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Sangh Parivar targets K. N. Panikkar

By Our Special Correspondent

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM July 3. As the battle for secularism is being fought at different levels at the national level, K. N. Panikkar, renowned historian and staunch campaigner for secular values, is fighting his own battle against the Sangh Parivar in Kerala.

The Vice-Chancellor of the Sri Sankaracharya Sanskrit University, Dr. Panikkar, is being accused by the Parivar of having led the university to a doom, as proof for which they cite the University Grants Commission's denial of aid to the university for the second time. The UGC has not so far sent any formal communication to the university regarding denial of aid, but one of the members of the three-member UGC committee has been quoted by the local media as having stated that the panel had found the Sanskrit University ineligible for assistance under Section 12-B of the UGC Act.

The three-member panel, comprising Prof. S. P. Gadre of the Jawharlal Nehru University, Prof. Kudumb Sastry, Vice-Chancellor, National Sanskrit University, New Delhi, and Mr. T. R. Kem, Additional Secretary, UGC, had visited the university on May 2. The committee is reported to have found the university ineligible for funding on account of the ``relative insignificance'' of Sanskrit in its curriculum, non-appointment of nine Deans of faculties and a Chief Academic Counsellor as envisaged in the University Act, ``insignificant representation'' for Sanskrit in the Academic Council and non-establishment of a Department of Indology.

The non-appointment of the Chief Counsellor has been taken particular note of as appointment of a ``Sanskrit scholar of international repute'' to the post to advise the university on academic matters is a statutory provision.

The ``report'' also notes that though the objective of the university is promotion of Sanskrit, Indology, Indian philosophy and Sanskrit-related Indian languages, the Faculty of Sanskrit has only one department as against the 12 departments under the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and that though the university is supposed to promote study of Indian languages interlinked to Sanskrit, it now has only Malayalam, Hindi and Urdu departments. The panel has also ``found'' that little effort is being made for publication of ancient books and manuscripts.

The Parivar had all along held Dr. Panikkar ineligible to be the Vice-Chancellor as he did not belong to a Sanskrit discipline. The UGC ``report'' has, therefore, been welcomed by them. In an editorial page article in a prominent Malayalam daily, the RSS ideologue in Kerala, P. Parameswaran, has used the UGC ``report'' to question the ``wisdom'' of allowing Dr. Panikkar to continue in the post and predicted ``certain doom'' for the university if the present situation was allowed to continue, a warning clearly aimed at the State Government.

However, the Parivar appears to have ignored several important academic and infrastructural initiatives that Dr. Panikkar successfully launched at the university and the gaping holes in the purported findings of the UGC panel. The first thing that Dr. Panikkar did on assuming office was to streamline the examination calendar. Earlier, university examinations were held six to eight months late and as a result students lost one to two years. With the introduction of a strict academic regime, examinations are now being held at the end of every semester.

The admission procedure has also been completely revamped. The university now conducts an admission test in May every year which is open to even those who are appearing for their qualifying examination.

As a result, the number of applicants for all post-graduate courses has increased considerably. Admission to M.Phil. and Ph.D is also based on a test. An important innovation that Dr. Panikkar brought into the Ph.D programme was the compulsory residential qualification for all students. While doing the residential programme, the students are required to do course work. It is only after the completion of the course work that students are confirmed to the Ph.D programme.

The university has introduced a credit and grading system for all post-graduate and research courses, the first university in Kerala to do so. It has also introduced several new courses during the last two years such as Comparative Literature, Theatre and Music at the post-graduate level and Translation Studies and Manuscriptology at the M.Phil. level. Contrary to what is being alleged by the Parivar spokespersons, it has taken the initial steps to start courses in Sankhyayoga, Poorvamimamsa and Cultural Studies.

The university had earlier taken up recording of Sama Veda chanting and this work has now been completed. The university is part of the UNESCO project on Koodiyattom for which it has been receiving grant.

The university has undertaken, with assistance from the Central Government, a documentary on Koodiyattom, the purest form of Sanskrit dance drama, and done documentation of various aspects of Koodiyattom in collaboration with the Kerala State Film Development Corporation. Work on the Koothambalam at the university headquarters at Kalady was completed using the internal resources of the university. An academic block, an activity centre and a hostel for boys are all in the making.

The university has one of the best library in the State. It is fully computerised and subscribes to about 200 journals on language, literature, culture, fine arts and social sciences.

Commenting on the UGC panel's reported findings, Dr. Panikkar told The Hindu that the university had not just one Sanskrit department, as found by the UGC panel, but five. Four of these were departments of Sahitya, Vedanta, Nyaya and Vyakarana, the fifth being a department dealing with ``Other Studies'' covering such areas as Vastuvidya and Ayurveda. Besides, the university also had a School of Vedic Studies. ``This should show that the committee's reported observations are extraneous to the eligibility criteria,'' he said.

The university, he said, was yet to receive any query from the UGC about the ``findings'' of its panel.

``This is actually an impropriety. If the panel had any specific finding on which it needed clarification, it should have informed the university. For instance, the question of appointing a Chief Academic Counsellor. It is for the Government to appointment a person to the post. The post is ceremonial and everybody knows why it was created. If it was so essential, why was no appointment made to the post at the time of the university's formation in 1993 or later,'' he asked and added that the UGC panel should have actually recommended scrapping of the provision from the Act.

On the panel's views on the absence of a Department of Indology, Dr. Panikkar said that such a department had no relevance as Indology as a discipline was a colonial legacy. As for the non-appointment of Deans, he said the university had invited applications to these posts two years ago, but could not proceed further on account of a Government ban on fresh recruitment. Unlike in other universities, the post of Dean was not honorary but a full-time paid one, he pointed out.

``There is absolutely no basis for the charge that there has been a dilution of the objectives of the university. We have gone by the Act to the best of our ability and a UGC grant would have helped us achieve whatever we lack today. But, what can one do when the criteria for evaluating the university ceases to be objective,'' Dr. Panikkar asked.

Dr. Panikkar is not first to become the target of the Sangh Parivar in Kerala. Writers Madhavikkutty (Kamala Das), Paul Zacharia and Sachidanandan have at various points of time found themselves at the receiving end of vitriolic attack from the Parivar.

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