Letter from the Editor
Cavalier disregard for institutional development is a distinguishing characteristic of post-independence India. Almost every institution which we inherited from our erstwhile masters or promoted in the can-do first flush years after political freedom was wrested from Westminster, is in danger of collapse. For instance instead of being an orderly forum for informed debate, Parliament has become a noisy brawling house. Simultaneously hamstrung by the conflicting demands of coalition politics, government, i.e the executive, is paralysed and has lapsed into masterly inaction, and unable to assert its right to adequate staffing and maintenance, the judiciary (see editorial p.6) is in danger of caving in under the weight of a massive backlog of pending cases. And last but not least, there is a clear and present danger that Indiaâ€™s once great universities and institutions of higher education, the envy of newly-independent nations of the post-colonial era, could be destroyed by a hardy and deadly strain of the corruption virus which is rapidly spreading within the shady groves of Indian academia.
Informed opinion is unanimous that the root cause of the sorry condition of the nationâ€™s 355 universities and 17,600 colleges in which almost 10 million of Indiaâ€™s best and brightest students flounder in shallows and misery, is political interference. Right across the subcontinent, politicians of all ideological hues and persuasions donâ€™t think twice about appointing unqualified political have-beens and cronies as vice-chancellors and principals of supposedly autonomous universities and institutions of higher learning. The consequence is that these worthies have imported the worst practices of Indian politics â€” financial chicanery, fraud, cronyism and myriad malpractices â€” which are eating away at the foundations of newly-established and hallowed institutions of higher education.
Our cover story on the eve of the commencement of the new academic year is mainly focused on the scale of the problem of corruption in Indian academia, and its consequences. But it also cites informed opinion which is unanimous that the countryâ€™s beleaguered institutions of higher learning need to be insulated from political interference and incursions. In effect this means that the concept of academic autonomy â€” words which have fallen into disuse â€” needs to be resurrected and practised in Indian education. For this to happen, faculty and intellectuals within education institutions need to take a forthright stand in favour of academic autonomy. Indeed the intelligentsia in general needs to be more assertive and vocal about crying halt to flagrant, ill-informed political interference in the administration and management of valuable institutions of learning.
Likewise in her newsy special report feature on the current controversy about introduction of sex education in senior secondary schools, assistant editor Summiya Yasmeen also identifies politicians as ill-informed villains of her piece. In a society which has emerged as the global flashpoint for the spread of the deadly HIV-AIDS virus, and where child sex abuse is rampant, should sex education for teenagers be banned on the questionable argument that it is inimical to Indian culture? Politicians across the country say so, arguing that they are articulating public opinion. But is the role of political leaders to follow public opinion, or to shape it for the greater good of society? Think about it!