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Allahabad University: Meet Prof Vikram Harijan, the lone teacher standing with students against fee hike

Prof Harijan says that education is completely free from the primary up to the highest level in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Czech Republic, and these countries rank high in human development and happiness indices. “In other words, countries with free education are advanced. Where education is expensive, there is no happiness either”

Students of Allahabad University (AU) have been protesting against the hike in fees for over a month. Besides opposition parties, intellectuals of different shades have extended their support to the students’ cause. But with the sole exception of Prof Vikram Harijan, no teacher of AU has come out in support of the students. Prof Harijan backing their agitation had aroused hope among the student community that other teachers would follow suit. But that did not happen. Instead Prof Harijan has been threatened with disciplinary action. Sources say that the vice-chancellor is extremely annoyed by the professor’s stand. At a meeting on the issue, options ranging from initiating disciplinary proceedings to his dismissal were discussed. Some teachers, however, were of the view that as Prof Harijan enjoys students’ support, penal action against him should be avoided for now.

‘Aren’t you afraid?’

Prof Harijan told FORWARD Press that after he announced his support to the students’ protest on fee hike, journalists from different newspapers asked him whether he was afraid. “By asking these kinds of questions, the media wants to scare me. I am being told that I should be afraid. If everyone is afraid, how will the country and the university progress? They are telling me that I should be scared for standing with my own students,” he said.   

Boycotted

After his coming out openly in support of the students and the meeting of the disciplinary committee under the chairmanship of the vice-chancellor, Prof Harijan has been boycotted on the campus. No professor wants to be seen with him. They fear it may invite reprisals from the university administration. “Were you already boycotted simply for being a Dalit and for making a controversial comment on Shiva? Or is it the result of this latest development?” Prof Harijan says, “It was there earlier, too. But at least there was a formal exchange of greetings if I happened to meet another teacher. My support to the students has worsened the situation. Earlier, the issue of caste discrimination in awarding marks to SC-ST students was between the university and the commission. So, I was not targeted that much. But my current voicing of solidarity with my students is considered indiscipline. The other teachers are worried about their jobs. Even my well-wishers say that if I have been boycotted, I am to be blamed for it, that I don’t care about my job. They say that the issue of fee hike concerns the students. Let them fight it. I always go against the establishment and that is why most of the teachers maintain a safe distance from me.” 

‘I am the guardian to students’

Prof Harijan turns emotional while talking about the students. “They come here to study, away from their homes and their parents. Who should take care of them here? Obviously, the teachers are their guardians. I consider myself a guardian of the students. I know of scores of students who quit studies midway because they couldn’t afford the fees. There was a student who did not turn up for many days after taking admission. Then, one day he showed up and said that he was facing a financial crunch because his father was ill. To be sure, I asked him to bring his father along. I saw that his father really was ill with tuberculosis and couldn’t walk properly. I regretted asking a sick man to come to meet me because I doubted his son, my student. After some days, that student stopped attending classes again. When he returned months later, his father had passed away. I paid his fee, and also gave him some money for other needs. I told him that I would pay his entire fees and that he should not quit studies. Soon after, he started selling tea and samosas to help cover family expenses. I feel teachers should understand that every student has a different set of problems, a different set of responsibilities. It is not easy for them to deal with these problems and responsibilities.”   

‘How can I forget what I learnt as a student?’ 

Prof Harijan is an alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University. He says that in his student days, whenever the fees were hiked, the teachers and the employees joined the students in protests. “No one washed their hands of the matter saying that it concerned only the students. But here, in AU, professors think that the issue does not concern them. They are scared. They don’t want to support the students openly. They fear that action may be taken against them. Should I forget what I learnt as a student in JNU, merely because I am a professor now?” he asks.

Professor Vikram Harijan (third from left) protesting the fee hike along with the students

Is the fee-hike wrong?  

Prof Harijan explains why the fee-hike is wrong. “We must account for the social situation around Allahabad. Most of the students here come from lower- and lower-middle-class families. Most of them are Dalits and OBCs. Then, the house rent is very high here,” he says. 

Students had been coming to him saying that they don’t have money to pay their fees. “They were sad, dejected. I paid their fees. And this was when the fee was quite low. Today it is 400 times that. A person could not get his daughter admitted to the BSc course in one of the colleges affiliated to the Allahabad University because he could not pay the fees. I came to know of it later. I felt very sad,” he said. Quoting Rousseau and Ambedkar, he asked why the student needed to worry about fees. “Let them worry about their studies, not about their fees. Universities and education should remain public. They should not be corporatized.” He said that he could study in JNU because the fee was just Rs 120. Had it been higher, he could not have studied there. 

Referring to Ivan Illich’s concept of deschooling, Prof Harijan says that educating children in schools makes them weak. Schools do not make them rational. They turn them into herds. The universities are producing only slaves. The teachers are also slaves. They have to adhere to the guidelines issued by University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Department of Higher Education. There is nothing wrong with the guidelines per se, but if they curb our liberty and create problems for us, they are not welcome.   

It is up to the teachers to get grants

Prof Harijan says that according to the latest university rankings, Allahabad University does not figure even among the top 200, while the JNU is among the top five. That is because the professors at JNU organize research seminars. That brings grants to the university. Pressure should be mounted on the teachers to bring in more grants. Why burden the students? We need to understand why the grants to the university are getting slashed. The UGC has constituted a committee called National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). It has laid down a set of seven parameters and it grades universities on the basis of their performance on these parameters. 

According to Prof Harijan, AU lags behind on all the parameters, resulting in a B+ grade. “The performance of the JNU was excellent on all the parameters, hence it did not face any cuts in the grants. The onus is on the professors to obtain a good university ranking and hence generous grants. If a professor organizes a seminar, the credit for it goes to the university, and improves its rankings. If it is an international seminar, the university gets more points. Each paper written by a professor in an international journal contributes to the ranking of the university. For establishing a chair, separate funds are allocated to it. The different departments of Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, have hundreds of centres. If you establish, say, an Ambedkar Chair, the Government of India grants lakhs, even crores of rupees to the University. And these grants are in addition to the UGC grant. The Ambedkar Foundation establishes chairs in universities for promoting Babasaheb’s thinking. It has a chair in JNU but not in AU. Similarly, there are separate funds for the Jotirao Phule Chair. You also receive grants from international bodies.” 

Prof Harijan cannot emphasize enough that organizing global seminars is the way to get funds. “The lack is in the teachers, not the students. The teachers fail to shape the students into world-class researchers. If a university creates opportunities for its students and faculty members to participate in conferences and workshops with international scholars, they can secure international grants too. It could be students or teachers participating in seminars organized by foreign universities, or holding exchange programmes with them. Only then will a university grow.” 

Prof Harijan said that the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, despite being a constituent of the Allahabad University, has a much better reputation. “Ramchandra Guha, Prabhat Patnaik and others come for guest lectures there, and a Jagjivan Ram chair is being discussed. Seminars are frequently organized – the recent ‘National Seminar on Culture and Heroes’ comes to mind. Badri Narayan, the director, had established a Dalit Resource Centre with grants from the Ford Foundation amounting to crores of rupees. Why can’t Allahabad University professors apply for grants to the Ford Foundation? Maybe because they don’t get a proper environment, or maybe because of discrimination and disputes.” 

Counselling centre, grievances redressal cell 

Prof Harijan says that the focus should on the holistic development of students, which is lacking at AU. “There should be a grievance redressal cell for students, with a special arrangement for girl students who face issues that they hesitate to share even with their parents. Unless a student gets an opportunity to bloom, how can he or she do quality research? Students should get textbooks for free – just like it happens in primary schools. Scholarship amounts should be raised and every student should get a scholarship. Not every student can make the cut for JRF [Junior Research Fellowship]. For a student to be able to focus on education, financial problems must be put out of the way by the university administration. But arranging money is the biggest issue for the students at AU.” 

Prof Harijan is concerned about the future of central universities. He says that the Government of India’s policy of commercialization of universities is a big problem. “A loan of Rs 4.5 lakh crore has been extended to JNU. The Delhi University has been loaned Rs 6.5 lakh crore. This is an attempt to mortgage the universities. You can imagine what will happen when the time for repaying the loan comes. The GoI wants to commercialize public universities. That is why self-finance courses have been launched. That is why loans are being given and private universities are being established. Who can study at a Jindal University or a Lovely Professional University? Only students from elite families. Earlier, too, only children of the elite could study. Privatization is creating a new kind of Varna system. Only the children of the moneyed will be able to study.” 

Countries with free education high on human development index

Prof Harijan says that education is completely free from the primary up to the highest level in countries like Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Czech Republic, and these countries rank high in human development and happiness indices. “In other words, countries with free education are advanced. Where education is expensive, there is no happiness either.” 

(Translated from the Hindi original by Amrish Herdenia)


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About The Author

Sushil Manav

Sushil Manav is an independent journalist and a litterateur. He is also engaged in the sociopolitical activism of labourers in Delhi and the rest of the National Capital Region

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