During my childhood days, I used to listen to a story related to Russian Czars. They were autocratic rulers who never entertained any critique from public. No one dared to talk against them. But one day it was brought to a Czar’s notice that a person had been speaking against him in public.
In a fit of rage, the ruler issued orders for bringing that person to the royal palace. Everybody assumed that Czar was going to kill him. But, strangely, that didn’t happen. People were surprised to see the man, critical of Czar, coming back from the palace, alive. When asked why Czar did not harm him, the man responded: “Czar wanted to know about his wrongdoings from me,” he told them. “Just because nobody ever dared to point out his mistakes, he never got a chance to rectify them. I did, and now,” he shouted to an awed audience, “He has appointed me as his advisor.”
The story underscores the importance of critique in our life. Critique and comment serves an important purpose in academic discourses. Without listening to others we cannot find our mistakes. If denial overpowers acknowledgement, the academic discussion can turn into a confrontational turf. Being conscious of this fact, many academicians and scholars are therefore amenable to the idea of free inquiry. They never grow angry even with the stupid questions. If the point being made is valid, they accept it. If not, they try to furnish a logical and epistemologically satisfying answer.
Some time back, Professor Sangeeta Thapliyal from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Delhi came to University of Kashmir as a guest speaker. We were happy to have her. Unlike other experts and scholars, professor Sangeeta’s approach was different towards audiences and their questions. Whenever we tried to correct some facts and figures on which she was deeply erroneous, she responded with ad hominem attacks. “Nonsense!” she would say. “You correct your seniors?”
This might be a very trivial issue for her, but for us, her reproachful answer smacked of academic imperialism. I have spent one-and-half year in academic institutions of Srinagar and Delhi during which I got a chance to meet the intellectuals and scholars across the spectrum. Lot of them turned out to be academic imperialists and grossly jingoistic – a trait which reflects in their writings as well.
These ‘intellectuals’ are not ready to accept that small neighbouring counties such as Nepal and Bhutan are also sovereign nations. Speaking with the academic swagger, these people glorify India and speak disdainfully about these smaller nations while brazenly referring to them as “Indian States”. Professor Sangeeta did pretty much the same.
When she was giving lecture about Nepal, I found that many of her facts were incorrect. And when I tried to correct her, she hurled hateful responses.
For instance, she told many times that Nepali women were not involved in economic activities and therefore not as empowered as women in India. But she did not present any research data to substantiate her claim.
On the contrary, studies reveal that gender index in Nepal is better than India. Women involvement in economy, it turns out, is double than her country. According to United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report – 2014, Nepal, faring at 102, is better than India, which stands at an abysmal 132 out of 148 countries in Gender Related Development Index (GDI). In Gender Inequality Index (GII), Nepal’s rank is 98 while India’s position is 127 out of 152 countries. Report also revealed that Nepal is better than India in terms of life expectancy, women in parliament, female in labour market, maternal mortality ratio etc.
During her lecture, she also termed India’s involvement in Nepal as ‘help’ and that of China’s as ‘interference.’ In absence of any clinching evidence, she blamed China for spying. When one of my Kashmiri friends posed question about her different language about China, she said she had “national interests”. If “national interests” matter so much to an academician, then he/she ceases to be one.
But not all Indian intellectuals have this hegemonic mindset. Few weeks ago Professor Ramachandra Guha gave very insightful lecture on a certain issue at our institute. When somebody from the attendance objected to him, he responded very rationally and cogently. Not only Guha, Professor Kamal A Mitra Chenoy, who visited us some months ago candidly said: “I am a professor but in this forum I am going to discuss as a political activist therefore my arguments must not be considered as academic arguments.”
If somebody comes with the kind of jingoism that Professor Sangeeta did, it wouldn’t help. Our beauty lies in our ‘unity in diversity’. We don’t want Russian Czars!
(Bishnu Pokharel is doing Master’s degree in Kashmir and South Asia Studies at UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute of Kashmir Studies, University of Kashmir)