India has figured prominently on yet another not-so-flattering ranking. An international advocacy group that tracks assaults — both physical and mental — in the higher education sector in the world has bracketed India, Turkey and China as the top three countries with the highest number of reported assaults in the academic world.
‘Scholars at Risk’, a voluntary network based in New York University, has been cataloguing instances of strangulating academic freedom as well as physical violence unleashed in academic institutions in many countries for the last five years. It is worried the impact of these attacks extends far beyond tens of thousands of academics, students, and staff who were directly targeted. It fears these assaults shrink everyone’s space to think, question and share ideas freely and safely. The fifth edition of the report — titled Free to Think 2019 — compiled the attacks happened on the campuses between September 2018 and August 2019. What is perturbing is the fact that the number of attacks on the higher education community is on the rise. As against 294 attacks (47 countries) recorded in 2018, the total verified assaults were 324 this year from 56 countries.
The advocacy group admitted that the list was not exhaustive, as many more such cases go unreported, but gives a snapshot of the situation. It was particularly worried about the role played by the state — police, military forces and government authorities — in such heinous attacks. While the placement of Turkey and China, ruled by authoritarian regimes, was not entirely unexpected, the surge in onslaughts on academic community in India, the world’s largest democracy, is rather troubling.
The report, which devoted an entire chapter to describe the situation in India, quite candidly said there were elevated levels of attacks in India of late. Most of the attacks taken into account by the report, surprisingly were not those clashes between student groups aligned with different ideologies, but on students and scholars by state forces and non-state actors who have no links with higher education community. They also include the coercive legal actions and disciplinary measures initiated against students and academics whose ideas do not align with the ideas of those in power.
The writer is Senior Deputy Editor with BusinessLine