When Manu Met Market

Vedas were considered as the fountain of knowledge by the Brahmins in ancient India, and by imposing an abominable social hierarchy the ruling priestly class deliberately deprived the large working class mass from their fundamental right of knowledge. Manusmriti bears ample examples of this. According to Manusmriti, if Shudras utter or even if by mistake listen to Vedic chants, then their ears should be filled with molted led and their tongues should be cut off, respectively, to punish them. The situation is not much different in twenty-first century India. Especially, the present ruling class, who even expresses its wish to replace the Indian Constitution with Manusmriti, is setting all new records in implementing policies of their corporate masters.

The union budget of 2018 witnessed a massive fund crunch in education sector. For example, the allocation in this sector has gone down from 0.49% to 0.45% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Within it, the allocation to higher education has decreased from 0.25% to 0.19% of GDP. University Grant Commission (UGC) has faced Rs. 200 crore cut down in budget in comparison to the revised estimate of previous year. For the year 2015-16, UGC allocated a total of Rs. 648.3 crores for 329 state universities, i.e., on average only 2 crores per institute. Even the Indian Institute of Technologies (IITs) and the National Institute of Technologies (NITs) have seen cut down of funds amounting Rs. 1918 crore and Rs. 465 crore, respectively. The amount is Rs. 816 crore for other central universities. It is evident from these figures that the government is withdrawing public support from the education sector. However, this definitely does not comply with the present government’s slogan of ‘Make in India’. Then what is the motive of the government?

The motive of the government becomes clear when it declares a non-existent Jio Institute as one of the Institute-of-Eminence (IoE). This IoE is a new scheme launched recently by the present Modi-led government in which 10 government and 10 private institutions will be selected and will be given Rs. 1000 crore each. So, it is not that the central government does not have enough money to fund the higher educational institutions. Rather the real motive is to liberate all kinds of regulations that are acting as barriers against privatizing the higher education sector. For example, the 20 institutes under IoE scheme will be granted complete autonomy. They will be free to admit foreign students and charge fees from them, without any kind of restrictions from the government. Following the recommendations of General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the government is trying to generate more income by admitting foreign students. Currently a foreign student is paying three times higher tuition fee than a student belonging to this country, and the present ruling class is shamelessly encouraging such commodification of education with its new schemes. IoEs are also free to recruit foreign faculty, exempted from following the UGC mandated curriculum structure, free to offer online courses. For the time being, some maximum limits are set while availing these freedoms, which are likely to be deregulated again in the future following the present trend. We all know that the labor welfare policies become invalid in Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Likewise, government-fixed fees, reservation, scholarship, and other justice-based policies will become invalid in these new SEZs for higher education, from where private monopolists will generate their revenue.

The ruling class that can happily spend Rs. 20000 crores of public to privatize top public-funded institutes in the name of providing ‘world-class education’, is now saying to increase tuition, examination, hostel and other fees to make up the fund crunch in higher educational institutions. Further, government has already created Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) and started Revitalizing Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) initiative to encourage the institutes to take loans. The government has also promised to bear the interests. This is the extent to which shameless siphoning of public money to private corporates is taking place. In addition to this, encouraging schemes like Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) courses, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), systems like Graded Autonomy for Universities and Colleges, Outcome Based Education (OBE), setting up accreditation boards such as National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), National Board of Accreditation (NBA), decisions like dismantling UGC – all are being done according to the dictates of GATS, in order to handover the fertile educational sector of India to finance capital depending on their market value. Due to these policies higher education in India has already become unaffordable for the working class, for the marginalized sections.

All these are being done consciously by the present ruling class, who are the ideological children of Manu. However, Manu’s ideas were challenged in the past, and even at present, students from various private and government institutions in India are protesting against the pernicious aims of this Market-Manu nexus and the onslaughts they are facing due to such nexus. Thus, it is our foremost duty to take direct part in all such struggles, or at least to stand in solidarity with the struggling students and their just demands.

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