Academic Pursuit V/S The Issue Of Political Correctness

“If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher.” – Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

In the life of a student, living in the practical realm is of utmost necessity. A student will only be able to develop when he or she can skim through the theoretical studies and have pragmatic inter linkage thereto. In fields like medicine and law especially this pragmatic approach towards the subjects is indefeasible.

Thus, when an M.B.B.S student is given to tackle practical situations during the course as  a part of the curriculum, the same facilitates and develops the cognitive faculties to an extent that aids the receptivity of the student towards the real life situations as and when they arise. Likewise, goes for an LLB student, you cannot keep law out of society. Law and society are integrally interlinked. The course of legal studies in India or all over the world for that matter is more or less case study based. It is an accepted practice, to give law students situational based questions and leave to them to give the answers by applying the relevant provisions of law to those situations and frame an appropriate answer.

The Bar Council of India has time and again revised directions to the law institutions holding that legal education cannot be imparted through channels where there is no interaction inter se the teachers and students, no classrooms, no requirement for attendance and no practical exposure. Law is one of such courses where academic education is considered incomplete without practical exposure be it through internships or moot courts or otherwise. The students who eventually are going to deal with the rights, duties and lives of the people when they become lawyers have to be trained with the practical exigencies and hand-holdings by their seniors, and, this is why not just the students are required to undertake internships but even practicing lawyers and sitting judges are often called upon by the Universities for judging moot courts which forms part of the basic tenets of the modus of imparting legal education.

Recently, a lot of controversy arose when such a situational based question was given in the December, 2018 End term Examination of the University School of Law and Legal Studies, IP University College, Law of Crimes Paper; the question read as,

“Ahmed, a Muslim kills a cow in a market in the presence of Rohit, Tushar, Manav and Rahul, who are Hindus. Has Ahmed committed any offence?”.

This question is ordinarily seen by any law student would make his or her mind skim through the relevant provisions of the criminal legal regime, like section 153-A, 295-A IPC or even section 298 of the IPC, or other provisions of the Prevention of the Cow Slaughter Act (of the respective states). Pursuant to this paper, the esteemed University who by virtue of teaching law is expected to act in a rationale manner actually ended up issuing an Office Order dated December 20, 2018 against the teachers who had framed the said question thereby debarring them from getting involved in the task of setting up and moderation of question papers for a period of six semesters from thereon. In addition to this, making optimum use of this situation for bringing politics into the picture the Deputy CM on January 1, 2019 issued an order stating :

This is a serious matter where the basic spirit of the Constitution of India is being violated. This cannot be allowed. Merely issuing press release or barring the responsible person from making the question papers for few semesters would not be sufficient. Responsibility should be fixed and responsible persons to be terminated immediately. Cover up exercise cannot be tolerated after such a huge lapse.”

Subsequent to this order, the University called for a Board of Management Meeting citing the agenda to be to discuss the  termination of the Assistant Professors. The professors therefore had approached the Honorable High Court of Delhi, wherein the learned counsels representing the Assistant Professors put-forth arguments before the Honorable Court, thereby refuting the allegations of inciting communal violence and stated that the sole purpose of asking this question was to check the understanding of the students with respect to the criminal legal regime in light of the application of the relevant provisions of law. The question was framed in a fashion that it had to be answered on basis of the case laws and provisions of law, no personal opinion of the students or any person in any manner was ever sought. And, when there is no independence granted to the student to express their opinion on the situation and when the students were well constrained within the frame of the legal provisions and the case laws, how can the same be said to be inciting communal violence. The Honorable Delhi High Court thereafter, accepting the contentions of the counsels representing the professors granted an interim stay in their favor thereby putting at halt any kind of termination or adverse action against the professors sought to be taken by the University. Thus, the Delhi High Court in the true sense upheld the echelons of justice and ensuring that justice was not denied.

An article published in “The Indian Express” on December 12, 2019 cited a statement made by the Education Minister that, “How could such a reprehensible question with a communal overtone be framed for an LLB exam?” Such a reaction is seriously questionable and condemned especially, when a similar question formed part of the GGSIPU End Term Examination paper on the Law of Crimes during November-December 2016 also. The question then read as,

“ ‘X’ a Mohammedan kills a cow in an open place in the presence of 4-5 Hindus. What offence did he commit?”

Thus, the rage raised in pursuance to the 2018 paper was certainly unneeded and uncalled for and is a sheer demonstration of exploitation of academic institutions of our country for political ends at the hands of the ruling government.

This is not the first time that political manifestations have been made keeping the gun on the shoulders of academic institutions, the difference just being that earlier such attacks were made on the administrative domain of the institutions like the case of JNU, and this time a targeted attempt was made to disrupt the academic affairs of an Institution.

This leaves the public with a question as to whether at all is there any academic freedom in our country, or is the country to be governed as per the whims and fancies of the government thereby being a mere facilitator for the political gains of the few. The scholars, teachers should be vested with the freedom to not only teach but also frame the most suited questions relevant to the subjects freely. These time and again attempts from the government’s side to interfere with the affairs of the Academic Institutions whether be in the ordinary executive and administrative sphere or the academic sphere (like in the present GGSIPU case) should be condoned. The Government should not be given the liberty to exploit these Institutions for their political gains. May be, the routinely interference of the government with the affairs of JNU has  provided them with a leeway to now even hamper the academic sphere, but this certainly shall be condoned in strict sense.

The teachers form the building blocks of the nation due to the responsibility vested in them to train and educate the children of the country who are the future of the nation. Setting up and moderation of the question papers infact, should be considered to be as a part of the right to dignity of the teaching profession, and actions debarring teachers from being part of the paper setting team should be strongly discouraged, especially, in light of situations like the present one wherein there is a clear attack intended solely for the purpose of deriving political mileage.

Eugene Vinaver, Professor of French Language and Literature at the University of Manchester, in an address to the faculty of the University stressed on the uniqueness of the University as public institution and observed:

“That the condition under which academic work can prosper can never be equated with the political structure of a state or the administrative structure of an army or, for that matter, the rational structure of a large concern. Efficiency in all such enterprises requires within certain limits the abandonment of equality. In an academic body, on the contrary, efficiency is strictly proportionate to the degree of individual freedom, for such is the nature of human intellect that when its freedom is violated, destruction ensues.”

Academic freedom here is required to be distinguished from University autonomy, the former relates to the professional freedom of the teaching fraternity in the matters of prescribing the syllabus and curriculum, conduct of examinations, teaching, valuation etc., whereas the latter majorly relates to the university being a self governing institution making decisions  for its affairs.

Furthermore, it is extremely imperative for us to ponder over that every human has two key roles to be played in a society, the first one being discharging the obligations as a citizen, and, the second one being, discharging responsibility as a functionality, when functioning in the professional domain does not mean that the person is not sensitive as a citizen, there certainly is that sense of sensitiveness, however, due to the demand of the functionality which is required to be discharged requires the person to undertake decision making or conduct certain activities which may be peculiar to the discharging of obligations qua the profession and the same cannot be adjudged as insensitive by the society. A judge as a human being in the shoes of a citizen might not even want to kill a mosquito, however, the profession demands him to even levy death penalty on the offenders, thus, while discharging this professional responsibility one can’t target judge on grounds of being insensitive. Likewise, it is unfair to target the professors by raising such controversies when all that they are doing is discharging their professional obligations. If posed with constant   fear of criticism in this manner, how can a law professor be expected to teach, when they know they would be targeted with political criticism. This act in fact compromises the principles of academic freedom to a large extent. Under such circumstances, how can the teachers even be expected to discuss case laws and teach sections like 153A, 124A, 295A of the IPC, 1860. Thus, in order to impart the ideology behind these sections it is imperative for the teachers to hold discussions in this respect and for better clarity on the ingredients thereof, to even deliberate using the existing case laws. And, the need to preserve this right to them is necessary. There has to be certain threshold of academic freedom required to be maintained.

It is of utmost necessity that now, we as a nation initiate taking a stand for protecting the academic institutions of our nation and prevent them from being exploited at the hands of the few and ensure that their sanctity is well preserved, maintained and protected. It is further important for us to ensure that the profession of teaching remains as noble as it has ever been and at the same time it is for us to ensure that utmost independence is given to the teachers to not only, frame whatever kind of questions they deem fit for imparting the best of knowledge to their students, but also, for using the best of the ways for imparting education and  for independence to use the best of their capabilities to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform among the individuals as well enshrined under our Indian Constitution as well.

About Radhika Bhakoo

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