Town and gown. These two words or one phrase, where the “and” implies “versus”, ring through the centuries of tense relationship between the universities and their host communities in Britain. Most often when higher education was the privilege of the elite class, the academics (who wore gowns till the 1960s) and the local working-class townsfolk did not always get along. It was almost another way to say the “classes” and the “masses”. It was only after the Second World War that British working-class students began to gain entry into the hallowed halls of higher education.
A little known fact is that not just India’s but Asia’s first modern degree-granting university, Serampore College, founded in 1818 by William Carey and the Serampore Mission, was open to all castes and, like its schools, to both genders. However, from 1857, India’s modern universities, based on the British models, began and remained elitist institutions. In the Indian academic context, British class translated into Indian caste. Even Frykenberg, a pre-eminent scholar on the history of south India, observes that while “education helped integrate the diverse elements of Indian society, thereby creating a new common bond from among conflicting loyalties”, this group of Indian university graduates “was almost entirely ‘clean-caste’ and mainly Brahman”. It is they that held sway in both the British colonial and princely state governments, and eventually in independent India.
It is against this background that the impact of reservations, first for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and then for the Other Backward Classes, needs to be seen and assessed. In this month’s Cover Story, FORWARD Press breaks new ground by surveying the landscape of Indian university campuses since Mandal II (2006), when the central government introduced reservations for OBCs in institutions of higher and professional education. Under the editorial direction of Pramod Ranjan, a team of contributors led by Sanjeev Chandan have sketched in broad brushstrokes the contours of the changes to be seen increasingly across Indian university campuses. While more in-depth quantitative studies are required (and thus far largely lacking) of this phenomenon, FP focuses here on the qualitative transformation under way.
Over the years FP has been reporting various events, movements, student political victories, cultural phenomena … that all add up to the transformation of the campuses as the numbers and organizations of Bahujan students reached critical mass. As the results of the latest UPSC exams clearly show (see the Photo-feature) a full 52 per cent of the successful candidates in Grades A and B are from Bahujan backgrounds, many among them toppers in the overall rankings! This puts paid to the false dichotomy between merit and social justice. Given an opportunity, Bahujan students and candidates show their merit.
The choice of this topic is not coincidental. Among our base of loyal readers and contributors, there is a substantial bloc of those in the groves of academe, both faculty and students, especially post-graduate. It is by popular demand that we applied and got our ISSN number so that researchers can quote FP in their papers and even their theses. In fact, there is a demand for the complete (six years and counting) bound volumes of FP for research purposes. I wonder how many other popular Indian journals command such loyalty and demand.
Having said that, it is also no coincidence that last October’s orchestrated attack on FP originated from a leading university campus. It is an operating principle that where the kingdom of light advances, there will be a reactionary attack from the kingdom of darkness. But, we persist in Mahatma Phule’s motto (and now the Indian republic’s) – Truth prevails!
Until next month … Truthfully, Ivan Kostka
Published in the August 2015 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine