CRITICAL THINKING IN A CLIMATE OF HINDUTVA

Kannur University in Kerala has decided to retain the works of M S Golwalker (A Bunch of Thoughts) and V D Savarkar (Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?) for their post-graduation course being offered, titled Governance and Politics. A controversy had erupted after the syllabus for the course was revealed – critics expressed their concern that teaching right-wing, Hindutva ideologues in today’s day and age can result in backfiring. 

 

It is not new for universities to update and rework their syllabi for humanities and social science courses with new and old works of scholarship. Kannur University’s decision to add the two aforementioned texts was followed by student groups, social media users, media personalities, and politicians protesting the syllabus, calling it a move to create a ‘sympathizing’ space for the ruling BJP which follows the ideology of the said writers. In today’s political climate, there is no harm in taking such a stand. The student groups in Kerala were split on their stands regarding the controversial additions in the syllabus,  with one faction of left groups claiming it is essential for critical learning, whereas the other faction calling it a ‘slippery slope’. The student faction of Congress opposed the texts. 

 

This comes especially at a time when we have politicians, doctors, and public figures endorsing bazaar claims of Covid and Cancer cure with cow urine, notions of Ghar Wapsi, Love Jihad and young people working on social media to amplify such claims. Since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, researchers have noticed a higher rate of support for the Hindu right from the youth in the country. This brings us to a serious discussion on how young minds are shaped in academia. A university is a space of critical knowledge exercise and a safe space for debates and discourse, and it is essential it stays that way.

 

In the recent past, post-2014, the state-sponsored attack on leading institutions in the country, like Jawaharlal Nehru University and University of Hyderabad have time and time again proved the current dispensation is not in favour of education that challenges the status quo – of a state that poses a threat to ‘free’ thought. The decision to keep the controversial texts in the syllabus is to be applauded as it is imperative for students to be exposed to works that need to critique as an act of academic exercise and to read them, an act of autonomy. Hindu Hegemony being celebrated in the country today, with Muslims and Dalits being lynched and videos of the attacks being circulated online pose a serious juncture to us as readers, and members of civil society. Students, especially those in higher education institutions who hold the future of the nation are supposed to read and involve themselves in discussions regarding the texts, this is essential in a university space. However, the concern over this being a ‘slippery slope’ cannot be brushed under the rug.

 

In Kerala, the BJP has not made any serious electoral claims but has a very alarming rate of silent support. The educators who teach such texts are also responsible for creating a safe space for critique, in the classrooms. Education should be a free and fair affair that needs to be given adequate autonomy to decide on readings and teaching methodologies. The decision to retain the texts will only create more room for critical thinking that threatens the power equation in the country today. 

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