste for women who wear ripped jeans and expose their knees. In a convoluted argument he said that the children of these vulgar mummies would be influenced by their bad behaviour and possibly become junkies. Which gives us a fair idea of what these RSS-BJP types smoke, whether their own mummies wore ripped jeans or not.

We actually do not need Acts of God to tell us that India is moving backwards. All the signs have been flashing since 2014, and in 2021 deafening alarm bells have been ringing too. We already know that India’s democracy has been downgraded. Freedom House (US) said India is now only “partly free”, and V-Dem (Sweden) went a step further and said India has become an “electoral autocracy”.

Both reports are far kinder than the reality. Even my memory-challenged goldfish is aware that when the Modi-led BJP loses elections, it spitefully topples elected state governments, or turns states into union territories, or ensures that elected governments in existing union territories have precious little power left (Delhi right now, and Puducherry soon if they lose that election too).

Every day brings fresh Martin Niemoller moments: some group or the other that did not stand for groups that were victimised before, discovers that there’s pretty much no one else to stand for them.

The latest outrage is from the world of academia. Scholar Pratap Bhanu Mehta resigned from “liberal” Ashoka University ostensibly because the founders were upset that his columns in the Indian Express were becoming increasingly critical of the government—which they were, thank the lord! Such a welcome relief from his 2014-2015 columns where he behaved like an indulgent uncle.

Back to the founders: Do you find it odd that people who create what they call a “liberal” university, and underline the “liberal” tag in a show-offy manner (with haloes gleaming on their fat heads) are not remotely interested in defending democratic values? This behaviour is not all that strange when you consider that the founders are businessmen, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that Indian businessmen believe that anyone associated with them should not criticise the mummy-daddy sarkar, because then the mummy-daddy sarkar will not give them sweeties and how on earth will they turn into smug fat cats?

In solidarity, Mehta’s colleague, Arvind Subramanian (former Chief Economic Advisor to the Modi government, best known for his “All is well” reassurances when all wasn’t well), also resigned.

Then other scholars from across the world who had also cheerfully assured us in 2014 that we had nothing to fear from the scary Modi government jumped in to defend Mehta and described him in the sort of glowing terms that are best suited for obituaries. Sigh. As for me, I’m jumping up and down too. Up, because these people have finally realised their earlier judgement errors, and down because of the gravity of the situation.

Meanwhile, at another university: BHU, formerly known as Benaras Hindu University, will soon be called Bhabhi Hindu University. A proposal is in place to get the wives of Modi’s favourite crony capitalists as visiting professors. Mukesh Ambani’s wife Nita, Gautam Advani’s wife Priti, and Lakshmi Mittal’s wife Usha top that list. Rest assured that if Ratan Tata had a wife, she would have made it to the list too.

In defence of this proposal, Kaushal Kishore Mishra, dean of the social sciences faculty, Bhabhi Hindu University, said that the faculty does academic and research work related to women empowerment, which is why he wanted to rope these lovely ladies in.

I had absolutely no idea that marrying rich men was the best way for women to feel empowered, but hey, India’s going backwards, remember?

(Any resemblance with real events or people is a coincidence)

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Published: 21 Mar 2021, 12:00 PM