Friday, 21 August 2009

Veiling the right to education

Educational institutions should focus on improving the quality of education imparted to the lakhs of students, and stop short of moral policing is a point that seems to be repeated very often that the people who have to take note are missing frequently. Two news items that have appeared earlier this week in Bantwal and Uppinangady, both places in Dakshina Kannada, highlight a disquieting trend of increasing religious intolerance and how right wing extremists are blatantly using academia as a means to an end.

Aysha Asmin, a first-year student of Sri Venkataramana Swamy College, Bantwal, was given two options by her principal Seetharamayya --- ‘abide’ by the college rules or quit. That no such rules exist or were mentioned during the time of Aysha’s admission and the college union is managed by a right-wing group is not a mere coincidence. Similar objections raised by the college management at the Government First Grade College, Uppinangady, seem to have died down after Muslim girls have been permitted to wear a head scarf for the ‘time being’.

Religious intolerance has been on the rise and Dakshina Kannada has been its epicentre in South India. The banning of burqas and the graphic visuals of hooligans, backed by Pramod Muthalik’s Sri Ram Sene, beating up boys and girls in Mangalore in January this year, details a disturbing malice that is gaining currency.

The show-cause notice issued by the district deputy commissioner is a move in the right direction and it is expected that the Department of College Education would take punitive action against the college. The state home minister, V Acharya, who has backed the college decision citing ‘discipline’, has overlooked a simple norm that ‘discipline’ and order should not be imposed or attained at the cost of an individual’s freedom as enshrined in our Constitution.

The question to be asked is why is it that the Universities Grant Commission and the ministry of education have not taken cognisance of the issue if there is a ‘rule’ in the prospectus of the government-aided college banning students from wearing a burqa, as claimed by Seetharamayya. As the ban is a clear violation of the fundamental rights, the college should be reprimanded and not just smacked on the knuckle.

The college principal’s statement ridiculing religious freedom and that he was under pressure from certain organisations, coupled with the Mangalore University vice-chancellor K M Kaveriappa’s assurance to Aysha that he would secure an admission in any college of her choice, are confessions in public that the system has bowed to antics of right-wing groups.

That colleges, and universities in some cases, insist on a dress code alibi discipline, is a reflection of the lack of maturity in thought and blinkered vision that is spreading among educational institutions at an alarming rate.

(The edited version of this can be accessed at

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Teflon Bill takes a call

It is said that history repeats itself and it could not be more true in the case of the United States when former Democratic President Bill Clinton chose to travel more than 6,800 miles to meet America’s bête noire North Korean premier Kim Jong-Il in a meeting that the White House described as ‘solely a private mission’ to give a diplomatic hint to the release of two American journalists who were held, tried and punished in a manner that would pale banana republics elsewhere in the world.

Fifteen years ago, around the same time, Clinton, then president, had sent former president Jimmy Carter to North Korea to speak with the ‘Great Leader’. At both times Pyongyang’s used its nuclear programme as the carrot to lure the US.

The successful mission should be viewed as a personal and political triumph for Bill Clinton. From being increasingly seen as the husband of the secretary of state, though Hillary is yet to make a mark of her own in an Obama Administration full of influential White House aides, to a former president who has a diplomatic panache and international presence that cannot be ignored, Bill Clinton is all set to be in the spotlight if Obama’s press secretary Robert Gates’ statement that the two presidents are to get together ‘sometime soon’ is to be believed.

While the administration is still reeling in the triumph of what Obama described as an ‘extraordinary humanitarian effort’, critics have not taken kindly to the fact that the US has yielded to a rouge regime and in the event legitimised it. It is argued that the trip has portrayed Washington in poor light for kowtowing Jung-Il and would encourage other countries, like Iran, to use arm-twisting tactics in the future to meet their ends. These allegations, however, would not hold water as Clinton, a private man today, has gone in his personal capacity and has not billed the exchequer for the North Korea trip. He has tapped his business contacts and well-wishers of the William J Clinton Foundation. Moreover, the administration was quick to distance itself from the rescue mission with secretary of state Hillary Clinton reiterating that US policies towards North Korea ‘remain the same’.

What was the deal or the compromises made, if any, is not clear yet, but from either point of view it is a win-win settlement. For an ailing Kim Jung-Il, who wants to handover a powerful N-nation to his youngest son Kim Jong Un, the release is a propaganda gimmick and a masterstroke that would silence the voices of dissent in Pyongyang as well as reaffirm the power of his dynasty.

In the coming days it would be interesting to see if there is a shift in the stand either country adopts, or of any developments within North. There are also chances of Obama extending his ‘open hand’ all the way up to the Supreme People’s Assembly.