In a chat with TNM, Dr Madhavan talks about his recent article on sabotaging reservations, for which the University of Calicut sent him a show cause notice, and about dissent in universities.

Dr KS MadhavanFacebook
news Interview Sunday, May 16, 2021 - 19:11

On April 21, Dr KS Madhavan a well-known public intellectual and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Calicut, co-wrote an article in the Malayalam newspaper Madhyamam, on how reservations are allegedly being subverted in Kerala’s universities. The university authorities issued a show cause notice against him on April 29, alleging that the article had violated Rules 58A, 60, and 62 of the Kerala Government Servants Conduct Rules, 1960, and tarnished the university’s image. Dr Madhavan’s article also said that the National Commission for Scheduled Castes had asked the University of Calicut for a detailed report on the “sabotage of reservation rules”.

Dr Madhavan, however, told TNM that the purpose of the article was not to malign the reputation of any one university, but to expose such social exclusions happening in universities all over India.  “There is an anti-reservation mentality prevalent among people. My writings aim to educate people about the purpose of reservation and make them see it as an instrument of social justice. There should be inclusive education policies to ensure this,” he said. The article also sought a judicial enquiry regarding reservation violations.

The Hindu reported that the Kerala History Congress and many academics like Sukhadeo Thorat, economist and former chairperson, University Grants Commission, Uma Chakravarthi, feminist historian, K Satyanarayana, Professor, English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, Nissar Ahammed, academic and writer, and M Kunhaman, economist, had come out in support of Dr Madhavan.

However, a press release issued by the university claimed that it was not trying to curtail the professor’s freedom of expression. The article, the release said, had tried to create confusion among students and candidates who might apply to work in the institution.

TNM spoke to Dr Madhavan about the space for dissent in universities and his article on sabotaging reservations.

India had a low score of 0.352 in the Academic Freedom Index published in 2020. Recent developments in the country such as the resignation of Ashoka University professors Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Arvind Subramanian seem to corroborate this claim. What is your take on this?

The culture of public criticism and dissent based on constitutional morality and principles of freedom of expression has been considerably reduced to a cultural environment of intellectual confinement on the one hand, and through the instituted mechanism of authoritarian regimes on the other.

Academic activism as intellectual and scholarly engagement in civil society at large has been disciplined through institutional embarrassment and dictatorial dispositions by the authorities who follow an authoritarian social morality. The autonomy and inclusive participation in production of critical knowledge, on society and culture, is an ethical necessity of intellectual production and actualisation of full citizenship on par with constitutional morality and an inclusive idea of social justice.

Do you think that universities in Kerala are also becoming intolerant towards dissent?

There are two aspects in this. One is the social prejudice of the system as it always keeps its structural hierarchical values of an age-old system of inherited dominance manifested largely through individuals whose degenerated social morals dominate the system, including institutions of higher learning. The second is the systemic transformation towards the centralisation of power and institutional authoritarianism that produces partisan and parochial inclinations regulating the everydayness of institutional academics.

India has produced many brilliant academicians who have actively spoken for social justice. How do you think these actions affect India’s academic culture?

The academic institutions in India are going through a perilous but historic crisis in which the edifice of democratic secular outlook, and critical and rational disposition are coming to a disastrous edge. The authoritarian gaze and intellectual monitoring on academic practice and public intellectual engagement on issues of constitutionally guaranteed affirmative policies and civil rights by the university system with its administrative logic devoid of academic sensibility and institutional ethics seem to be an act of intimidation. The administrative and authoritarian logic behind this intimidation aims at monitoring the freedom of academic articulation and intellectual public engagement. The constitutionally guaranteed principles of reservation and inclusive policies for attaining social justice in the public university systems are being confined to a selective dismantling.

In your article you mention an “anti-reservation mafia hegemony in universities”. What do you mean by this?

The functionalities and managerial enactment in our public university system is largely guided and controlled by individuals of non-academic ambitions whose short-sighted interests embarrassingly regulate the system of higher education as a system of exclusion in multiple ways.

You write that the “reservation system is being systematically undermined during faculty appointments to universities in Kerala”. Can you explain this?

The academic standpoint on social exclusion and inclusive developmental and inclusive educational policies are set aside in our university system. It seems to be an act of silencing the production of academic knowledge that emphasises the need for social inclusion of marginalised communities.

In 2019, the National Commission for Backward Classes served notice to 23 national law universities in the country for flouting reservation rules. So, it’s a pan-Indian phenomenon. Why do you think this is happening in spite of a legislation in place?

The intellectualisation of everyday lived experiences of communities of disadvantaged historical experiences and minority cultural location is an inevitable part of the public intellectual life and entangled engagement in the democratic civil society life.

I’m an academician trained in institutional social sciences and in the intellectual protocol of history, engaged in dissemination of democratic ideas and constitutional values in civil society for about two decades. As a practitioner of critical social sciences, I’ve been focusing on the study of instituted and hierarchical exclusion of people and their material life in the historical past of the Indian subcontinent and contemporary societies. The process of institutional exclusion and systemic nullification of communities of Dalit subaltern social locations and identities is a subcontinental problem in the South Asian academia and institutions of higher learning. As it is happening in the most subtle ways in the everyday public institution systems, it needs global attention and specific remedies in accordance with the social and cultural systems, in which the historical system of exclusion has been developed as a hierarchical system of exploitation.

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