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Dr. Parthasarthi Mondal at student’s protest- The operational vision and mission of TISS

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Transcribed by Divya Mahatme

Student in St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai

Dr. Parthasarthy Mondal, a faculty in Tata Institute of Social Sciences speaks on the Operational vision and mission of TISS on 2nd March 2018 during student’s protest. Following is the transcription of this lecture-

Figures which are favourable to a whole lot of people, and these figures they are being cited to you so ultimately to justify the disfavour. That is, somebody said about favours, the things which you are supposed to receive you’re not receiving, right? That’s the first point that I want to make. The second point, how do I extend this framework? Have you got what I’m trying to say? The basic dichotomy that is there in this institution okay, this sense of ownership, that’s why it becomes very easy for them to wash you of their hands, to wash you of their minds because they can easily say that in their minds, they can easily say you are incidental. You don’t matter to me.

Now I’m slightly worried about that. Are they therefore saying that ultimately this Institute will matter to people who can pay? Are they basically saying that we are heading towards some sort of a de facto? Quiet, you know under the carpet sort of privatization? That’s I’m putting it as a question for you. Okay, now the second point that I want to make as an extension of this argument is, how would this Institute for instance sell itself as a unique institution,  as different from and superior to other universities? That’s what you’re being told all the time. How would it be able to sell? I am posing this question for you.

If this is the dichotomy at its very heart, you need to understand the smooth operation with which this Institute constitutes itself. Now so far the Institute has said, that we are unique and different and special and better because we work for the poor and the marginalized. Earlier the word marginalization had another connotation. Because of the OBC movement, SC/ST movement, (inaudible), US Senate, you know, Dalits, Tribal intellectuals coming up, a lot of publication. Now, they have been compelled to include the Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes under the category of Dalit and they’re compelled to include them as part of the marginalized. Otherwise, they were always working with the Dalits as a political category. But they were considered basically as SC and ST, a sort of a helpless infants requiring some baby milk. You know, that’s how they were treating you know this community all over when they were establishing this Institute or when they used to run this Institute.

TISS protest: Parathasarathy Mondal- The Operational vision and mission of TISS
TISS protest: Parathasarathy Mondal- The Operational vision and mission of TISS

Now, the vision and the mission very clearly states that we as an Institute are special because we work for these guys. Any university which teaches an MA in sociology or a BA in politics or something or even a BTech or something like a BSc in  chemistry, these universities and institutions never really take the poor and marginalized as the essence of the world. But we do, that’s the claim of Tata Institute of Social Sciences that it does. So my question is that if it does so, okay, what is going to be its vision and mission when on this very soil of this institution, it practices, completely the opposite of what it claims itself to be? So, it cites government regulations, it cites some shortage of funds, it cites favors that they have given to you in order to show that they cannot actually practice that very social justice what they were talking about.

When does social justice get practiced? When does social justice get practiced? When is it an issue? Is it an issue when all of you are very comfortable? Is it an issue in a society which is very egalitarian? Is it an issue when there is no tension, there is no contradiction? Not at all! Social justice becomes an issue primarily when there is contestation. When there is a challenge. When there is a problem. When it is political. Social justice becomes an issue when the whole problem is problematized, is thematized as political, right? So, therefore, if this institution is going to talk about social justice and it’s going to sort of disenfranchise the very constituency about which they are talking about externally all the time and selling itself as a unique institution, you know I am demanding, I am demanding that if this is what the Institute wants to do, it better change its vision and mission! It should very clearly state that it has nothing to do with the poor and the marginalized. Okay, we are basically a for-profit organization. We have nothing to do with the poor and marginalized and we will be either like any other Enlightenment oriented University, or we’ll do some business, but we will not do anything for the poor and the marginalized. If you are going to do for the poor and the marginalized, then you be with the poor and marginalized first here, and then you go and lecture outside. Do it here! And then outside!

And don’t give any, and don’t give any bull crap and lies and don’t behave like big autocrats with students. Students are students. After all you are responsible for teaching them, for up bringing them. I am not going to open my mouth about what crap gets taught here, about what sort of things happen here. That is my hassle! That is my hassle! I will do that in my own way. But you just do your job well here, in this premise, okay! You do it in Hyderabad, you do it in Tuljapur, you do it in Guwahati. Just do your job well! So I am very happy that your vision and mission says that you are going to do it, you know, on the behalf of the poor and the marginalized Most welcome! Let’s do that! I am very happy to be with you. But then, if I am going to be happy to be with you, then you must show that you are actually practicing it on this campus, you see.

So, therefore, the demand from our side should be that first and foremost, you either change the vision and mission, or you people listen to what we are trying to say because we here are speaking within the framework of the vision and mission. So, this becomes even more strong because we have two sets of facts with you dichotomous to each other. One is your fact about shortage of money coming from the Central Government, which might well be true but on the other hand your expansion, you have a lot of money in your pockets, you have been claiming all the time, we have been receiving mails as faculty members from this person who has just left, that your salary is not sure. For one year he has been threatening us that every month I am begging and borrowing and your salary is basically not sure. Who cares?! I never heard a circular coming from the UGC, saying that this salary of faculty members who are there on UG support has been changed at all. Nothing like that has ever come! We checked all over the country, nothing like that has been issued. But this is what we have been basically told.

So, irrespective of what they say, I assure you, that this Institute has got enough money to basically expand, to continuously demand new and new centers and get them done, to appoint people, and if this is what, I am not interested in whether, the erstwhile director was gassing and the Registrar was basically putting him on proper financial tracks. That’s not my headache, man. You sort that out! I am only interested in the claim that you were making. If you are making the claim that you are expanding, if you are saying that new projects are being undertaken, if I see that you are appointing people with the same designation with differential salary, if I see that you are spending a lot of money, throwing them all over the place, then I want to know that how within the same Institution you are quoting a shortage of funds from the Central Government to deny these students their due. That’s what I want to know.

So if you are saying, if you are saying that you are in a total deficit, then don’t fight in the Academic Council to pass a new center in Kerala. Don’t do that. Okay! If you are saying that there is a shortage of funding here, that you can’t pay students, then I say close down all the expansion until such a time when you can pay all students. These students here or in Hyderabad or Tuljapur or  Guwahati  are more important. You are the justification of why not only I get my salary. Okay, I like reading books therefore, I get my salary. But all those characters here who don’t read books they also get their salary because of you. So, if I am getting my salary because of you, then my primary concern is you, okay? So I will do everything whether I expand, whether I shut down my pockets, whatever I do. I’ll keep that. I’ll have to keep primarily first and foremost only you in mind.

The UGC regulation is very clear- the MPhil PhD students should basically have a single room. I remember when we were in JNU, in the first year, very apologetically the university told us to share a room. Second year onward for 6-7 years, we all had a single room. And here, I saw bunk beds. Little did I know that in Bombay, you put students on bunk beds! I mean, I mean you can stay comfortably in your place, and you’re letting students change clothes in bunk beds?! You know, you are talking about social justice, poverty, marginalization and all that and you’re treating your own constituency (like this) here, okay?

TISS protest
TISS protest: Parathasarathy Mondal- The Operational vision and mission of TISS

Now what therefore the question that needs to be put to this Institute very briefly is this- Very clearly you have two sets of accounts. Now, we are not accounting wizards. In fact we don’t want to be accounting wizards. Why should we? This is not a business. Your job is to basically manage the accounts in such a way, that you are consistent, and you have integrity. And integrity here in this university, in this institution requires integrity primarily for these students, right? Now, many a times I’ve heard that students don’t read or they’re loafing around or they do this or do that. You will have to convince the students as to why they should devote more and more time for the reading. But that can’t be done by cutting the pockets of students, by putting them in very difficult, you know, living conditions. That’s not the way.

As far as I know, the singular most important institution, besides your hostels for you, the library has been suffering drastically from fund cuts, right? Now, you cite the government as being responsible for cutting grants for the library, on the other hand, you don’t have any problem in setting up a center in Kerala or in Delhi. We don’t even know where the hell the center in Delhi located?! I mean, a lot of us colleagues and most of you students don’t know. So, what is this business of expanding on one side? It requires money doesn’t it? Of having money for this expansion and on the other side basically cutting your money.

Now, the presentation that was made by the Registrar to all faculty, shows an overall deficit because all this has been basically going on. If all this has been basically going on then there is one very clear thing that you need to be clear about. First and foremost, whatever you need to do, please realize that the student is the main constituency, okay? So, whatever you do, their interest and their welfare in this campus and in all the other campuses has to be first of all protected. Is this not common sense? This is the most common sensical thing that I can think of. What other business does the Registrar have here? What other business does he have here? What other business I as a teacher have here, other than the fact that okay, taking care, making you grow up and also reading and writing something new. At least I have that caveat, I can run up and say look don’t disturb me. I’m writing this Nobel prize-winning paper. I can tell you that. But what business does the administration have other than taking care of you? Tell me! Are they writing papers? Nothing like that!

So, therefore, it’s very important to realize this basic dichotomy that this Institute has played its game by. Now, there is a lot of color that it gives to all this. It sort of plays by populism. It says that no, you know you are coming and critiquing us about projects and expansion, do you know what we do? We go and work for those Dalits and those Muslims in Govandi! That’s what we do. Do you know what we are doing? We are running off to Narmada, and we are saving all those tribals from drowning themselves. That’s the senti card that they are using. You do that. There’s no harm in doing that provided you don’t cut and filch from me, provided you first of all commit yourself properly to me because that’s where you are located. After that you go, and do this as a part of this, as a part of the student training process, do whatever is possible. But don’t do it at the cost of basically completely marginalizing the legitimate interests and claims of the students.

So, this is the game that this Institute has constantly played all the time. It has always played by this. Two sectors- the public sector and the private sector, okay? It has always done that whenever it wanted to use. You are basically the custodians under the custody of the State and they can wash their hands of you because the State is not paying you. Very clearly it means that you within this Institute do not belong. This Institute is not yours. This Institute is for those people who basically are under the Institute’s custodial care. Okay, otherwise if this were not the case, they could not have washed their hands of you. As far as I can see, the way it is going ahead, they are washing their hands of you, laying the blame at the doorstep of the Government and not taking any ownership okay, of your problems.

TISS protest
TISS protest: Parathasarathy Mondal- The Operational vision and mission of TISS

So, please understand I teach you a lot about mobilization, social movements, crying for Adivasis and Tribals and Dalits and all that, shouting myself host that we are a different institution about social justice. But this Institute, which speaks about social justice is viciously, is viciously against social justice and human rights. I repeat it again; this Institute is viciously against social justice and human rights. And the success of your agitation so far has to be able to point this. One constituency that even till today, even the Modi Government which likes to call all of us as Naxalites, even they will have to admit that the last and final constituency okay, of everything is the student body because I can personally as a faculty member, I can play any games. What do you get? You are here for learning. You’ll just get a scrap of paper called a degree. So, therefore you are ever bored.

Okay, so the important thing to notice here is that this agitation has made it very clear to everybody that the Institute does not own you the Institute has left you at the mercy of the State. If this Institute which claims itself as public funded leaves you at the mercy of the State, then this Institute is anti-national. This Institute is anti-national! Because, if you are within the Republic of India, then you are within the Republic of India! The private sector does not operate outside the Republic of India. The agreement, the contract between the people and the State, is that there the State will allow the private sector to go. It’s entirely at the mercy of the State. The supreme authority is the State because I have transferred my will of freedom to the State; it rules and governs on my behalf. It is the will of the people, the Legislature, the Parliament is the will of all of us together. You can’t tell us effectively that you are part of the State and therefore outside the Institute. Somebody else, who’s not part of the State, is inside the Institute. You can’t do that. Period! That’s it!

So, therefore I really congratulate you because this is something which many of us from the faculty in our own capacities we have been saying. They have not been doing it. You know we have not been able to be successful in persuading the Institute to actually face up to what it’s doing. But at the same time, your movement has been very successful in basically pointing out these contradictions and being able to raise this basic question. So, I was hearing because you are all very emotional, you have spent a lot of time at this most crucial part of your career. You’re going to graduate, some of you are going to give your final examinations and you’re coming and staying here spending so much time with no hope, no communication from that building, right? So therefore, at this particular stage the very fact I wanted to share with you that effectively what you have done, is you have pointed out the major farcical, hypocritical, anti-national face of this Institute. And I congratulate you for that!

So, I would therefore as the last instance I would request you, in the same breath that I’m requesting this Institute, because it’s not the case as if I’m just going to walk away after you know approximately thirty years of service and just be another employee. I only institute as anybody else does. Okay, every faculty member, every member, every staff member, all my friends in the security, all of them are part and parcel of this Institute. Not the Registrar or only the Director, okay? So, if therefore all of us are part of this Institute, all of us are basically good human beings. We are all agreed upon the fact that all of you have come to study and you are under our care. Therefore, it is our responsibility and our job to play the game very well, above the Board and in a clean manner.

TISS protest
TISS protest: Parathasarathy Mondal- The Operational vision and mission of TISS

So, my request to you and specifically to the Institute is to sort this problem out at the earliest in a way which will show that the Institute basically is an integral part of the Republic of India, and that all of us are basically under the custodial care of the State. We are the state. The Institute is also the State. And therefore we all need to be owned up. The Institute has to own up each and every one of you. Once I own yourself up, I can then start discussing with you what we can possibly do. I don’t say that, look I don’t tell my daughter that look, because I can’t be buy you a pair of shoes, you are not my daughter. I just try and sort it out that how it can be done in another way or I can see even sometimes throwing my hands up, sorry, I could not get you that. But the first thing, the first message has to be that yes, you are a part of this Institute. Let us sit together and see what can be done. Instead of blaming the very State of which you are an integral part.

Okay, so stop blaming the, my request is stop blaming the UGC. Okay? You could have well blamed the UGC had you not played the other account ledger book that you opened- this non state business that you did. You stop blaming the UGC. And you start rather interacting with students and try to see how things can be sorted out. The impression that I’ve got over my last 20 years, unlike many other universities is that a very good thing about the students of this Institute is that they have consistently displayed despite all difficulties, a massive, a huge and a total loyalty to this Institute. Please respect that I demand from the Institute that this loyalty this unconditional love for this Institute by the students should be respected. This is not the way to treat it. You should not be on the streets. They should have been sorted out long time back, right?

So, I’m not going to buy the argument that there is no money. And I’m not going to buy the argument that the state is responsible for this. No, that’s a patently problematic argument. Okay, so congratulations! Now, please see how you can get together and work it out. Coordinate with the other campuses. What are their issues? Bring them together. Call them over to this campus sometime. One or two of you go there, interact. So that they also get a feeling that yes, you are basically a part of them. And continue speaking to the administration, to the Institute, until and unless they give you a clear signal that yes, you are actually, in reality a part of this Institute. That message should be received. Thank you!

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