“Make the Collegial Spaces Safe”

safe nonclassroom spaces are important in university

In the morning of October 6, Mr. Prem Chalaune, teacher at the Central Department of Sociology, was violently attacked by some youths, allegedly the student leaders or hired by them, within the premises of the Tribhuvan University. He had taught our batch for three semesters. Mr. Chalaune may not be the first person to be physically assaulted inside the university campus, but the way he was beaten with iron rods and whatnot, and sustained multiple injuries, made me feel sad not just because somebody I knew was hurt but for an intimidating message it sent to all of us. Notwithstanding that it is a specific incident that shows how far the student organizations can go in any direction to defend or augment their mother parties’ influence, this brazen act of aggression is the direct result of separate and combined party politics of students, teachers and officials.

I have studied in government campuses twice, and have rarely seen college politicians rioting for social justice or working in tandem with the stakeholders to enhance the academic environment. I have seen them waving swords, burning down a lab, and passing slights to the teachers and officials. While I was giving undergraduate exams in Padma Kanya Campus, my friend from the party was sipping coffee in a café, somebody else was sitting in the exam on his behalf. He almost topped the class. When I attended the university campus, it was the politicking of both, teachers and students, who would machinate subtly against each other, and bluntly slandered. With careers hinged in party politics, there is nothing much for the teachers to do inside the university. Either they have to give full allegiance to a party or have to work as consultants for the governmental and nongovernmental powers in claims to solve the dominant social demands. One has to waste time and energies to seek favors from each other and from the parties for benefits including permanent hiring and promotion. This formaldehyde of patron-client relationship has infected everyone, even the person who openly criticizes the political meddling is compelled to secretly ask for favors.

It is said that university is the bastion of free speech. One can easily conjecture from the dominance of the parties that speech has to be conducive to the agendas and plans of the party, and any deviation can come with a price. The attack on Mr. Chalaune is one proof that speaking one’s mind inside the campus can be life threatening. Furthermore, it has become hard for many students, teachers and officials to openly and publicly denounce this attack because of the fear that the alleged attackers would retaliate someday in the future. If there is no freedom of speech, to call the set of activities conducted by the sister organizations active inside the university as “politics” is a misnomer. To call “politics” in the university, one has to be allowed to learn about facts, opinions, interests and perspectives of others in an atmosphere free of coercion and inequalities that would incline individuals to acquiesce or be silent. It is not a surprise that campus organizations remain mute in the pressing issues of social justice. In recent incident of violence against Dalit youths in Rukum, I asked the student leaders whether we could launch massive street protests. Finally, only the handful of Dalit students turned up for the series of “peaceful” protests in Kirtipur. It was never heard that teacher organizations or that of clerks ever denounced the massacre. The university is becoming more and more depoliticized, and is contributing less and less to the society’s utopian ideals.

It’s been perennial of many intellectuals in Kathmandu to give answers to the question of what a university should be like or how we can reform it. The answers range from the complete ban of political parties inside the university premises to the discontinuation of political appointments. They prescribe critical thinking, research and publication of journals, and regular talks, seminars, and interaction programs. Many misleadingly demand that universities provide useful and “technical” education with which one can easily get a job. It is a challenge to reform the university to replace the brazen activities of the sister organizations by the intelligent and uncoercive political environment. For a university even without basic amenities like proper lavatories and drinking water, it is also equally challenging to push it as a qualitatively driven research and journal manufactory. In doing so, it can also fall into a neoliberal trap where a quantitative set of achievements are valorized. Not long ago, when we asked about the task of university to one head of department for a YouTube interview, he answered the sole task was to run regular tuitions. From my experience as a student, the task of university is to create more spaces, not just the classrooms, where students can engage in spontaneous and informal conversations with each other and the teachers without the metaphysical hierarchy or separation, and feel safe and secure to stay long time chatting with each other inside the university premises. These places, cafeterias, libraries, passages, parks etc., can become more important learning spaces than the classrooms themselves. The basic idea is to attract and glue the students and teachers to the university, not to discourage and displace from it. When I was studying, me and my friends used to come to the university just to attend lectures, and as soon as the lectures ended, we used to rush to our homes. The university has to become welcoming, create safe spaces and environment where students and teachers can stay longer hours.

This attack on Mr. Chalaune should be an alarming call to all the stakeholders of the university. If the root-and-branch reform of the university can be only attained gradually, at least, for the time being, make the spaces inside the campuses safe and secure where one can walk, sit and talk freely.




sociological noir

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