"I cannot be part of an institution that is trying to impose this culture of fear on its students," Dr Meena T Pillai told TNM.

Against saffronisation Kerala academic quits after University puts curbs on PhD topics
news Controversy Monday, March 25, 2019 - 09:38

Days after the Central University of Kerala (CUK) issued a directive to PhD students to select research topics that are of ‘national priorities’, academician Dr Meena T Pillai has resigned from the Board of Studies of the institution. Her resignation has given new momentum to the issue.

Though students of CUK and other central universities came out against the circular, Meena’s resignation on Thursday has triggered a larger discussion over the issue in both academic and public circles alike. In fact, even in the political spectrum.   

Congress President Rahul Gandhi took to Facebook to express his discontent over the issue. “Now, self-attested wise minister (Prakash Javadekar) of a great intelligent Prime Minister will tell the intellectual of the country how they should do their work. The saying little knowledge is a dangerous thing is correct,” he wrote on Sunday.

The circular, which was released by the university on March 13, directed that students who enroll for PhD courses will be made to select only topics of ‘national priorities’ and that ‘irrelevant topics’ will be scrapped. The university issued the directive after a Vice Chancellor’s meeting held in New Delhi, last December.

Read: PhD research topics should be on ‘national priorities’: Central University of Kerala

Fight now to save the education system

Dr Meena T Pillai explains to TNM the gravity of the issue, which led her to resign her post.

“There is a culture of silence that is forced upon the higher education system in the country. This circular is also a part of that. How can somebody else decide what a researcher should do? I cannot be part of an institution that is trying to impose this culture of fear on its students. No genuine research or education can happen in such an atmosphere,” Dr Meena tells TNM.

After her resignation, several teachers at CUK asked Meena to withdraw her decision and stay back to fight against the issue. “But I knew that will be of no use,” she says.

“There are nine members on the board of studies. None of them objected to the issue. So there is no point in fighting a lone battle. The administration clearly does not care about my resignation. They have already hired a new person. This is not a personal battle. What matters is that this has sparked a debate in the country in both the academic sphere and the public domain. That should go on and people should save the higher education system,” she says.

While stating that the officials of the university do not realise, or seem not to realise, the threat, the new directive has created fear among the students as well as the teachers. “They fear to voice their opinion because if they say anything against the university, they will be thrown out. This is fascism,” Meena says.

While stressing that this issue is above political affiliations, she says, “This circular has been issued by CUK and we know it is the continuation of academic saffronisation happening in the country. Even if Congress or any other party comes to power, these marks of saffronisation of academics will not go away. So it is important we fight this battle now,” explains Meena.

Comparing the situation at the Central University and State University, Meena, who is also a professor at the Institute of English, University of Kerala, says, “There is no guarantee on the functioning of a central university; the MHRD will announce new directives without prior notice. At least these things do not happen in state universities. There is a free atmosphere in state universities.”

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