Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Road Ahead

A letter from the teachers to the teachers of Punjabi University

(Part of the Campaign by Teachers for Intervention in Education)

19 September 2012

Dear Friend,
    The PUTA polls are over, and yet not over. The electoral process has been stalled, and on ridiculous alibis - evidence enough that substantial reasons do not exist for doing what has been done. Everyone has witnessed the reluctance of the authorities to read the clear-as-daylight orders of the Honourable Court in the right spirit. The Court has obviously intervened in defence of democracy and the rule of law. That intervention, however, has been wilfully so read as to offend democracy and to assert an excess of arbitrary power.  Anyone can see that much more is stake than just elections.
    But the collective aspirations of the teachers cannot be sealed and silenced in any box. Indeed, those aspirations have been already aired and the message has gone out loud and clear that the night of arbitrariness must now draw to an end. By freely exercising our hard-won right to vote, we the teachers have affirmed our faith in democracy enshrined in the university’s very statute. By participating so ardently in the electoral process, we have raised our collective voice for accountability.
    For what is PUTA if not a democratically elected representative body of the teachers constituted to ensure that the university does not stray from its mandate, that vested interests do not eclipse the university’s and the society’s best interests, and that the rule of law prevails over rabid selfishness parading as arrogant, unquestioned power – the power of a handful of self-serving persons who DO NOT in any way represent the teachers?
    Unless we forget, democracy is the air in which a free intellectual culture finds its breath. A university that cannot protect its democratic spaces must wither and die – sooner than later. And democracy is the best guarantee for the teacher’s dignity.
We have all seen, day in and day out, how arbitrariness eats away the teachers’ dignity, how it corrodes our self-respect. 
    But why, after all, this fear of PUTA? Why all the stratagems to put off endlessly, if possible, the homecoming of democracy?
    First, we were told that the teachers do not need, or even desire, PUTA. Then the notification was delayed for too long for no reason. Then an orchestrated Project Consensus was launched to forge a pseudo-PUTA in which an august ‘magistracy’ of the Eleven would magically mirror the wishes of All. Then the orders of the Court (dated 12 September) were kept wrapped like a dark secret, only to be vaguely invoked – but not publicly read out – after the polling ended. If there was really any doubt about the meaning of the Court’s orders, proper opinion should have been obtained before the polling finished and the matter should have been discussed with all stakeholders forthrightly and sincerely. We all know by now how hard it was that fateful day to obtain even a reproduction of the relevant paragraph of the judicial orders and the Returning Officer’s ‘interpretation’ thereof. The paragraph given to us is again reproduced for your benefit below:

“In the meantime, the petitioners shall be permitted to participate in the election provisionally. However, since the dispute is pending, the result of the election shall be kept in a sealed cover and in the eventuality of the petitioners failing to establish their claim in the writ petition, the result of the election shall be construed after the names of the petitioners have been deleted from the final tally of the ballots in the poll.”

    The Returning Officer's interpretation of the above is as follows:

“In the light of the above cited orders, the ballot boxes of PUTA elections (2012) should be kept sealed and the counting is being postponed.”

Dear friend, we have struggled long and we have come a long way. But a longer way remains to tread. Democracies have never been easy to re-establish or renew: the weeds of vested interests outgrow themselves to choke democracies, often in the form of entrenched aristocracies and oligarchies. We have to work patiently like caring, cautious gardeners to pluck the weeds out and turn the soil. Let’s work to deserve our garden – our beloved university. It shall be what we make of it. It will give to the world what we together give unto it.
    And we thank you all for demonstrating the teachers’ solidarity for a common cause – the restoration of a culture of democracy that is the very soul of any university worth its name!

            From: Teachers for Intervention in Education

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