THE HINDU EDITORIAL : APRIL 5, 2018
THE HINDU EDITORIAL : APRIL 5, 2018
- a) Gaza on fire
Protests last week along Gaza’s border with Israel, which turned violent with Israeli troops killing 18 Palestinians, were long in the making. Gaza, the 225 sq km strip of land where over two million people live, has been under an Israeli blockade for over a decade. In recent years, Egypt has also joined the blockade, practically cutting off the strip from the rest of the world. The flow of both goods and people into and out of Gaza is heavily restricted. Life has become miserable under these conditions, and it is not an exaggeration when the territory is called one big open-air prison. Recent sanctions by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority have not helped matters. Despite international calls and repeated warnings by rights groups, Israel has not eased its restrictions on the strip. It says they are in place for “security reasons” — the ruling Hamas is designated a terrorist group by Israel. It was against this background, amid mounting frustration and resentment against the status quo, that Hamas and other organisations in Gaza called for a six-week sit-in on the Israeli border to protest against the blockade as well as to support the Palestinians’ right to return to the lands that became Israel in 1948. Most Gaza residents are refugees of the first Arab-Israeli war or their descendants. There are conflicting views on what triggered the violence. Palestinians say Israeli soldiers opened fire on peaceful protesters. Israel says force had to be used to stop the tens of thousands of protesters from crossing the border into its territory. The real picture can be ascertained only through an impartial international probe. But the U.S. has already blocked a move in the UN Security Council seeking such an inquiry. In the past, Israel has faced serious allegations of using force against Gazans. An UN-appointed commission probing the 2009 Gaza war accused both Israel and Palestinian militants of committing war crimes. While Hamas is designated a terrorist organisation by most Western countries, Israel has hardly been held accountable for its actions. With the Trump administration’s unconditional support for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel could escape censure for the latest outbreak of violence in Gaza as well. The Palestinian leadership too deserves blame. Gaza and the West Bank are ruled by rival factions, Hamas and Fatah. Despite occasional declarations of unity, there have been no joint efforts to mitigate the suffering of Gaza’s people. For its part, the international community remains unresponsive when it comes to the grave rights violations in this Mediterranean enclave. Yet, the path ahead is clear. There has to be an international probe into the latest violence. World powers should urgently provide economic assistance to Gaza to save it from total collapse, and put incremental pressure on Israel to end the illegal blockade of the Gaza strip. But the question as usual is, who will put pressure on Israel?
- b) An act of unlearning
Moments of crisis often create moments for rethinking, when the basic concepts and institutions we employ are subject to critical scrutiny. Such a crisis haunts the idea of the nation state, the vision of democracy and, at another level, our model of the university. Such a crisis of change also produces mimicry of original concepts, with mediocrity retailed as excellence, status confused for quality, and a few narrow indicators defining the existence of the new paradigm. Mediocrity in mimicking excellence subverts the very essence of the institution. One witnesses such antics masquerading as reform as one watches the struggle of the Indian university over the autonomy issue.
The grammar of reform
Merely labelling such a process will not do. Protest must be accompanied by scholarship which exposes in detail the logic and mechanics of the rituals of appropriation. One witnesses three at the outset. The first involves the attempt to appropriate the rhetoric of scholarship and to coat it with sheen of scientism, through the use of rankings and indicators. Quality is now a numbers game evaluated by a separate directorate. Second, concepts of freedom, autonomy, the public good are bowdlerised and managerialised, transforming intellectual facts into a set of instrumentalities. Third, the public and the private are fused without any philosophical or ethical debate. One is opened up to privatisation under the claim that private institutions contribute to the public good. It narrows the notion of the public good from a democratic idea relating to welfare and justice to a market concept. The market replaces democracy as the grammar of this reform. All this has been created through a simulated politics of urgency, a crisis inadvertently triggered by Pranab Mukherjee, then President, bemoaning the fact that there was no Indian university listed in the top 200 in the world. Suddenly, all India suffered from rankings envy and we decided to vie for the Olympics of rankings. Sadly, speed became a substitute for efficiency and mobility appropriated justice. What got projected was a sense of decisiveness which one mistook for judgment. The hollowness and superficiality of reform was startling. This brings to mind two stories. The first is from the national movement. Patrick Geddes, the sociologist, biologist and polymath, designed one version of the ‘University of Benares’. Watching the outline unfold, people asked him out of curiosity where the administrative department was? He pointed to a little outhouse on the side and warned that if it got bigger, it would swallow the university. The prescient Geddes was warning against the bureaucratisation of the intellect and its great institution, the university. Today, sadly it is the bureaucracy that is defining the university, even dictating what autonomy means for us. The second story is more apocryphal and is about the epidemic of rankings worldwide. The story goes that Snow White’s wicked stepmother went to consult the legendary mirror. When the queen asked, “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” The mirror replied, “According to QS rankings, you are fourth in the list for beauty and third for intelligence.” The wicked queen was struck dumb with dismay and confusion. The bureaucratic rituals around quality and autonomy have to be read in this context. Quality in this would get reduced to productivity. The ordinary process of research as learning, as a craft game, with a sense of play and experimentation is sidelined. A leading scientist once told me that PhDs get discounted and risk-taking in terms of choice of topics comes down. The machine produces more convergers than divergers. Dissent is at a discount as one must adhere to textbook paradigms for guaranteeing high scores.
If excellence is marginally defined, autonomy is reduced to a market instrument. The state seems to withdraw from education playing a reluctant Father Christmas. Institutions have now the right to change admission rules, charge more fees to attract more people. The idea of university as a public space, as a commons where subsidies allowed marginals to participate in education with dignity, is lost. The market creates its own filters and slowly the poor lose entry to a system. This was the much maligned and misunderstood battle the students and faculty of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi decided to fight. JNU as a public system represented both quality and equality. The new rituals of autonomy, the faculty argued, would pretend to give it agency on bureaucratic issues while denying it any real empowerment. Autonomy here becomes the right to play a rule game as dictated by the state. The right to plurality, dissent, critique will decrease. There is also an illiteracy of history here as autonomy is regarded as some new invention when autonomy was always a part of the university tradition. The state might support a university while the rules of the craft were always in the hands of practitioners. The word peer group reflects solidarity, fraternity and a definition of quality in terms of collectively debated norms. Certification had an intellectual rather than clerical quality to it. The government`s insistence on divesting itself of its responsibility cannot be disguised in creating a few narrow entitlements for a few institutions. What we then face in India is a split-level world where the majority of institutions suffer from neglect and mediocrity, while a few parade their affluence as quality. It is an attempt to enforce a Darwinism in education while pretending to offer freedom. The rich can create captive institutions while the middle class watches helplessly as quality education in democratic spaces empties out. The JNU battle is a fight to define one’s future without having it specified to one in the name of an ersatz freedom. Similarly, ranking is an act of fetishism where quality gets defined as a product than a process. The university loses its ritual right to initiate a student in terms of the rules of the craft. This world of creativity disappears as we instrumentalise education and reduce the university to a certification machine, a glorified tutorial college. All this is done in the name of acceleration where India hopes to manufacture two Oxfords without sensing the organicity or the tacit knowledges of education. Here autonomy as limited agency loses out to justice as a right to define and evaluate one’s situation. The academe becomes a passive receiver of diktats in the name of freedom. What one loses here is the creative pluralism of the university as the home of dissenting, as knowledge is standardised in the name of market efficiency. Also, freedom here is seen in the narrow sense of entrepreneurship. The creative tensions of the university get mowed down in this wave of standaridisation and managerialisation; market friendly freedom destroys many of the lesser domains of knowledge which are custodians of the value systems of the future. There is another issue. The university is a place for dreaming, for following not the logic of productivity or fame but a vision of new possibilities, many of them which may not be majoritarian or market-oriented. Ranking, as one professor said, allows others to dream for us. Nothing can be more unfair.
The question is, how does a university as a plural, almost invertebrate institution react to such a crisis? There is a sense that the battle is different today. We must stand by the original vision, the culture of the university, re-emphasise its sense of play, its plurality, its sense of craft which challenges the assembly lines of knowledge. In this moment of crisis, the university must stand strong, telling society gently that democracy without the cultures of knowledge is doomed.
Meaning: A statement that represents something as better or worse than it really is.
Example: “it would be an exaggeration to say I had morning sickness, but I did feel queasy”
Synonyms: Overstatement, Magnification
Meaning: Bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.
Example: “his resentment at being demoted”
Synonyms: Bitterness, Pique
Antonyms: Contentment, Happiness
3) Status quo
Meaning: The existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues.
Example: “they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo”
Meaning: A person, plant, or animal that is descended from a particular ancestor.
Example: “she’s a descendant of Charles Darwin”
Synonyms: Successor, Scion
Meaning: A portion of territory surrounded by a larger territory whose inhabitants are culturally or ethnically distinct.
Example: “the besieged Muslim enclave of Srebrenica”
Meaning: Be persistently and disturbingly present in (the mind).
Example: “the sight haunted me for years”
Synonyms: Torment, Obsess
Meaning: The action or skill of imitating someone or something, especially in order to entertain or ridicule.
Example: “the word was spoken with gently teasing mimicry”
Synonyms: Imitation, Satire
Meaning: The quality or state of being mediocre.
Example: “the team suddenly came good after years of mediocrity”
Synonyms: Indifference, Inferiority
Meaning: Undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution).
Example: “an attempt to subvert democratic government”
Synonyms: Destabilize, Unsettle
Meaning: Foolish, outrageous, or amusing behaviour.
Example: “the antics of our political parties”
Synonyms: Silliness, Horseplay
Meaning: Pretend to be someone one is not.
Example: “a journalist masquerading as a man in distress”
Synonyms: Personate, Simulate
Meaning: Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect, but which is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.
Example: “all we have from the Opposition is empty rhetoric”
Synonyms: Bombast, Bragging
Meaning: A soft lustre on a surface; a smooth shine or brightness.
Example: “black crushed velvet with a slight sheen”
Synonyms: Shine, Gleam
Meaning: Form an idea of the amount, number, or value of; assess.
Example: “the study will assist in evaluating the impact of recent changes”
Synonyms: Assess, Gauge
Meaning: A section of a government department in charge of a particular activity.
Example: “the Food Safety Directorate”
Meaning: Remove material that is considered improper or offensive from (a text or account), especially with the result that the text becomes weaker or less effective.
Example: “a bowdlerized version of the story”
Synonyms: Expurgate, Edit
Meaning: Express discontent or sorrow over (something).
Example: “it was no use bemoaning her lot”
Synonyms: Lament, Bewail
Meaning: A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.
Example: “she felt a twinge of envy for the people on board”
Synonyms: Jealously, Desire
Meaning: Compete eagerly with someone in order to do or achieve something.
Example: “the athletes were vying for a place in the British team”
Synonyms: Compete, Contend
Meaning: The ability to make decisions quickly and effectively.
Example: “the crisis will require leadership and decisiveness to resolve it”
Meaning: (of situations, feelings, or words) without value, or not true or sincere.
Example: It was something of a hollow victory – she won the case but lost all her savings in legal fees.
Meaning: Lack of thoroughness, depth of character, or serious thought.
Example: “the ignorance and superficiality of the media hinder a serious examination of the question”
Meaning: Very surprising, astonishing, or remarkable.
Example: “he bore a startling likeness to their father”
Synonyms: Surprising, Amazing
Antonyms: Predictable, Ordinary
Meaning: Having or showing knowledge of events before they take place.
Example: “a prescient warning”
Synonyms: Prophetic, Predictive
Meaning: (of a story or statement) of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true.
Example: “an apocryphal story about a former president”
Synonyms: Untrue, False
Antonyms: Authentic, True
Meaning: A sudden, widespread occurrence of an undesirable phenomenon.
Example: “an epidemic of violent crime”
Synonyms: Spate, Rash
Meaning: Evil or morally wrong.
Example: “a wicked and unscrupulous politician”
Synonyms: Evil, Sinful
28) Struck dumb
Meaning: To be so surprised by something that you cannot say anything.
Example: We were struck dumb when she announced she was pregnant.
Meaning: Remove from the centre of activity or attention; place in a less influential position.
Example: “backbench MPs have been sidelined and excluded from decision-making”
Meaning: Unwilling and hesitant; disinclined.
Example: “today, many ordinary people are still reluctant to talk about politics”
Synonyms: Unwilling, Disinclined
Antonyms: Willing, Eager
Meaning: Speak about (someone) in a spitefully critical manner.
Example: “don’t you dare malign her in my presence”
Synonyms: Defame, Libel
Meaning: A detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.
Example: “a critique of Marxist historicism”
Synonyms: Analysis, Evaluation
Meaning: Friendship and mutual support within a group.
Example: “the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity”
Synonyms: Brotherhood, Fellowship
Meaning: The fact or quality of insisting that something is the case or should be done.
Example: “Alison’s insistence on doing the washing-up straight after the meal”
Synonyms: Demand, Command
Meaning: The state of having a great deal of money; wealth.
Example: “a sign of our growing affluence”
Synonyms: Wealth, Prosperity
Meaning: Not real or genuine.
Example: “ersatz emotion”
Synonyms: Fake, False
Antonyms: Genuine, Real
Meaning: An activity or object that you are so interested in that you spend an unreasonable amount of time thinking about it or doing it.
Example: He has a fetish for/about cleanliness.
Synonyms: Continually thinking
Meaning: The holding or expression of opinions at variance with those commonly or officially held.
Example: “there was no dissent from this view”
Synonyms: Disagreement, Argument
Antonyms: Agreement, Acceptance
Meaning: Place emphasis on (something) again.
Example: “the latter document re-emphasized the need for a national curriculum”
Meaning: Cause to have an unfortunate and inescapable outcome.
Example: “her plan was doomed to failure”
Synonyms: Destine, Fate
Antonyms: Happy, Lucky
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