Tuesday, February 7, 2012

UGC’s dubious manifesto on higher education in the 12th five year plan

By Rajesh Sharma

The University Grants Commission recently published a 129-page document titled Inclusive and Qualitative Expansion of Higher Education which spells out the Commission’s vision for higher education in the country for the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17). The document consists of the deliberations of a working group set up for the purpose and envisages a ‘quantum jump’ in higher education with the three objectives of access, equity and excellence. Among the major proposals is a mission mode national programme to be called Rashtriya Uchcha Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) geared to achieve 25% national level Gross Enrollment Ratio. The document notes that the GER in higher education in India (13.2%) is just about half the world's average (24%) and about two thirds that of the developing countries (18%), and scandalously below that of the developed nations (58%). With enrollment already exceeding two million in the universities and 13 million in colleges, a massive expansion in infrastructure and investment would be required. The initiatives proposed to achieve the desired levels of GER between 23.5 and 27% would need an amount of Rs 1,84,740 crore, the document states.
            Balancing the three objectives is obviously going to be the biggest challenge. For example, with the rural GER at 7.8 and the urban at 27.2, far greater effort would be necessary to reduce if not bridge the gulf while also chasing higher standards of excellence. To accomplish its objectives, the document recommends a variety of important measures such as a greater induction of information technology, the upgrading of Academic Staff Colleges to Faculty Development Centres, an ‘affiliation reforms package’, the establishment of a national data bank on higher education and a national monitoring cell, and the creation of a Diversity in Higher Education Index (DHEI). No less significant is the proposal to introduce a ‘de-bureaucratized’ higher education management system which would be used-friendly, transparent and quick to respond. Further, the document correctly emphasizes that the prevailing regional, social and gender imbalances need to be tackled through a pro-active approach.  So far, it is all sweet and good.
            But the poison pills secretly tucked away in the many folds of the perfumed document begin to pop out soon enough. ‘The Central and the State Universities should be statutorily required,’ the documents states, ‘to adopt revision of fee structure payable by the students by at least 10% for every three year period.’ Statutorily required, no less! Why? Clearly, to ensure a regular return to the private investors. Corporate social responsibility ought to be, well, underwritten!  And complementary to the proposed business model are the so-called ‘newer’ models of public-private partnership in higher education, which are all devised to favour the private sector to the blatant disadvantage of the public and the government. According to the first, termed as the Basic Infrastructure Model, the private sector invests in infrastructure and the government runs the operations and management of the institutions in turn, making annualized payments to the private investor. In the second, the Outsourcing Model, private sector invests in infrastructure and runs operations and management and the responsibility of the government is to pay the private investor for the specified services. The third, Equity/Hybrid Model, is about investment in infrastructure being shared between government and private sector while operation and management are vested with the private sector. The third, termed as Reverse Outsourcing Model requires the Government to invest in infrastructure while the private sector takes the responsibility of operation and management.
            This is virtually a manifesto of the neoliberal profiteering ideology, inviting its wealthy corporate adherents to come and dig their fangs and claws into the body of ‘the commons’. UGC’s precious gift on the 20th anniversary of the wedding between the Indian government and the corporate sector! Indeed, the ‘newer’ models are the core of the entire document. As one reads on, the word ‘reform’ begins to sound, yet again, as a smart coinage to denote strategies of restructuring higher education as a vast profit reserve for the corporate sector. Significantly, the urge to push through the ‘newer’ models is touted as a virgin push: there is no accompanying report on the outcome of the entry of the private sector in higher education during the last two decades.  A certain urgency, on the contrary, painted in broad strokes is made to cover up the absence of detail on this count. The strategy is not new. You first set unrealistic targets (Rs 1,84,740 crore), take a clever step from the prophetic to the fatalistic, and then throw the gates open to those who would smell the flesh.
            The picture becomes clearer when we read how casually and ‘economically’ the ‘poorer sections’ are disposed of. The document invokes the ‘economic divide’, but then goes on to make meaningless noises. It does not even pay lip service to the economically disadvantaged as such; in fact, it mentions no figures of their GER.  Poverty, as if, afflicts people only when religion and caste are branded on their bodies. So this is what the document has to say, obviously to just get rid of the burden of guilt: ‘The poorer sections of the society have much lower GER compared to others…. The worst condition is faced by the casual wage labour which is a socio-economic problem which has serious implications.’ No data. Not a single concrete measure. Only platitudes and clich├ęs. Why not something as concrete as the ten percent ‘revision of fee structure payable by the students’? If someone feels enraged enough to describe the document as socially divisive, can he be blamed? For the differently-able also, the document merely says that ‘they need special care and separate interventions’. It does not specify a thing.
            Rather cautiously and shyly, the document proposes 20 exclusive universities for women. Perhaps those who thought up this funny notion had bought some 1960s radical feminist text from the Sunday book bazaar in Daryaganj, read it without checking its year of publication, and were too thrilled to even cross-check with others in their group – for the same document states that the GER, in 2007-08, for men is 19.0 and for women 15.2. Certainly not a scenario so dark as to compel women’s confinement to ‘exclusive’ zones. This is silly and reverse, if not something downright criminal and reactionary, social engineering. And of curse, another side of the divisive ‘liberal’ agenda.
            Just as the document does not forget to mention the need for ‘engagement with social concerns’ without at all demonstrating it convincingly (except to consolidate a vote bank politics of separate identities based on caste, tribe, religion and gender), it remembers the need for ‘new pedagogical practices’ too. What exactly it means by these, it leaves to the reader to figure out. Are those practices rather obvious? I would think not. Thinking them demands thinking hard and innovatively. A difficult thing, no doubt.  
            The last thing I want to point out here – though there is much more to say. The document speaks of a balanced higher education in which liberal arts find a place too: ‘A fine balance between the market oriented professional and liberal higher education shall be the hallmark of such initiatives.’ But it stops there, never telling how higher education in the liberal arts is going to be updated to meet the challenges and opportunities of the current times. Along with other – some really commendable – initiatives, the UGC should consider establishing multidisciplinary Centres for Contemporay Studies which would focus on understanding the complexity of the present as a connected node between the past and the future. Actually, the UGC’s 12th Plan document itself should be among the objects of study in such centres.

Why “Why this Kolaveri Di?”

By Birinder Pal Singh
The latest count for downloading Why this Kolaveri Di on the You Tube has crossed the four million mark. It has not only made a mark with youth and other mortal beings but with celebrities too including Amitabh Bachan and A. R. Rahman, the music man of Bollywood. It is a moment of pride and celebrations for Dhanush and Anirudh, the two makers of the song that has clicked. The “murderous rage” has definitely overtaken the listeners all over. A Tamilian friend from York University informed that the Time magazine has also taken note of this song after the one in the film Roja that was about insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir.
      There are people for and against the song. Those of the latter type want to see a close relation between poetry and music like the great English poet John Keats. They not only rate it low on these counts but call it a jarring piece and an absurdity. Some of these read much into the lyrics and label it as anti-feminist, anti-colonial, racist and what not. They are not wholly wrong because the imagery is quite manifestly alluding to these inferences. But why stop there? The list could be enlarged easily with much more anti(s) such as anti-caste, anti-rich and anti-elitist as the tenour of the song and the music is Tamilian slang and folk with Tamilianised English.
By one stretch of imagination it may also be dubbed as anti-Tamilian language itself and pro-English, even if it is broken and mutilated one hence anti-English too in that sense of the term, as there is a definite remark to this effect when the singer tries to switch over to Tamil after “kai-la glass-u” – “only English.” So what do we make out of this pot-pourri of Tanglish words meant only for the heck of it, just singing a song for the sake of it, so says the opening line of the song.
Anirudh the music composer has remarked in an interview: “It is not meant to be anything. Director (Dhanush) said the situation demanded a light-hearted fun song about love failure. I came up with a tune in ten minutes. I don’t know what kind of mood Dhanush was in...he started singing in broken English and came up with this in twenty minutes. It just happened.” Dhanush too alludes to its popularity: “ Kolaveri is light-hearted slang for blood thirst. So it's no surprise that the song of a jilted boy asking the girl why she did that to him has become an anthem.” Mind you, this is not for the first time that a young man’s heart is broken and others have empathised with him. The hearts have ever been broken and beautiful lyrics and music have also expressed the agony of the jilted ones but why this time a broken heart given expression in a broken mish-mash language has clicked, not with the youth alone but across generations, that needs to be deciphered.
The author tends to lay no claim on its cultural, literary or musical contribution.  He calls it a “flop song”, one that has flopped all of its kind. It does the reader well to think with Marilyn Butler that we are liable “to read the writer’s mind as being more logical, coherent and academic than the human mind naturally is.”
I believe it is the very spontaneity of its composition and musical rendering that has added all the flavour to its popularity. It was more out of fun than seriousness of communicating a definite message to some class or strata. And I may be allowed to relate it to my own experience of the sort.
I am not given to viewing television but some times over hear or see something when the kids are sitting on it. On one such occasion, I happened to hear Kolaveri Di. I liked the tune but as is the wont of a sociologist, started looking into the meanings of the lyrics without reaching a definite conclusion, no denying the fact that the tune clicked. It appeared like a weird postmodern thing or composition that bewilders the consumer and leaves her confused. The Michael Jacksonisation of the folk –Punjabi or Tamil or whatever– is the most happening thing now, given the technique and instruments for sound amplification that surely subordinate the lyrics.
The popularity of Baba Sehgal and Apache Indian during the early nineties when the Indian economy opened up to the global market forces also uttered words that find no place in any dictionary of English or other Indian languages. The lyrics were undermined to the amplified tones of the hi-fidelity musical instruments. The youth were given to it. It was close to their hearts while the seniors frowned over the no sense syllables substituted for lyrics. The era of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richards and of Majruh Sultanpuri and Sahir Ludhianvi was over. This tradition has declined further since then.
Getting back to Kolaveri Di, as the song finished my wife asked the meaning of this phrase. I said spontaneously, “This is the Tamil equivalent of the like in Punjabi – ma di and bhen di (abuses).” She believed as it was too matching and apparently convincing. When she went to the university and shared it with her colleagues in the teaching departments, they also took her word only to discover later that that was ‘fun’ only.
The rage of Kolaveri Di virus is so gripping that a group of Punjabi boys have made its Punjabi version Pinki Mogewali kalol kardi and the song ends with a line –Desi peeni murgha khana Kolaveri Punjabi’ch gana. It means that we are given to take the country liquor and chicken and sing Kolaveri in Punjabi. But the Punjabi version is not about the rage of a love torn rustic youth but of a young man who got married to a flirting modern girl who was a matter of concern and worry to her parents with regard to her future – of marriage and running a household like a suani. He wishes her away to her peke (parents’ house) so that he may go to theka, the liquor shop. Other ingredients of the song like its original may well be labelled similarly as anti-feminist and male chauvinist.
But there is a difference between the two. The original version is Tanglish only but its adaptation is not only Punglish but also imbued with Tamil accent. In the process of this adaptation it has added all the flavour and tenour of Punjabi culture and spirit to it. For instance, unlike the original “flop song”, it is called a “ghant song” that means an exemplary or an extraordinary one. In another interesting twist to the “only English” in the original it is demanded to be sung in Punjabi only – “O’ Punjabi’ch.”
One conversant with Punjabi culture knows well that a peasant switches to English, howsoever knee-jerking it might be, after two three shots of any brand of liquor, country or foreign. He ridicules and abuses the colonial masters – “Angrezan di…” etc. etc. but loves to speak in English to dominate the illiterate and let the educated ones know for sure that he too is one among them since he knows English. There are numerous anecdotes to this effect as well.
Punjabi as language is never an issue with Punjabis except when they wish to make it a political issue for some other purposes. It is a creed of the politicians, not of the common people. An illiterate peasant attempts conversation in Hindi, howsoever Punjabiised that might be, with the migrant labour from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. He is not a Punjabi chauvinist though he might have joined the morcha for Punjabi suba during the early sixties when the Shiromani Akali Dal had launched the struggle for a linguistic state.
Whatever be the lyrics or the music, the point is that it has clicked. And that is good music. That is why it is said that music is a language that surpasses boundaries of various sorts. A famous English poet says that more than anything else good music is that that appeals and sounds nice. Music touches chords deeper than the conscious mind. It invokes a particular emotion and feeling that makes it sound nice though the nice too is defined culturally. One can go on debating that Hindustani classical music is better than western and both are superior to rap, but the reality is otherwise. Music is both generation specific and transgenerational. That is what makes some music good and other not so good. It must go to the credit of Kolaveri Di composers that it cuts across generations, cultures and regions and makes sense to all. It is transgenerational, transcultural and transregional. It should be celebrated rather than criticised. If at all, absurdity is not in the song but those who have fallen for it.
Birinder Pal Singh teaches in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Punjabi University, Patiala-147002. ( e-mail: birinder_pal@rediffmail.com)

On Jaipur Literary Festival

M. L. Raina

The festival has come and gone
And gone are glamour girls,
They left behind detritus
At Diggie, and it swirls.

The prickly bristly Solomon
Was forced to stay away
But had his cronies panting
In dudgeon's tight sway.

They fretted and frothed withal
While Oprah stole the show,
And all that Sanjay/Namita got
Was eggs on their brow.

The corporate -they had a merry time
Looking all the way askance,
Like a cat on a hot tin roof,
They made our liberals prance.

Give us more of Chetan lad
Not Tom nor David' Hare,
Cried the raving frantic teens
Who fanned out everywhere.