Recently, a veteran journalist, Muzamil Jaleel, posted a stimulating observation on his Facebook timeline: "We have around nine thousand PhDs in political science, history, anthropology, and allied fields. This is in addition to our known professors, etc. We should have had at least a few hundred good papers, anthologies, essays, etc. in this one year especially when the two lockdowns had provided enough time to do so…Apart from a handful of academics (which includes a tiny number of scholars who are working abroad) who wrote, there is nothing. If our current situation doesn't push scholars towards serious work, what will?" A quick search of the content available on some leading websites hosting or cataloguing reputed journals and books verifies his observation. Although over the past few years, a handful of early career researchers and academics have got their works published by reputed publishing houses, quantitatively-speaking this research output is insignificant when compared with the number of PhD holders we have.
We wish to state that the purpose of this article is not to make generalizations or to deride our young researchers or to assert our expertise. To make sense of new realities and to arouse rational response, it is essential to understand the nature of the problem. Unless we understand a problem, we would not be able to respond. That is precisely the objective we kept in mind before putting forward our arguments.
Academic research is helpful in reinforcing critical thinking and evolution of an enlightened society. While a lot of people have misgivings about the role of the academia, it needs to be understood that since researchers follow proper methodology to understand society―which they are also a part of―and societal issues, they have the ability to enhance our understanding and search for possible solutions, mainly through their works. Research publications are important markers of the progress of a researcher, a discipline, and a society.
Now, let us turn to the subject we intend to highlight, that is, the dearth of quality publications in J&K. One of the major reasons seems to be the lack of interest and seriousness among researchers to add something useful to the existing body of knowledge. A large chunk of post-graduates usually takes up research as, prior to stepping into the field, the world of doctoral candidates appears glamorous. A doctorate degree surely elevates one's status in the society and entitles him/her to sinecure jobs later on. Many, therefore, enroll themselves in substandard private and government universities. Interested mostly in getting their hands on a degree, they often resort to plagiarism. For the mandatory publication, as stipulated in the UGC Regulations, they turn to run-of-the-mill journals and publishing houses.
Sadly, some researchers, instead of focusing entirely on research, for which they receive stipends from the government, simultaneously prepare for other, non-research exams. This kills the very purpose of research. In both the above scenarios, as it turns out, the researchers do not take PhD as a commitment. Thus, a small though unquantifiable percentage is what could be called 'serious' researchers who not only work towards their own personality development but also intend to benefit the society at large.
A whole host of other problems tend to disincentivize even those who join research programs as potentially promising researchers. Perhaps the major issue is that they don't receive proper training from their supervisors who ought to polish their raw talent and turn them into professional scholars. There is no system in place that would place supervisors under the scanner and make them do their mentoring job diligently. Many, though not all, supervisors tend to overawe their protégés rather than facilitate a conducive atmosphere for mutual understanding, debate, and dissent. Critical thinking is seldom allowed even at the elementary, secondary, and college levels. When the flaws begin from the basic level and exist all the way up to the highest one, how would our poorly schooled students turn into brilliant research scholars?
Further, the recruitment policy is to blame. While UGC Regulations oblige a researcher to have at least one published paper before he/she could submit his/her thesis, recruiting agencies such as the JKPSC have also prioritized the quantity of papers over quality. This criterion has led to a spurt in the number of predatory journals. Added to this is the time-consuming process of getting published in peer-reviewed journals, which may sometimes take as long as two to three years. Together with the problem of inadequate funding, research scholars are compelled to compromise with quality.
We suffer the additional misfortune of belonging to a conflict-ridden society where peace of mind is an elusive desire. The political disarray hardly allows our educational institutions to function normally. Laboratories, libraries, and archival repositories often remain in operational for indefinite periods of time making it impossible to conduct lab experiments or tap documentary sources. The post-5 August clampdown and the ongoing pandemic has worsened the situation further.
Stemming from the political instability, job security issues as well as fear of repercussions play a great part in holding back researchers from working on critical themes. For instance, barring a few premier institutions, most universities in the country, including the universities in J&K, don't entertain Kashmiri researchers intending to work on the conflict-related themes. Writing on the conflict, which basically involves writing against the state, is discouraged. Thus, most are often compelled to go for rather conventional topics. Only those who are lucky enough to get enrolled in foreign universities get the chance of becoming our voice. One can argue that this is the major reason why we mostly see foreign-based Kashmiris, untouched by the repressive states apparatuses, critiquing the state and contributing a wide range of scholarship on diverse themes.
What needs to be done?
To begin with, we at individual and societal level need to be candid enough to admit our shortcomings first. To fix things, we must utilize the services of well-known academicians, researchers, and scholars both from within Kashmir and from among the Kashmiri diaspora elsewhere. Established teachers in colleges and universities need to rise to the occasion, come up with constructive suggestions, and contribute at the grassroots level by using their own scholarship. Even small sacrifices at this critical juncture of our existence would pay rich dividends for future generations.
Our problems need a collective effort. As Majid Maqbool (a Kashmiri journalist) commented, collaborating academics 'can make meaningful interventions…to produce critical scholarship and informed commentary especially in a number of general readership publications…from where such scholarship can find a wider audience.' This collaboration can essentially start top down. Those scholars who have already made an impact in their respective fields should take aboard the young researchers, guide them, hone their skills, and help them grow. Co-authorship is a good way forward. Next comes the question of recognition and visibility. This could be done through citation and amplification, as Nitasha Kaul, a Kashmiri novelist and academic, suggests. She insists on the vitalness of the support Kashmiri scholars could receive through academic networks created by Kashmiri scholars worldwide.
We need to borrow from globally-reputed institutes and emulate their research patterns. We must make use of modern technology in streamlining the research outcome. While making a name for oneself is no sin, our scholars need to be open-minded about the aspirations of others too. The hidden talent of our youngsters needs to be unleashed; our established scholars must come forward and guide others to encourage innovation and creativity in research. It is imperative to put these ideas into practice while we still can.
Authors are independent Kashmiri researchers