What is happening in Assam? Why are people on the street most of the time, particularly the students and youths? Many a parallel agitation is going on in our state presently. And the state is continually rocked by one or the other thing.
The agitation against the disbanding of the Assam Women University has not subsided yet, but already a few gruesome rape incidents have taken place and agitated our conscience.
Though the honourable speaker announced in the floor of assembly that the Assam Women University would not be disbanded, the students of the university have not called off their strike as they have not received any assurance from the government in writing.
I think government should immediately communicate its decision to the agitating students so that they can go back to their classes peacefully and the university can start functioning normally.
I am not sure if there is a need for a separate university for women in the present milieu. But after opening one by the previous government, the incumbent government has no business to disband it. More so, when they are opening such institutions left and right. And do we know how many universities we have in Assam and how many more are in the offing?
Yes, one understands that in course of time with the growth of population, we shall need more institutions of higher education to accommodate the growing strength of students. But at the same time should we also not ask ourselves about the quality of education in these institutions of higher education and more importantly their impact in our society.
How are the institutions of higher education in Assam responding to the challenges our society and polity facing in the recent times? Are they taking to such challenges in right earnest? I doubt. Forget that, is there a rigorous and vibrant academic atmosphere in our institutions of higher education?
Or are they merely handing out degrees to the students? What about the books and journals published by them? Do they publish any? If they do, how do these books and journals meet the standard test of learning and enrich our knowledge and understanding on a particular theme?
I must say that the scene is not very encouraging. What text book you teach your students in a classroom is not important. What is important is how you respond to a real life situation with your expertise and how you help your students question the existent stereotypes in a discipline.
Here I can refer to a booklet titled “Damming Northeast India” by two young activist scholars Neeraj Vagholikar and Partha J Das. This was published a few years ago by Actionaid. When you read the booklet you will notice how persuasively both of them have argued their case.
While presenting their arguments against big dam, they have raised so many other questions and in the process elevated the standard of debate on the issue and contributed significantly to the related disciplines. In doing that they have adopted an interdisciplinary approach. We rarely see such initiatives in our institutions of higher education.
The government is spending huge sum on material infrastructure, but it has awfully failed in creating a proper environment of higher education. Here one may ask: how can a government do that which is the forte of the academics?
I would say yes and no. Of course it is the responsibility of the academics which has become a rarity these days. But, government must not intervene in the internal affairs of the academia and allow autonomy to these institutions so that an environment of independent learning grows in the campuses. The responsibilities of the government should end in providing funds and enacting basic regulations.
The other issue pricking our conscience is repeated incidents of gruesome rape, particularly rape of minor girls by the juvenile boys in past few days. And there is a sinister campaign attributing communal colours to the rape incidents.
We have been hearing two shrill cries in this regard. The first-the rapists should be meted severest of the severe punishment so that it acts as a deterrent. Surely stringent punishment is an issue. But is that the only issue? The question is: is it that the rape is happening too frequently now or is it the thing that these days we immediately know when a rape happens somewhere? In my understanding both are true.
Why is rape happening too frequently? I think there are three factors which are inciting the incidents of rape. These are: patriarchy, culture industry and digital industry or information technology.
In our society women are still looked down upon. They don’t enjoy equal status with men. The prevalent attitude towards them is women need to be controlled and contrary to men their behavior needs societal sanction.
The culture industry demeans women and depicts them as consumable products. See the mainstream films, television commercials and advertisements and prove me wrong.
Then, the digital industry does the promotional part. It digitally spreads such materials in no time and makes it easily available to the general public. Surprisingly all the hullaballoo about rape is silent on these aspects of the issue.
Now, the communalization of rape! How does one react to it? Does it need any reaction? I think the people who are spreading this canard have a sinister motive. It just needs outright condemnation.
Paresh Malakar is a commentator based in Guwahati. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.