In one of the recent interactions with my students, wherein topic for discussion was objectives of contemporary higher education, one of the objectives which came under discussion was a university or higher education, in general, has a responsibility to create intellectual pioneers of the society. During the course of interaction when one of the students raised the question, Sir, who according to you can be considered as a public intellectual in our part of the world, astonishingly I could not name even one. That particular episode became the precursor for the present write-up. After leaving that particular class I was thinking is it really that we don’t produce public intellectuals in our society or we are unable to recognize them. During our student life, people whom we were looking as inspiration as public intellectual have ended up being hypocrites. As a society, we have been made to believe that intellectualism is something related to power and status. By that analogy, Ambanis are the best intellectuals in Asia, which really is not true. We believe that intellectuals are the custodians of society. These are people who always keep the interest of society above their own personal interest and they always speak truth to the power when perhaps nobody dares to speak. The real public intellectuals always have the guts and gumption to take on the powerful state machinery at the cost of their own self and come what may-these people raise questions in the society, for the society.
Another feature which probably all public intellectuals possess is that these people try to keep a distance from the establishment and keep evaluating the policies and programs of their respective governments with an independent mind and try to depict the true picture before the common masses of that particular society. Not only this, but public intellectuals equally speak about issues confronting a particular society irrespective of their caste, colour, region and religion. Also, it is equally true that these public intellectuals are pushed to the wall and are being at times mistreated both by society and state, but the fact of the matter is that these people neither bend nor compromise with their consciousness. As a society, we should accept the fact that we have failed collectively to produce a bunch of intellectuals who could have spoken when everybody keeps mum. The tragedy with our society is that our own people who in the garb of intellectualism always tried to elevate themselves for higher posts or positions whether political or administrative. There are a lot of people in and around us who have made a career both political and other out of tragedies of people in our society from the last twenty-thirty years. And see the shamelessness of these hypocritical pseudo-intellectuals, finally, when they reach to their aspired positions they endorse anything and everything of state and society they had been opposing so for. Their hypocrisies achieve another milestone when they lose their cherished posts due to circumstances, they start speaking the language of the masses yet again, shamelessly. As a society, we should always keep a vigil on these so-called intellectuals, because the only aim of these people is to grab the power, nothing else.
When we look into the possible reasons why as a society we have not been able to produce a handful of public intellectualisms, the part of the blame lies with our education system especially higher education institutions. As a system, we are up to produce conformist from our educational institutions and we never encourage a student who has the ability to question a teacher and society at large. Rather, those who have the ability to question they are being isolated and even singled out so that they don’t dare to question anymore. If we wish as a society to progress we have to make sure that our educational institutions must become breeding grounds for intellectualism which currently seems a far-fetched dream and the fact of the matter is that our higher education institutions have been turned into seas of mediocrity where intellectualism has no place whatsoever. We need to change this as early as possible and revive the integrity of our society, we need to do a lot more to go away with conformists, for living a healthy, prosperous, academic and life with intellect.
The author is Assistant Professor (Education), Government Degree College Ganderbal, Kashmir.