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How the UP Pvt Universities Ordinance clamps down on fundamental freedoms

Bhumika Jain 03 Jul 2019

The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh (UP) Cabinet recently passed a draft ordinance, Uttar Pradesh Private Universities Ordinance, 2019 (refer page 6 to 9), banning the use of private university campuses for “anti-national activities,” thereby bringing 27 private universities in the state under an umbrella law. All existing universities have been given a year to adopt all the provisions under the draft law and those found violating any provisions including the provision on “anti-national activities” will face penal action. The ordinance is all set to be introduced in the monsoon session of the assembly, that is scheduled to commence from July 18.

Uttar Pradesh Private Universities Ordinance
Image Courtesy: https://realreport.in/

The question that now arises is whether this ordinance is a step towards creating a band of “patriotic youth”, denied of the right or power of free, rational thought and questioning, or submissive youth with no mind space to explore ideas, question or dissent?

Controversial provisions in the ordinance:
The ordinance, cleared on June 18, is aimed at creating a uniform law to govern all private universities of the state and bring it in line with the “best practices of (the) international universities.” Currently, private universities in the state are set up and run under separate acts and through a separate set of sanctions. The ordinance will bring 27 private universities under one law. There are presently 29 private universities in the state. Notably, the ordinance is silent on which two universities will be excluded from the purview and the reasons for this exclusion.

While the draft ordinance has multiple provisions relating to the governance, fee structure, admission to the weaker sections, hiring of professors, etc., what specifically makes this ordinance both controversial and raises concern is its overarching clause on restraining students from indulging in “anti-national activities.”

The draft ordinance mentions the objectives that should be included while creating new universities as well as in the existing universities. The ordinance reads, “rashtriya ekikaran, dharma nirpekshata, samajik samrasta, antarashtriya sadbhav, naitika smekan evam desh bhakti ke samvardhan ke prayas ke udesh bhi sammalit kiye gaye hain.” (national integration, secularism, social harmony, international goodwill, ethics, as well as attempts to inculcate patriotism have also been included.)

It lays down more diktat. That, universities must act to inculcate “desh bhakti” (patriotism) in students. It also says universities must preserve the “secular, democratic fabric and aspire for universal brotherhood and tolerance”. It further reads, “Among the requirements, which are required to be fulfilled by the establishing institution, a provision has been made to give an undertaking that their university will not be involved in any anti-national activities and neither will they allow such activity inside their campus or in their name.”

Apart from a one year time frame for the existing universities to adopt the draft ordinance, the new universities will be required to give an undertaking that their campuses will not be used for any “anti-national” activities. What is worse, and worrying is that, the State Higher Educational Council (SHEC) will act as a monitoring and controlling body that will be empowered to file reports with the government for action if it is unable to get information from any private university within a specified period of time. This amounts to giving a state body the powers of a new role that smacks of vigilantism.

Other provisions in the ordinance:
Apart from the most controversial provision, the draft ordinance proposes that a minimum of 75% of teachers appointed to the private universities would be permanent and not contractual and their quality would be monitored online. Further, it says that a university in a city would need to have a minimum land space of 20 acres while in rural areas they would need to be spread over 50 acres.

It further provides for reservation of 10% seats with 50% fees for the economically weaker sections. A provision for admission by rotation has been made for the courses having less than 1% available seats. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) evaluation has been made mandatory for all private universities. Further, recognition of a university will be withdrawn if there is gross misuse of funds or fraud. The state government has been empowered to de-notify the university and its assets and liabilities would be passed on to the sponsoring institution.

A provision for setting up a Rs 5-crore endowment fund has been made. The new provisions bar sale, transfer or leasing out of the university land. The university land can be mortgaged to banks and financial institutions and not to any individual. A provision for inspection by the SHEC once a year has been made to ensure the quality of higher education. A common academic calendar would be uniformly implemented in all universities to ensure a similar time frame for admissions, examinations and declaration of results. Admission procedure, opening and last dates and prescribed fees would be displayed in the public domain. The draft ordinance provides for an evaluation committee for setting up a university.

Concerning questions:
While the draft ordinance, if passed by the assembly, will bring uniformity in the way the private universities function in the state, there are certain pressing issues relating to the controversial provisions.

  • What is Anti-National?

Firstly, the ordinance hasn’t defined what is “anti-national.” In fact, we do not have a single statute across the nation which defines this term. Nor is it advisable, given that we are a diverse people that make up a nation, to have any such definition. Who will decide whether a particular activity is secular or non-secular? On what grounds will the SHEC take action against the ‘defaulting universities.’  The Indian Constitution and its abiding principles of equality and non discrimination are all that are really required to be observed as first principles in our Institutions.

While the other provisions like ensuring 75% of teachers are permanent and not contractual are easy to monitor, how can one such 'value' and 'subjectivity' driven provision ever be monitored? What is particularly a matter of concern is the 'non-compliance' with any of the provisions under the ordinance, including the controversial provision, will be termed as a violation of the University guidelines, bringing it under the scanner and may also lead to its de-recognition.

UP deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya defended the ordinance, has termed this ordinance as  “a very big decision” to maintain the sanctity of the “temple of education.” “It is true that a very big decision has been taken by the Cabinet. Not just in Uttar Pradesh but in any educational institution across the country, anti-national activities will never be accepted,” Mr. Maurya said. “The UP government has taken a decision in this direction that in the temple of education, only education should happen and there should be no liberty given to carry out anti-national practices,” he added.

The term “anti-national” has often been used to further this regime's political agenda, mainly by demonising both universities and students. Further, the term is so vague and open to interpretation, that it has no place in law. Can it then be concluded that actions will be taken as per the whims and fancies of the authorities?

  • Why the need for this clause?

While it is understood that a uniform law with same admission dates, procedure, etc will ease the complexity and confusion faced by the students in every academic year, one wonders why has this one particular clause, of ensuring no anti-national activities take place on the campus, has been explicitly inserted in the draft ordinance? What is the rationale behind this, considering that there are enough laws in place to check on terrorism, conspiracy, and waging war against the state which apply to all citizens alike, including university students and professors? Is this even the right parameter to ensure “quality education,” as is the stated objective of this ordinance?

This provision appears to be a mechanism of ‘campus control’ by the authorities in order to monitor and channelize what is being taught in the universities and what things the students are exposed to. It also appears to be an overestimation of the power of pedagogy with no clear understanding of what a university is meant to achieve. Can patriotism be imposed in a classroom or through punitive action? How do we monitor something we don’t even know the meaning or definition of?

Universities are a centre of knowledge where individuals think, learn, unlearn, grow and progress, which in turn helps our nation prosper. It is certainly not a space to create ‘desh bhakts.’ In fact, patriotism can never be imposed, be it a school, a university or any other institution. It is a feeling one imbibes after learning about his/her nation, the learning based on an understanding of the intense struggles of people against power and privilege, diversity of its culture and so much more.

It is only when the young, especially students, are given open spaces to think, grow and critique can we develop an empowered youth which will take this legacy ahead. A top-down approach will just curb the freedom of thinking individuals through political control of higher education space.

Also, it is naive to assume that in this world, where there are a myriad of sources of information and misinformation, especially given the ever active social media, to gain information and ideas and to express opinions, that penalising institutions will succeed in keeping a check on students’ behaviour. What will happen through this measure however is a 'dumbing down' of Institutional rigour.

Besides, universities already have their own rules and regulations in place which include measures or caveats against any support for activity (or participation in any part of any activity) that will put the nation’s security at stake or will endanger it's integrity.

To give an example, the first schedule of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Act, 1966 talks about national integration, social justice, secularism, among other things. It says, “The University shall endeavour to promote the study of the principles for which Jawaharlal Nehru worked during his life-time, national integration, social justice, secularism, democratic way of life, international understanding and scientific approach to the problems of society.” However, no where in the entire act is there a punitive action for violation of the aforementioned clause.

Even the Central Universities Act, 2009 doesn’t mention any such provision. Section 5 mentions the objects of a university established under this act. It reads,  “The objects of the University shall be to disseminate and advance knowledge by providing instructional and research facilities in such branches of learning as it may deem fit; to make special provisions for integrated courses in humanities, social sciences, science and technology in its educational programmes; to take appropriate measures for promoting innovations in teaching-learning process and interdisciplinary studies and research; to educate and train manpower for the development of the country; to establish linkages with industries for the promotion of science and technology; and to pay special attention to the improvement of the social and economic conditions and welfare of the people, their intellectual, academic and cultural development.”
Why then a penal provision in this draft ordinance at all?

U.P. Private Universities Association secretary Pankaj Agarwal welcomed the move but said there is nothing new in the proposed law. “We have these points in the constitution of our university and abide by them,” he said, adding that educational institutions are sensitive towards these objectives.

Academicians and politicians together oppose the anti-national clause:
Interestingly, the opposition in UP has termed the controversial ordinance as an attempt to spread “RSS ideology in educational institutions.” UPCC general secretary and spokesman Dwijendra Tripathi said, “The hidden purpose behind the law is to create fear and pressure on educational institutions for foisting RSS ideology. The law, when enacted, will act as the sword of Damocles and the universities will constantly face the threat of derecognition,” adding that this ordinance was “sort of dictatorship.” In a tweet, the Congress said: “Given that free speech has often been labeled as “anti-national” & Indians have suffered for it, the UP govt must define exactly what they mean by “anti-national activities.” It further said that universities have to remain a space where students feel free and secure.

Samajwadi Party chief and former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav also criticised the move saying it will lead to the closure of private varsities in the state. He called it a restriction that will force people to not open private universities in UP.  UP minister Sidharth Nath Singh, however, called the draft ordinance a ‘significant decision’ that will improve the standard of education and will control “errant private universities.” But SP leader and Rampur MP Azam Khan thinks that the government should create a system for education first. “The kids are playing on the streets, working in hotels, working in the houses of rich people, how will we stop that?” he said speaking to a news channel.

National secretary of the Social Democratic Party of India, Taslim Rehmani, also opposed the ordinance saying it will insult the sentiments of the country. He said that there are enough rules and legislation against anti-national activities in the country and by bringing such ordinance “the government is creating a narrative that people are anti-national in the country.” Joining him was NCP leader and Rajya Sabha member Majeed Menon who said that there was no need for such a law as the penal code is already there and it takes care of all anti-national activities.

Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, has said that such an ordinance would have a “chilling effect on all research, teaching and activity in the university. Even if "anti-national" activities are not defined, the target is quite clear – anything that is critical or questioning the current government will be considered as "anti-national".” Reacting to the draft ordinance, writer and scholar Ganesh Devy said, “Universities are meant for generating thought and meaningful social questions…This kind of "fatwa" is the end of the university system.”

Ghanshyam Shah, sociologist and former Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, is of the opinion that the ordinance defeats the very purpose of a university. He says, “University is meant for free and open discussion. And nothing is sacrosanct as far as the discussion within the university campus is concerned. Now this "anti-national" – one wonders what is meant by that. Anything I might want can make an "anti-national". I want development for Dalits and I might be accused to be an "anti-national" because you are not talking about India’s upliftment, but dalit upliftment. So any opposition or any criticism of those in power would be then "anti-national".”

The list goes on.

However, the ruling BJP has predictably defended the move, saying it will promote national integration, equality and harmony, while pulling the plug on any terror-related activities in the state.

Increasing crackdown on Universities and student bodies:
This contentious ordinance comes at a time when there has been an increasing crackdown on educational spaces. One cannot forget the infamous case of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in February 2016 when a group of students including Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar, were charged with sedition after they had allegedly organized the Afzal Guru protest and had raised slogans like ‘azadi azadi’ and ‘Bharat ke tukde tukde’ circulated in doctored videos. Mohammad Afzal Guru was a Kashmiri separatist, who was convicted for his role in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack.

Later in October 2016, Najeeb Ahmed, a first year M.Sc Biotechnology student at JNU went missing after the alleged attacks on him by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the ruling party.

Within months of the present Yogi government assuming power in the state, combined with Vice Chancellors (VC) of a majoritarian ilk being brought in to head central universities, including the famed Benaras Hindu University (BHU), violent police action was allowed inside the campus against students protesting the imposition of anti-Constitutional measures. In September 2017, women students were brutally beaten by the police when they were protesting against the unconstitutional gender discrimination being practiced by the university. The students had demanded to speak to the VC Girish Chandra Tripathi, who like most others was appointed for his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliation, but there was heavy police security deployed outside the VC’s house. The ABVP went on to call the girls legitimate protest a political stunt against Modi and the university, considering that Modi was to visit the institution but later cancelled it allegedly due to the protests. Apart from the RSS-affiliate, ABVP being given a free hand at BHU and other universities, the nexus between brute use of state power on the young is there for all to see.

Just recently, there were reports of Students’ Union soon to be replaced by Students’ Council in Allahabad University, UP on the grounds that the university campus is not conducive to conduct free and fair elections. In response to this, former president of the student union and youth leader Richa Singh had tweeted, “In violation of all democratic norms and fundamental right (Right to Union), the Student Union Elections have been banned in University of Allahabad. Union govt. is hell bent on suppressing all voices of dissent and democratic institutions.”

Few months back, in February 2019, 14 students of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) were charged with sedition following a clash with the ABVP and Hindu Yuva Vahini after the Hindutva organisations started vandalizing the premises. This was immediately preceded by a controversial and communal statement by a reporter from Republic TV. She had said,  “I am reporting from the University of terrorists.” Last year, Yogi Adityanath had sparked a controversy after he raised the demand of scrapping the AMU’s minority status.

There have been a string of such incidents which, put together, amount to a brazen attack on the student bodies and professors who have raised their voice against injustice on campus. The criminalisation of dissent has meant that young student leaders across the country face criminal cases simply because they have organised themselves and raised a voice.

Anand Teltumbde of the Goa Institute of Management, who was arrested for his alleged Maoist links in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, had rightly said, “This election, if they form the government, probably everything would be finished. Every institute is being headed by clones of Modi.” Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers' Association (JNUTA) president Atul Sood has alleged that the government has "destroyed" primary and secondary education and access to education has been "completely taken away.” “The past five years have seen a concerted attack on the public funded university and other institutions of higher learning,” he added.

BJP, Nationalism and the loss of freedom of speech:
BJP’s ‘nationalistic’ and Hindutva ideology is well known across the nation. Infact, the second time PM, Narendra Modi, has repeatedly made appeals based on a supremacist nationalism through his election campaign by reiterating his party’s ‘valiant attack’ on the terrorists through the Uri and Balakot air strikes, despite the Election Commission directing him, and the rest of the political class, not to use the defence forces for electoral gain. In the context of questioning, so vital to a democracy, whoever questioned the intelligence failures that led to the death of 44 soldiers lives  was termed  ‘anti-national’ or a traitor. The very act of questioning the regime, the government of the day has been sought to be silenced through drumming up such a hysteria.

It is not as if previous governments have not, bon occasion, cracked down on sharply dissenting opinion. Or that protest was not criminalised before. It is the systemic  use of such measures post 2014, however, that has taken the stifling of dissent to new heights.

Activists, academicians and even the common public have been charged with sedition, defamation and other penal provisions when they have said or published something which doesn’t portray the government in a good light.

Take the recent case of the arrest of independent journalist Prashant Kanojia by the UP police for defamation after he had allegedly tweeted a critical post against the UP CM Yogi Adityanath. Four days later, on June 12, an eight-member team of the Pune police raided the Ranchi residence of Jesuit Father Stan Swamy who is a great upholder of the rights of Adivasis and an ‘accused’ in the Bhima Koregaon/Elgaar Parishad case in which police have so far booked 23 people, including prominent rights activists and intellectuals.

One cannot forget the ‘institutional murder’ of P.Hd Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula in January 2016 at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU). Five Dalit scholars including Vemula were suspended and evicted from the hostel after a standoff between the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) and the ABVP. Reportedly, it was a minor scuffle which escalated into a full blown brawl after the administration succumbed to external political pressure, from BJP politicians and the central government, and repeatedly took partisan steps against ASA activists, including passing an extraordinary order that banned a set of ASA students from “common places in groups.” After protesting for weeks, Vemula committed suicide on January 17, 2016. The VC, Professor Appa Rao was then accused of a negligent and an insensitive behaviour and academicians had demanded that he steps down from his position. However, his appointment was yet another case of nepotism with reports saying that he outsmarted more than 35 candidates and became the VC in September 2015, thanks to the strong backing from the then Union Urban Development Minister, M. Venkaiah Naidu.

In yet another clash between academic freedom and jingoistic nationalism, the Haryana Central University found itself in the middle of a controversy when students from the English department performed Mahasweta Devi's noted play 'Draupadi' on September 21, 2016 which was branded as ‘sedition.’ ABVP, RSS leaders joined by Modi's Minister for State, Rao Inderjit, had reportedly claimed the play is 'anti-national' because it depicts an Adivasi woman confronting the commander of the security forces who have raped her.

The student’s wing of the ruling regime, the ABVP, is all pervasive and has been at the centre of almost every controversy in universities across the nation. Be it plays, magazines, protests, the ABVP has termed it as ‘anti-national’ and seditious. Take the case of Widerstand – the Magazine banned by Pondicherry University (PU) in August, 2016. Reportedly, 4000 copies of the annual magazine Widerstand, published by the Student’s Council (SC) of the PU, were confiscated after the administration of the university buckled under the pressure of the ABVP, which had even burnt multiple copies of the magazine, claiming that it had ‘anti-nationalist’ stance, presumably while chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai.” Notably, the SC comprised mainly of left-leaning Student Federation of India (SFI) and Ambedkar Student Association (ASA).

There have been multiple such cases in the past five years plus.

Given this trajectory, this move by Uttar Pradesh to promulgate this ordinance is just one more step towards the larger design of the regime.

India’s education sector as a whole has been on shaky ground, let alone the higher education. One cannot forget the Modi government’s yet another controversial decision, that will certainly have a far reaching impact on the higher education, when it announced its plan to replace the apex higher education regulator body, the University Grants Commission (UGC) with Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) by repealing the UGC Act, 1951. A brief glance at the composition of the HECI clearly reveals that the HECI will have extraordinary powers, without any checks and balances, as it’s only a bunch of government appointees who will just be telling the government what it wants done. Individual universities will have no power to demand consultation, inquiry, or even appeal against any of its decisions. 

Here again the ordinance comes into question. Under the garb of inculcating patriotism for nation building and improving the quality of education, if it is made into a law, such an enactment will end the era of universities creating critical thinking individuals. It will instead create individuals through a ‘cookie-cutter’ template where young adults, the future of our nation, learn in closed chambers, that too those pre-decided by the authorities.

Howard Zinn, American historian and socialist thinker had rightly said, “If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, not as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one's country, one's fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government, when it violated those principles.”

Related Articles:

  1. Academics and Writers Respond to the UP Private Universities Ordinance
  2. The New ‘Emergency’!
  3. Modi’s Undeclared Emergency: Academia feels the Heat 

How the UP Pvt Universities Ordinance clamps down on fundamental freedoms

The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh (UP) Cabinet recently passed a draft ordinance, Uttar Pradesh Private Universities Ordinance, 2019 (refer page 6 to 9), banning the use of private university campuses for “anti-national activities,” thereby bringing 27 private universities in the state under an umbrella law. All existing universities have been given a year to adopt all the provisions under the draft law and those found violating any provisions including the provision on “anti-national activities” will face penal action. The ordinance is all set to be introduced in the monsoon session of the assembly, that is scheduled to commence from July 18.

Uttar Pradesh Private Universities Ordinance
Image Courtesy: https://realreport.in/

The question that now arises is whether this ordinance is a step towards creating a band of “patriotic youth”, denied of the right or power of free, rational thought and questioning, or submissive youth with no mind space to explore ideas, question or dissent?

Controversial provisions in the ordinance:
The ordinance, cleared on June 18, is aimed at creating a uniform law to govern all private universities of the state and bring it in line with the “best practices of (the) international universities.” Currently, private universities in the state are set up and run under separate acts and through a separate set of sanctions. The ordinance will bring 27 private universities under one law. There are presently 29 private universities in the state. Notably, the ordinance is silent on which two universities will be excluded from the purview and the reasons for this exclusion.

While the draft ordinance has multiple provisions relating to the governance, fee structure, admission to the weaker sections, hiring of professors, etc., what specifically makes this ordinance both controversial and raises concern is its overarching clause on restraining students from indulging in “anti-national activities.”

The draft ordinance mentions the objectives that should be included while creating new universities as well as in the existing universities. The ordinance reads, “rashtriya ekikaran, dharma nirpekshata, samajik samrasta, antarashtriya sadbhav, naitika smekan evam desh bhakti ke samvardhan ke prayas ke udesh bhi sammalit kiye gaye hain.” (national integration, secularism, social harmony, international goodwill, ethics, as well as attempts to inculcate patriotism have also been included.)

It lays down more diktat. That, universities must act to inculcate “desh bhakti” (patriotism) in students. It also says universities must preserve the “secular, democratic fabric and aspire for universal brotherhood and tolerance”. It further reads, “Among the requirements, which are required to be fulfilled by the establishing institution, a provision has been made to give an undertaking that their university will not be involved in any anti-national activities and neither will they allow such activity inside their campus or in their name.”

Apart from a one year time frame for the existing universities to adopt the draft ordinance, the new universities will be required to give an undertaking that their campuses will not be used for any “anti-national” activities. What is worse, and worrying is that, the State Higher Educational Council (SHEC) will act as a monitoring and controlling body that will be empowered to file reports with the government for action if it is unable to get information from any private university within a specified period of time. This amounts to giving a state body the powers of a new role that smacks of vigilantism.

Other provisions in the ordinance:
Apart from the most controversial provision, the draft ordinance proposes that a minimum of 75% of teachers appointed to the private universities would be permanent and not contractual and their quality would be monitored online. Further, it says that a university in a city would need to have a minimum land space of 20 acres while in rural areas they would need to be spread over 50 acres.

It further provides for reservation of 10% seats with 50% fees for the economically weaker sections. A provision for admission by rotation has been made for the courses having less than 1% available seats. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) evaluation has been made mandatory for all private universities. Further, recognition of a university will be withdrawn if there is gross misuse of funds or fraud. The state government has been empowered to de-notify the university and its assets and liabilities would be passed on to the sponsoring institution.

A provision for setting up a Rs 5-crore endowment fund has been made. The new provisions bar sale, transfer or leasing out of the university land. The university land can be mortgaged to banks and financial institutions and not to any individual. A provision for inspection by the SHEC once a year has been made to ensure the quality of higher education. A common academic calendar would be uniformly implemented in all universities to ensure a similar time frame for admissions, examinations and declaration of results. Admission procedure, opening and last dates and prescribed fees would be displayed in the public domain. The draft ordinance provides for an evaluation committee for setting up a university.

Concerning questions:
While the draft ordinance, if passed by the assembly, will bring uniformity in the way the private universities function in the state, there are certain pressing issues relating to the controversial provisions.

  • What is Anti-National?

Firstly, the ordinance hasn’t defined what is “anti-national.” In fact, we do not have a single statute across the nation which defines this term. Nor is it advisable, given that we are a diverse people that make up a nation, to have any such definition. Who will decide whether a particular activity is secular or non-secular? On what grounds will the SHEC take action against the ‘defaulting universities.’  The Indian Constitution and its abiding principles of equality and non discrimination are all that are really required to be observed as first principles in our Institutions.

While the other provisions like ensuring 75% of teachers are permanent and not contractual are easy to monitor, how can one such 'value' and 'subjectivity' driven provision ever be monitored? What is particularly a matter of concern is the 'non-compliance' with any of the provisions under the ordinance, including the controversial provision, will be termed as a violation of the University guidelines, bringing it under the scanner and may also lead to its de-recognition.

UP deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya defended the ordinance, has termed this ordinance as  “a very big decision” to maintain the sanctity of the “temple of education.” “It is true that a very big decision has been taken by the Cabinet. Not just in Uttar Pradesh but in any educational institution across the country, anti-national activities will never be accepted,” Mr. Maurya said. “The UP government has taken a decision in this direction that in the temple of education, only education should happen and there should be no liberty given to carry out anti-national practices,” he added.

The term “anti-national” has often been used to further this regime's political agenda, mainly by demonising both universities and students. Further, the term is so vague and open to interpretation, that it has no place in law. Can it then be concluded that actions will be taken as per the whims and fancies of the authorities?

  • Why the need for this clause?

While it is understood that a uniform law with same admission dates, procedure, etc will ease the complexity and confusion faced by the students in every academic year, one wonders why has this one particular clause, of ensuring no anti-national activities take place on the campus, has been explicitly inserted in the draft ordinance? What is the rationale behind this, considering that there are enough laws in place to check on terrorism, conspiracy, and waging war against the state which apply to all citizens alike, including university students and professors? Is this even the right parameter to ensure “quality education,” as is the stated objective of this ordinance?

This provision appears to be a mechanism of ‘campus control’ by the authorities in order to monitor and channelize what is being taught in the universities and what things the students are exposed to. It also appears to be an overestimation of the power of pedagogy with no clear understanding of what a university is meant to achieve. Can patriotism be imposed in a classroom or through punitive action? How do we monitor something we don’t even know the meaning or definition of?

Universities are a centre of knowledge where individuals think, learn, unlearn, grow and progress, which in turn helps our nation prosper. It is certainly not a space to create ‘desh bhakts.’ In fact, patriotism can never be imposed, be it a school, a university or any other institution. It is a feeling one imbibes after learning about his/her nation, the learning based on an understanding of the intense struggles of people against power and privilege, diversity of its culture and so much more.

It is only when the young, especially students, are given open spaces to think, grow and critique can we develop an empowered youth which will take this legacy ahead. A top-down approach will just curb the freedom of thinking individuals through political control of higher education space.

Also, it is naive to assume that in this world, where there are a myriad of sources of information and misinformation, especially given the ever active social media, to gain information and ideas and to express opinions, that penalising institutions will succeed in keeping a check on students’ behaviour. What will happen through this measure however is a 'dumbing down' of Institutional rigour.

Besides, universities already have their own rules and regulations in place which include measures or caveats against any support for activity (or participation in any part of any activity) that will put the nation’s security at stake or will endanger it's integrity.

To give an example, the first schedule of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Act, 1966 talks about national integration, social justice, secularism, among other things. It says, “The University shall endeavour to promote the study of the principles for which Jawaharlal Nehru worked during his life-time, national integration, social justice, secularism, democratic way of life, international understanding and scientific approach to the problems of society.” However, no where in the entire act is there a punitive action for violation of the aforementioned clause.

Even the Central Universities Act, 2009 doesn’t mention any such provision. Section 5 mentions the objects of a university established under this act. It reads,  “The objects of the University shall be to disseminate and advance knowledge by providing instructional and research facilities in such branches of learning as it may deem fit; to make special provisions for integrated courses in humanities, social sciences, science and technology in its educational programmes; to take appropriate measures for promoting innovations in teaching-learning process and interdisciplinary studies and research; to educate and train manpower for the development of the country; to establish linkages with industries for the promotion of science and technology; and to pay special attention to the improvement of the social and economic conditions and welfare of the people, their intellectual, academic and cultural development.”
Why then a penal provision in this draft ordinance at all?

U.P. Private Universities Association secretary Pankaj Agarwal welcomed the move but said there is nothing new in the proposed law. “We have these points in the constitution of our university and abide by them,” he said, adding that educational institutions are sensitive towards these objectives.

Academicians and politicians together oppose the anti-national clause:
Interestingly, the opposition in UP has termed the controversial ordinance as an attempt to spread “RSS ideology in educational institutions.” UPCC general secretary and spokesman Dwijendra Tripathi said, “The hidden purpose behind the law is to create fear and pressure on educational institutions for foisting RSS ideology. The law, when enacted, will act as the sword of Damocles and the universities will constantly face the threat of derecognition,” adding that this ordinance was “sort of dictatorship.” In a tweet, the Congress said: “Given that free speech has often been labeled as “anti-national” & Indians have suffered for it, the UP govt must define exactly what they mean by “anti-national activities.” It further said that universities have to remain a space where students feel free and secure.

Samajwadi Party chief and former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav also criticised the move saying it will lead to the closure of private varsities in the state. He called it a restriction that will force people to not open private universities in UP.  UP minister Sidharth Nath Singh, however, called the draft ordinance a ‘significant decision’ that will improve the standard of education and will control “errant private universities.” But SP leader and Rampur MP Azam Khan thinks that the government should create a system for education first. “The kids are playing on the streets, working in hotels, working in the houses of rich people, how will we stop that?” he said speaking to a news channel.

National secretary of the Social Democratic Party of India, Taslim Rehmani, also opposed the ordinance saying it will insult the sentiments of the country. He said that there are enough rules and legislation against anti-national activities in the country and by bringing such ordinance “the government is creating a narrative that people are anti-national in the country.” Joining him was NCP leader and Rajya Sabha member Majeed Menon who said that there was no need for such a law as the penal code is already there and it takes care of all anti-national activities.

Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, has said that such an ordinance would have a “chilling effect on all research, teaching and activity in the university. Even if "anti-national" activities are not defined, the target is quite clear – anything that is critical or questioning the current government will be considered as "anti-national".” Reacting to the draft ordinance, writer and scholar Ganesh Devy said, “Universities are meant for generating thought and meaningful social questions…This kind of "fatwa" is the end of the university system.”

Ghanshyam Shah, sociologist and former Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, is of the opinion that the ordinance defeats the very purpose of a university. He says, “University is meant for free and open discussion. And nothing is sacrosanct as far as the discussion within the university campus is concerned. Now this "anti-national" – one wonders what is meant by that. Anything I might want can make an "anti-national". I want development for Dalits and I might be accused to be an "anti-national" because you are not talking about India’s upliftment, but dalit upliftment. So any opposition or any criticism of those in power would be then "anti-national".”

The list goes on.

However, the ruling BJP has predictably defended the move, saying it will promote national integration, equality and harmony, while pulling the plug on any terror-related activities in the state.

Increasing crackdown on Universities and student bodies:
This contentious ordinance comes at a time when there has been an increasing crackdown on educational spaces. One cannot forget the infamous case of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in February 2016 when a group of students including Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar, were charged with sedition after they had allegedly organized the Afzal Guru protest and had raised slogans like ‘azadi azadi’ and ‘Bharat ke tukde tukde’ circulated in doctored videos. Mohammad Afzal Guru was a Kashmiri separatist, who was convicted for his role in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack.

Later in October 2016, Najeeb Ahmed, a first year M.Sc Biotechnology student at JNU went missing after the alleged attacks on him by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the ruling party.

Within months of the present Yogi government assuming power in the state, combined with Vice Chancellors (VC) of a majoritarian ilk being brought in to head central universities, including the famed Benaras Hindu University (BHU), violent police action was allowed inside the campus against students protesting the imposition of anti-Constitutional measures. In September 2017, women students were brutally beaten by the police when they were protesting against the unconstitutional gender discrimination being practiced by the university. The students had demanded to speak to the VC Girish Chandra Tripathi, who like most others was appointed for his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliation, but there was heavy police security deployed outside the VC’s house. The ABVP went on to call the girls legitimate protest a political stunt against Modi and the university, considering that Modi was to visit the institution but later cancelled it allegedly due to the protests. Apart from the RSS-affiliate, ABVP being given a free hand at BHU and other universities, the nexus between brute use of state power on the young is there for all to see.

Just recently, there were reports of Students’ Union soon to be replaced by Students’ Council in Allahabad University, UP on the grounds that the university campus is not conducive to conduct free and fair elections. In response to this, former president of the student union and youth leader Richa Singh had tweeted, “In violation of all democratic norms and fundamental right (Right to Union), the Student Union Elections have been banned in University of Allahabad. Union govt. is hell bent on suppressing all voices of dissent and democratic institutions.”

Few months back, in February 2019, 14 students of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) were charged with sedition following a clash with the ABVP and Hindu Yuva Vahini after the Hindutva organisations started vandalizing the premises. This was immediately preceded by a controversial and communal statement by a reporter from Republic TV. She had said,  “I am reporting from the University of terrorists.” Last year, Yogi Adityanath had sparked a controversy after he raised the demand of scrapping the AMU’s minority status.

There have been a string of such incidents which, put together, amount to a brazen attack on the student bodies and professors who have raised their voice against injustice on campus. The criminalisation of dissent has meant that young student leaders across the country face criminal cases simply because they have organised themselves and raised a voice.

Anand Teltumbde of the Goa Institute of Management, who was arrested for his alleged Maoist links in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, had rightly said, “This election, if they form the government, probably everything would be finished. Every institute is being headed by clones of Modi.” Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers' Association (JNUTA) president Atul Sood has alleged that the government has "destroyed" primary and secondary education and access to education has been "completely taken away.” “The past five years have seen a concerted attack on the public funded university and other institutions of higher learning,” he added.

BJP, Nationalism and the loss of freedom of speech:
BJP’s ‘nationalistic’ and Hindutva ideology is well known across the nation. Infact, the second time PM, Narendra Modi, has repeatedly made appeals based on a supremacist nationalism through his election campaign by reiterating his party’s ‘valiant attack’ on the terrorists through the Uri and Balakot air strikes, despite the Election Commission directing him, and the rest of the political class, not to use the defence forces for electoral gain. In the context of questioning, so vital to a democracy, whoever questioned the intelligence failures that led to the death of 44 soldiers lives  was termed  ‘anti-national’ or a traitor. The very act of questioning the regime, the government of the day has been sought to be silenced through drumming up such a hysteria.

It is not as if previous governments have not, bon occasion, cracked down on sharply dissenting opinion. Or that protest was not criminalised before. It is the systemic  use of such measures post 2014, however, that has taken the stifling of dissent to new heights.

Activists, academicians and even the common public have been charged with sedition, defamation and other penal provisions when they have said or published something which doesn’t portray the government in a good light.

Take the recent case of the arrest of independent journalist Prashant Kanojia by the UP police for defamation after he had allegedly tweeted a critical post against the UP CM Yogi Adityanath. Four days later, on June 12, an eight-member team of the Pune police raided the Ranchi residence of Jesuit Father Stan Swamy who is a great upholder of the rights of Adivasis and an ‘accused’ in the Bhima Koregaon/Elgaar Parishad case in which police have so far booked 23 people, including prominent rights activists and intellectuals.

One cannot forget the ‘institutional murder’ of P.Hd Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula in January 2016 at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU). Five Dalit scholars including Vemula were suspended and evicted from the hostel after a standoff between the Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) and the ABVP. Reportedly, it was a minor scuffle which escalated into a full blown brawl after the administration succumbed to external political pressure, from BJP politicians and the central government, and repeatedly took partisan steps against ASA activists, including passing an extraordinary order that banned a set of ASA students from “common places in groups.” After protesting for weeks, Vemula committed suicide on January 17, 2016. The VC, Professor Appa Rao was then accused of a negligent and an insensitive behaviour and academicians had demanded that he steps down from his position. However, his appointment was yet another case of nepotism with reports saying that he outsmarted more than 35 candidates and became the VC in September 2015, thanks to the strong backing from the then Union Urban Development Minister, M. Venkaiah Naidu.

In yet another clash between academic freedom and jingoistic nationalism, the Haryana Central University found itself in the middle of a controversy when students from the English department performed Mahasweta Devi's noted play 'Draupadi' on September 21, 2016 which was branded as ‘sedition.’ ABVP, RSS leaders joined by Modi's Minister for State, Rao Inderjit, had reportedly claimed the play is 'anti-national' because it depicts an Adivasi woman confronting the commander of the security forces who have raped her.

The student’s wing of the ruling regime, the ABVP, is all pervasive and has been at the centre of almost every controversy in universities across the nation. Be it plays, magazines, protests, the ABVP has termed it as ‘anti-national’ and seditious. Take the case of Widerstand – the Magazine banned by Pondicherry University (PU) in August, 2016. Reportedly, 4000 copies of the annual magazine Widerstand, published by the Student’s Council (SC) of the PU, were confiscated after the administration of the university buckled under the pressure of the ABVP, which had even burnt multiple copies of the magazine, claiming that it had ‘anti-nationalist’ stance, presumably while chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai.” Notably, the SC comprised mainly of left-leaning Student Federation of India (SFI) and Ambedkar Student Association (ASA).

There have been multiple such cases in the past five years plus.

Given this trajectory, this move by Uttar Pradesh to promulgate this ordinance is just one more step towards the larger design of the regime.

India’s education sector as a whole has been on shaky ground, let alone the higher education. One cannot forget the Modi government’s yet another controversial decision, that will certainly have a far reaching impact on the higher education, when it announced its plan to replace the apex higher education regulator body, the University Grants Commission (UGC) with Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) by repealing the UGC Act, 1951. A brief glance at the composition of the HECI clearly reveals that the HECI will have extraordinary powers, without any checks and balances, as it’s only a bunch of government appointees who will just be telling the government what it wants done. Individual universities will have no power to demand consultation, inquiry, or even appeal against any of its decisions. 

Here again the ordinance comes into question. Under the garb of inculcating patriotism for nation building and improving the quality of education, if it is made into a law, such an enactment will end the era of universities creating critical thinking individuals. It will instead create individuals through a ‘cookie-cutter’ template where young adults, the future of our nation, learn in closed chambers, that too those pre-decided by the authorities.

Howard Zinn, American historian and socialist thinker had rightly said, “If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, not as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one's country, one's fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government, when it violated those principles.”

Related Articles:

  1. Academics and Writers Respond to the UP Private Universities Ordinance
  2. The New ‘Emergency’!
  3. Modi’s Undeclared Emergency: Academia feels the Heat 

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