Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Rohith's death

Too much hatred is floating around in the aftermath of Rohit''s death.  Notwithstanding the two arguments concerning the role of caste in education - that it is a bane and that there is still repression, the two other important issues that needs to be addressed are freedom of expression and appropriateness of university policies.

Campuses are a place where ideas bloom and young people realize their true potential.  This can happen only when free thought and speech are encouraged and I have personally seen this in the transition I made from higher-ed institutions in India to those in the US.  In the US, you can take the two issues that I raised for granted.  In India, most institutions fail miserably in developing those systems.

Students who have unpopular opinions need to feel safe that they can express those publicly and not be ostracized for those opinions.  We know what happens to such individuals at universities in India - they are sanctioned, more so, when the opinions are against the majority (which usually governs the university).  If in case a student does hold such opinions, as long as they are not promoting violence on campus,  the administration needs to ensure that the environment is conducive for these opinions to be floated.  Further, if there is a conflict, a system that is transparent and agnostic to the political/communal leanings of the administration needs to be in place to ensure that the sanctions are justified. Instead, what we have is a hierarchical structure where too much power rests in the hands of career administrators who are beholden to the politicians with their own agendas.

A right cannot be fundamental, if it can be taken away.  We failed Rohith in ensuring that these two critical elements are in place.  An education structure that cannot ensure such freedoms is no education at all.