For the last couple of days every news channel and newspaper worth its salt in Kolkata is discussing/writing about how academicians are under attack by the Ma Maati Manush government. Talk shows and panel discussions are being held where the intelligentsia is debating the pros and cons of the issue.
Debasish Sarkar and Shampa Sen, both teachers of government colleges, and therefore, holders of a “cadre posts”, have been show-caused by the higher education department for airing their views on local news channels. Since their views have not always toed the government line, they have to give in writing, within 15 days as to why they have not nodded in agreement to every decision taken at the Writers’ Building.
According to sources, the process of penalising Prof Sarkar, general secretary of Government College Teachers’ Association, had begun last month. By what eminent lawyer Arunabha Ghosh pointed out during a panel discussion on a leading Bengali news channel, the letter, dotted with multiple spelling mistakes, appeared to be dictated and hurriedly written. In fact, the complainant has mis-spelt his own name (Pamda instead of Panda)!
Jokes apart, the entire incident raises suspicion. The West Bengal Higher Education Service Rule clearly states that a professor has “to intimate” and “not seek permission” before appearing on TV or radio. Why then does the Director of Public Instruction (DPI) want to know whether Prof Sarkar and Prof Sen had sought permission before making TV appearances? This raises suspicion.
On the other hand, Abhirup Sarkar, eminent economist and a teacher at the prestigious central government organisation, Indian Statistical Institute, is a familiar face on local news channels. He has been hogging the limelight since the Singur episode. And ever since has been a regular expressing his views (anti-government when Left Front was in power, pro-government now when Ma Maati Manush is ruling the roost). When asked by the journalists of a leading English language news paper, published from Kolkata, as to whether he sought permission every time before appearing on TV, he declined to respond. This, again, raises suspicion.
Some time back also we saw the manhalding and subsequent arrest of a Jadavpur University professor for circulating an email taking potshots at the chief minister. That time the chief minister had said the the circulation of an email lampooning her amounted to “character assassination” and would not be tolerated. (Read: In Didi’s Wonderland, where Words Come Out from the Depth of Truth) In another controversial step, her government had also banned all but eight newspapers of her choice from state libraries. (Read: Is Mamata’s Bengal Trying to Muzzle Free Media?)
Is this the “democracy” that was promised before the 2011 Assembly elections? Essentially, yes. The onus lies on us for falling into a very well-laid trap of delusion. We ran after an image which turned out to be a mirage. The meaning of the much venerated word “democracy” is undergoing a makeover. Whether we want this paribartan (change) in the connotation of “democracy” is for us to decide and act accordingly.
Above and beyond murdering democracy there lies another game plan. These issues facilitate in keeping the urban middle class engaged in deliberating over how democracy is being plundered. Real issues like the suicides of farmers, abnormal inflation, rule of finance capital in every sphere of life, opening of the financial and education sector to foreign investors can opportunely be swept under the carpet. Those of us living in the cities are worrying our heads off about trifle issues while the genuine ones are escaping our attention. While news channels conduct myriad programmes on how freedom of speech and expression is being tampered with, they hardly devote any bandwidth discussing how the opening up of the financial sector will unfavorably affect the lives of the ordinary man or how the flawed agricultural policy is resulting in lakhs of farmers choosing death over life.
Let us decide what we want to bring to light, what should be our priority. Let us not allow our thinking to be ambushed.