Noor Muhammad Bhat's detention raises questions that need answer
POINT OF VIEW BY RIYAZ AHMAD
There is some inherent paradox in the arrest of a teacher, even though arrest of teachers isn't such an uncommon occurrence. Google it and scores of such stories will turn up on screen. Rape, beating of the students, affair with a student, some odd counts of fraud are the invariable reasons for the teachers ending up behind bars. But one hardly finds a story that a teacher goes to jail for setting an 'anti-establishment' question paper. One could very well get away with the absolute conclusion that Gandhi college lecturer Noor Muhammad Bhat's case may be the first of its kind in the world. Hence it deserves all the attention it gets.
However, what makes this story bigger and loaded - from both journalistic as well as social point of view - is the larger freedom debate surrounding it. First is the academic freedom, however some of us may snort at the idea under the circumstances. Once assigned the job, does a teacher have freedom to set the paper he likes. Or are their any checks on this freedom. If so, are these checks in the form of some guidelines or a code of ethics. Or is this check in the form of some supervisory authority who takes a look at what the teacher has set. And if this is true then the responsibility of the teacher who frames the paper ceases and the one who supervises should take the stick. Buck, of course, should stop with the latter.
But in this case, it is the first person in this chain - and one with no power to ensure that his question paper goes to the actual examination - has been held to blame. Not only that, he has had to face the full fury of the state, being arrested in the full media glare to make a good example of him.
There is a bit of a question of academic freedom also here. But the debate over it can prove very slippery. For one, there are various dimensions to the academic freedom and it spans an entire gamut of individual and institutional roles the colleges and universities play. But fundamentally, it is a concept that expands the universe of an academic institution. An academic exercises his freedom when in the pursuit of an intellectual inquiry, he goes against the received wisdom. In a way, the academic freedom also seamlessly merges into the freedom of expression. At the same time, this freedom is not absolute.
But there is a basis on which the exercise or the transgression of this right can be judged: the individual or the institution's volitional role in this exercise or transgression. But the instant case raises a pertinent question. Is a question paper reflective of the ideology or the mindset of its setter? Or more to the point, do the questions that a teacher frames for an examination define him for us. Perhaps not. For the question paper by its very nature is not supposed to carry any independent meaning. It is meaningless. It does not qualify as an academic work, whileas a book, thesis or a paper does.
But in case of the 1st year English question paper for this year, it is proving quite difficult to separate the framer from the paper. He is attributed with dubious motives for setting the two controversial questions which landed him in jail. One, asking the examinees whether stone pelters are real heroes. And another - seen as the real provocation - asks them to translate into English a short Urdu paragraph that in a sharp anti-establishment tone graphically recounts the summer mayhem in Valley. It talks about the spilling of the ''warm blood of youth'', ''police and army pumping bullets into their chests'' and the government itself exhibiting little concern for the state of affairs. From its tone and tenor, the paragraph is more a description than intended as a support for any cause or ideology. And in all probability appears to be a straight lift from the editorial of an Urdu daily. In that sense, it could be a simple case of the teacher choosing convenience over hard work in framing the question paper.
One can conjure up many different case scenarios or motives for the teacher to arrive at these two questions. But let us also for a while grant the only motive that is believed by the government as also the Kashmir University to have been his sole reason for this action: that it was Bhat's way of taking on the state and spreading disaffection against the government. Moreover, a government singed by a violent summer has to have its nerve endings too raw not to panick at an incidental reminder of the nightmare. And that too from the quarters where it thought it was on the firm ground. And in this panic it went overboard with its response: raid the hapless teacher's house and send him to lock up, charge him with unlawful activities act with police later also getting a six day remand.
One hesitant question: was Bhat's crime beyond the institutional capacity of our highest seat of learning to deal with him directly. A routine official explanation or at the maximum the suspension - not for Bhat but the official or officials who okayed the paper - would have sent the same message across and with far less controversy and of course the bad taste. But government instead again chose to play Rambo. And in the process taking no time to unlearn the vital lesson it had with difficulty learnt towards the conclusion of five month long unrest. That in the end it was not the policy of killing teenagers on a daily basis that restored normalcy but a conscious decision not to do so, even when protesters burnt a police vehicle on Eid-ul-Azha.
Lastupdate on : Tue, 14 Dec 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 14 Dec 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 15 Dec 2010 00:00:00 IST
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