It is a truth universally acknowledged that newspapers are not the bearers of good news,
especially in these days of dismantling, wherein ideas and speech are under threat, people are
being pulped, places, things and institutions are being pried open, torn apart and reduced to
rubble. At Delhi University, we celebrated our 100th year pretty much in mourning, because
intent is afoot to levy even more damage upon this venerable institution, after what has been
almost two decades of ill-planned expansion that had little thought for the students being
inducted into the system. There was simply no attempt to ramp up infrastructure, physical,
material or human, in terms of level-playing fields, classrooms, libraries, laboratories and an
adequate body of ‘well-cared-for’ teachers.
To add insult to injury, or (drawing out an appropriate metaphor from our ancient past), to
add ‘ghee’ to the sacrificial fires into which the university’s ethos has been flung, the various
Departments at Delhi University (DU) whose powers have shrunk and have being continually
muffled, have adopted the national mode of dissemination which operates on the following,
1. Decide upon something.
- Never bring it up for discussion or debate.
- Implement it with the greatest urgency and secrecy as work that must commence
immediately, come hell or high water.
The three-step algorithm above explains how decisions are taken by one power-centre with
utter disregard of the due process, and the rights of others. Such decisions, when taken, clamp
down upon ideas and put both human beings and the institutions they inhabit in grave danger.
Indeed, at the end of Step 3, invariably, disconnected hell is allowed to break loose, and this
is pretty much what has been happening in Delhi University in contemporary times.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when this happened, or, when the process began to
unfold! I can only provide approximates, because, now, for some time, I have been living in a
silo, brought on by Covid, death, loss and ill health, and have kept at my job pretty much like
a blinkered horse in harness, lumbering through hours of internet teaching, trying to make
literature relevant to young people in a hurry.
Meanwhile, the university has been beleaguered for well over a decade now and its woes
have increased both in arithmetic and geometric proportions. The number of students in every
course in the university has increased, but with no corresponding increase in the number of
teachers; the teacher-student ratio, the hallmark of best teaching practice, remains pretty
Perhaps, the credit for the maximum damage done to the university in arithmetic progression
rests with the Vice-Chancellor, who, in hindsight, one realizes, was probably given the
mandate to introduce the semester system. When the VC asked colleges for their opinion on
the semester system, a majority of colleges voiced their misgivings about the unsuitability of
the semester system for DU and gave detailed reasons for the same, including the fact that
such change could not be brought in overnight, without protracted deliberation. Nevertheless,
the VC persuaded the Departments of Science to implement semesters forthwith. Heads of
Science Departments turned cartwheels and obeyed.
The Science Departments in undergraduate colleges once served as proxy waiting-grounds
for students with ambitions in the realms of medicine and engineering. The semester system,
with all its modular data-churning, worked effectively for the science departments. And, now,
the dropout rate is much lower in the Science Departments, ever since the arrival of the
Once roped in, students enrolled for science courses, continue to be ambushed by the time-
crunching of the semester system. The flourishing Humanities, which faced no enrolment
problems, were arm-twisted into ‘semesterization’, a year after the Science Departments were
co-opted into the process.
At that time, the teachers in Delhi University managed to avert the ill-planned four-year
programme. However, relentlessly hemmed in by the semester system that provides no
academic break from modular teaching, with zero review of academic schedules, no analysis
or discussion that could lead to any academic evaluation of pedagogies across disciplines, and
its impact upon students, colleagues across departments and disciplines struggled with the
new curriculum and programmes that were pushed in by the State and tried to beat in method
and meaning into truncated and ill-designed courses.
The semester system also cut short vacations for students and teachers alike. We were all on
the great wheel of progression where we dealt with concepts and ideas. The system decided
that in the absence of any tangible result, teachers and students would not require any kind of
break. So, for ten plus years now, Delhi University follows a punishing calendar, with a
minimal autumn break that is barely for a week, followed by a week-long winter break that
starts with Christmas and has teachers reporting to work on January 2 in the new year.
The pandemic had further exacerbated the schedule wherein the university now follows
different academic calendars for each of the five undergraduate and post-graduate years.
Long summer vacations are now unheard of. In fact, this year again, there has been no
Czar M. Jagadish is at UGC, fresh from his JNU rampage. After ravaging academic life at
JNU altogether as its VC, he is now in hot pursuit of Delhi University. Since this is an older
and larger university, it will require more time than JNU to be disbanded.
Meanwhile, syllabus framing of university curriculum, semester by semester, in all the
disciplines, is afoot. The plagiarized proposals, copied, cut and pasted from foreign university
schedules, and drawn attention to by concerned academics from the university, has failed to
send shock waves or even shame waves through the corridors of control and power-
brokering. Such syllabus making, semester by semester, without any inputs from the teaching
community, is unheard of. No university in the world has ever dared to carry out a project of
this nature — that simultaneously alienates and marginalises the university teacher.
The new mantra is that policy will be handed down and incorporated. Faceless department
heads carry out orders that are issued and work to implement them. The temporary teacher
work force that the university has carefully fostered for well over a decade has been pushed
to the brink, because it is an unfortunate narrative about innumerable young people, who
battle for job security and are denied maternity leave, medical leave and promotional
avenues, despite years spent in education and training. In most instances, these young
citizens have put their personal, academic and professional lives on the slow burner for no
fault of their own.
In innumerable college departments, across disciplines, including my own, the number of
permanent teachers has shrunk. Most teachers, hired on an ad hoc basis, are a harried lot,
constantly subjected to intimidation by a system that grows feudal and regressive by the day
and refuses to speak to them and address their pain.
The rise of regulatory bodies such as NAAC and HERA, and the introduction of the
NEP2020, in the interim, not merely reduced and diminished the UGC, but also gave short
shrift to any balance or reasoning. The Covid pandemic’s disruption of everyday life at the
university also allowed for the implementation of all kinds of regulatory mechanisms and
systems. These were set up, without any discussion with general bodies of teachers, academic
associations and disciplines, and resulted in the formulation and implementation of policies
injurious to students and university and intellectual life in the short and long term.
Over the past few years, the university colleges continue to be assessed and graded by
important committees set up for the purpose of accreditation. The mantra the university is
flirting with is perhaps one of the many reportedly mouthed by the premier, namely, “Hard
work is better than Harvard”. A lot of hard work now goes into the collection and packaging
of data for visiting NAAC committees. University colleges are abuzz with mock NAAC
sessions, wherein every department spends working days and nights in paper work to
showcase its strengths and sweep liabilities under a non-existent carpet.
Meanwhile, young students all over India face a situation wherein 12 plus years of schooling
is to be soon rendered irrelevant because now a CUET test will declare their suitability for
university education. These youngsters will be on the rolls of India’s premier central
university where the bulk of its teachers remain clueless about the curriculum.
The teachers’ general bodies, being non-statutory, have been viewed as irrelevant to the
scheme of making ‘Delhi University Great Again’. The mandate is that teachers need not be
consulted, and are perforce required to teach because they draw salaries. I wonder if
implementing orders, and obediently drafting syllabi in the manner of unthinking, functioning
units, without the synergy of the teaching community specialists, could be construed as best
Teachers no longer question policy or formulate syllabi, theirs is to simply teach and retire!
Meanwhile, nobody is asking as to how replacing one central examination with a
competitive examination, could possibly level the playing field? It only makes everything far
more arbitrary, while setting up the process for the teetering and tottering of the schooling
system. This is not reform or repair, which is always welcome, but a large-scale
unconstitutional demolition of education through the length and breadth of India. It is also
possible that four years from now, UG CUET will be the exam all CUET graduates will be
required to take.
Today, English, one of India’s many modern languages and the language that houses
innumerable disciplines and allows us to have global connectivity in every discipline, is being
driven out by the new syllabi. Students are not to be taught or trained in the English language
at any college in Delhi University, because of the new orders that have been issued. This is a
far cry from a scenario in which literature and language has been taught by English teachers
to every student in the university! Generations of students from other disciplines have been
enriched and improved by the exchange that the English syllabi provided and have been
thankful for their empowerment.
Colleagues in the English Departments in colleges continue to express their anguish, but we
need everyone from every other discipline and every walk of life: colleague, parents and
students to grasp the enormity of damage that this fundamentally flawed premise is being
programmed to deliver. In a multilingual nation, instead of ensuring proficiency in English,
this attempt to erase it from the curriculum, deeming it the language of the colonizers, is an
illiberal and ignorant attempt to put the clock back. This will only jeopardize our local,
regional, national and international strengths.
The impact of such erasure and renaming, is far more pernicious than the changing of names
of roads, places, and cities. Into such an abyss of atrophy, dear citizen, let not our country
continue to be pushed! Parents, adults and educationists must awaken to the crisis that has
Disturbingly, everyone is quiet. Students who should be responding to this, those who have
finished their graduation and those who are about to begin, need to engage with this disaster-
in-the-making that is being unleashed upon the academia.
Under the new four-year graduation programme with one optional year of MA, apparently,
any student can go on to do a PhD. How are we preparing students for the rigours of
academia by diluting syllabi, stretching years and arbitrarily lopping off post-graduate
University teachers, clueless about the curriculum and forbidden from framing it, cannot
morph into beacons of learning. The Vedic mantra declares: tamaso-maa-jyotir-gamaya.
There is a diurnal, seasonal progression from darkness to light that our ancestors recorded
and shared with us. They also warned us thereby about the antitheses; when the light would
be blotted from our sight and there would be darkness everywhere.
Such is the darkness that Delhi University is now being enveloped in!
Footnote: A few years ago, there was a plan to project Delhi as a UNESCO Heritage City.
This was shelved and Ahmedabad was projected in its stead. Ahmedabad went on to become
a heritage city. Currently, newspapers report that the teaching of English is to be
implemented in primary schools in Gujarat in the current academic year under the NEP. So
why does an ill wind continue to blow through the portals of Delhi University? The new JNU
vice chancellor has begun to air her grievances about the unsuitability of CUET, and the need
to examine the options with due care and due process. However, unless everyone rallies
around, the dismantling juggernaut will continue, for one swallow does not a summer make!
The writer is Professor, Department of English, Sri Venketeswara College, Delhi