ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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After the Tragedy, Nothing

THE responsibility for the death of Nishant Bhardwaj must be laid squarely not just on the Rajasthan University for its inordinate inefficiency, but on the entire system of higher education and on all constituents of the academic community, including the teachers and students, which has time and again proved totally ineffective in addressing far worse, totally indifferent to issues which vitally affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of the country's youth year after year. Over the decades the system of university education has gradually, but very definitely, broken down, with little accountability at any level. The UGC which is supposed to be the apex authority for university education has failed to exercise its powers to enforce minimal regulation and monitoring, generally on the plea that it does not want to interfere with university autonomy. According to news reports, it has little information on the state of affairs in the universities; on the discharge of academic work or the standards of education. The university administrations seldom care to submit even mandatory reports. Hardly surprisingly, the Rajasthan University had omitted to declare the results of examinations, ostensibly because of a strike by its non- teaching staff; as many as SO of 61 posts of professors in the university are vacant, if newspaper reports are to be believed; there has been no audit of accounts since 1990-91, to which the state government's response has been just to withhold grants to the university. To cap it all, it has needed a student of the university to kill himself for the powers- that-be to bestir themselves to even appoint a vice-chancellor. Tragic beyond words though the event is, it would be wrong to make a martyr of Nishant Bhardwaj. No doubt his death has turned the glare of public scrutiny on the rot in the system, for the moment. Protest can take different forms; some lead to the creation of sustainable long-term movements which can act as a check on the excesses and failures of the system. In the present times the effectiveness of'any intervention for change depends, often unfortunately, on the, nature of its public image. The media is an important factor in manufacturing the credibility or otherwise of such interventions and increasingly the media's focus has tended to be on personalities rather than people. Even a mass movement/protest gets coverage in the mainstream media only if there are newsworthy leaders involved who know how to manage publicity. So it is no surprise that the state of affairs in Rajasthan University or for that matter the more general near-breakdown of the UGC system of administration of universities had received little attention until Bhardwaj's tragic act. When Bhardwaj told his mother, as he is reported to have done, that "somebody has to do something", he was talking of precisely this: that a dramatic act which would grab the attention of the media was needed to turn the public focus on problems which are profoundly undermining the academic well-being and life chances of the country's youth. Bhardwaj's option makes a negative statement, one that in fact strengthens forces inimical to enduring reform and efficiency. It is after all relatively easy to deal with the death of a single student public memory can be depended on to be short; far more difficult to deal with a sustained movement to enforce academic norms and standards.

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