Jnu teacher’s fight against dis­crim­i­na­tion

So­cial in­jus­tice and the fate of the uni­ver­sity

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - Saitya Brata Das

At no other mo­ment in the his­tory of in­dian na­tional life af­ter in­de­pen­dence the dal­its are as op­pressed as this mo­ment: dal­its are set ablaze, slaugh­tered like an­i­mals on the slaugh­ter­ing bench of his­tory, and hu­mil­i­ated like slaves in the mar­ket­place in full day­light. When the so­cial hi­er­ar­chy is in­te­ri­orised and redu­pli­cated within the in­sti­tu­tion­alised life of higher ed­u­ca­tion like the uni­ver­sity, it as­sumes the name ‘mer­i­toc­racy’.

The idea of merit that is based upon the ne­olib­eral logic of quan­tifi­ca­tion, clas­si­fi­ca­tion and con­trol, through which the cap­i­tal recharges it­self, is now com­bined with the mil­len­ni­um­long so­cial in­jus­tice based upon caste dis­crim­i­na­tion. This is how in to­day’s world of ex­treme cap­i­tal­ism, where only the fittest sur­vives in the life-and­death strug­gle – and where the idea of merit serves as the par­a­digm of ex­clu­sion and elim­i­na­tion – the so­cial in­jus­tice is in­tel­lec­tu­alised. The ne­olib­eral world of ex­treme cap­i­tal­ism, thus, has not elim­i­nated so­cial in­jus­tice – for ex­am­ple, the caste hi­er­ar­chy in in­dia – but rather per­pet­u­ates it in ever new forms, of which the idea of merit is its lat­est avatar.

The re­duc­tion of knowl­edge to com­mod­ity pro­duc­tion, like any other com­modi­ties that bear eco­nomic val­ues in the world mar­ket, is blind and deaf to the burn­ing – and the ab­so­lute – ques­tion of so­cial jus­tice. it re­duces the ques­tion of so­cial jus­tice to an is­sue be­long­ing to the field of con­di­tioned ne­go­ti­a­tions in the realm of prac­ti­cal pol­i­tics, while on the other hand, it up­holds the idea of merit as a po­lit­i­cally neu­tral one that serves the in­ter­est of any and each in­di­vid­ual, pro­vided that one has the merit and proves it. This sup­posed equal­ity, which is ac­tu­ally a ho­mogeni­sa­tion of sin­gu­lar­i­ties into quan­ti­ta­tive en­ti­ties, is, at the same in­stance – and this is its blind sport – per­pet­u­a­tion of so­cial inequal­ity.

This is, as it has al­ways been, also the truth of the space called ‘uni­ver­sity life’: the so­cial in­jus­tice is be­ing con­stantly sub­sumed and kept hid­den – and thus per­pet­u­ated – un­der the sup­pos­edly neu­tral con­cept of ‘merit’, but the truth is pre­cisely the op­po­site: the top of the hi­er­ar­chy will al­most al­ways be oc­cu­pied by not just the eco­nom­i­cally dom­i­nant class but the so­cially dom­i­nant caste. Through the mech­a­nism of merit, the hege­monic ap­pa­ra­tus sub­tly, in the most re­fined man­ner pos­si­ble, keeps the lower castes at the low­est level pos­si­ble, sub­ju­gat­ing them in the most re­pres­sive man­ner, though in the light of the day it does not ap­pear so co­er­cive.

even in a uni­ver­sity like Jawa­har­lal nehru uni­ver­sity, es­pe­cially un­der the cur­rent es­tab­lish­ment, the work of redu­pli­cat­ing the so­cial hi­er­ar­chy into the in­te­ri­orised idea of merit is vis­i­ble in the most glar­ing man­ner, and when this in­sti­tu­tion­ally le­git­i­mated idea of merit does not work – when a fac­ulty or a stu­dent, for ex­am­ple, is even

bet­ter than other col­leagues even in ac­cor­dance to the par­a­digm of merit – co­er­cive force is used by the le­git­i­mate author­ity in the most bru­tal and cor­rupt and rot­ten man­ner pos­si­ble.

To give an ex­am­ple: in my own case of pro­mo­tion, through ‘ca­reer ad­vance­ment scheme’ at Jnu from ‘as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor’ to ‘pro­fes­sor’, the present le­git­i­mate author­ity (who func­tions like a dic­ta­tor) used his author­ity, in the most bru­tal man­ner pos­si­ble, to stop my pro­mo­tion even though i have ful­filled all aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions. He in­voked a cri­te­rion of pro­mo­tion (that only he who has re­search schol­ars awarded phd un­der his su­per­vi­sion will be pro­moted) which ex­ists nei­ther in ugc rules nor in Jnu rules. at the same time, he has mis­used his author­ity to pro­mote another col­league who does not even have phd schol­ars work­ing with him.

it is a bla­tant ex­am­ple of caste dis­crim­i­na­tion that is pos­si­ble even in a uni­ver­sity like Jnu. it only re­minds us of the story of the wolf: when it no longer could ar­gue with the lit­tle lamb who is drink­ing spring wa­ter the down­hill, the wolf ar­gued that even if the lit­tle lamb did not pol­lute the wa­ter, his an­ces­tors had done so. The wolf thereby took the lib­erty to pun­ish the lit­tle lamb: it jumped on him and crushed him to death.

The caste dis­crim­i­na­tion, thus, takes an in­fi­nite num­ber of forms, ges­tures, nu­ances and shades pos­si­ble: when ar­gu­ments work, then it’s fine; when ar­gu­ments do not work, then force and vi­o­lence is to be used; in any case, so­cial in­jus­tice has to be per­pet­u­ated, hege­monic dom­i­na­tion has to be re­pro­duced, for re­pro­duc­tion of the con­di­tion of pro­duc­tion – as the philoso­pher Louis Althusser in­sight­fully ex­plains – is the very logic of hege­monic dom­i­na­tion. The caste ques­tion as part of uni­ver­sity cur­ricu­lum, within the closed doors of the class­room, is all that is fine, but the in­stance it breaks out and wants to trans­form the so­cial sit­u­a­tion, and puts into ques­tion un­speak­able and bar­baric vi­o­lence of hege­monic forces, then every weapon must be used to stop it.

It is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for a dalit to be pro­fes­sor where the caste dis­crim­i­na­tion rules in such a man­ner, even though the dalit fac­ulty mem­ber has achieved ex­cel­lence, in so many dif­fer­ent ways, in his aca­demic works. The logic of merit is used pre­cisely to stop any dalit col­leagues to rise in the pro­fes­sional space, and when even this does not work, then the most cor­rupt ways will be used to stop the dal­its. here, as else­where, the brah­mini­cal or­der is gov­erned by what Friedrich ni­et­zsche calls ‘re­sent­ment’: the il­log­i­cal logic through which so­cial in­jus­tice and so­cial inequal­ity is le­git­i­mated and jus­ti­fied is the logic that the wolf gives. and the wolf is full of re­sent­ment.

The ques­tion of so­cial jus­tice is the ab­so­lute and un­con­di­tional ques­tion. it con­cerns the very foun­da­tion of the his­tor­i­cal ex­is­tence of the in­dian na­tion. no one can evade it by re­duc­ing it to a con­di­tioned ful­fil­ment through prac­ti­cal pol­i­tics. it de­mands the com­plete rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing of the in­dian so­ci­ety at large.


“The brah­mini­cal or­der is gov­erned by what Friedrich Ni­et­zsche calls ‘re­sent­ment’: the il­log­i­cal logic through which so­cial in­jus­tice and so­cial inequal­ity is le­git­i­mated and jus­ti­fied is the logic that the wolf gives. And the wolf is full of re­sent­ment.”

Arun ku­mar

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