Problems arising with reservations can be sorted out if quality education is made available, says historian

Noted historian Romila Thapar has linked the increasing demand for ban on books of alternate views to sub-identities like religion, caste and tribe turning into primary identities of people.

“Our identity at the time of Independence was an all-inclusive Indian identity. But over the years sub-identities like religion, caste and tribe have turned into primary identities. This is part of the reason why there is a repeated recourse to expressions of ‘hurt sentiments’ by persons claiming to speak for the community,” she said. It has become a ploy to ban books related to alternate views and that make people think differently, she said, while delivering the University of Hyderabad (UoH) convocation address in Hyderabad on Monday.

Stressing the need for quality education, Prof. Thapar said the problems arising with reservations can be sorted out to some extent if quality education is made available. What started as affirmative action is now spiralling out unendingly, and legitimate demands from underprivileged groups cannot be met merely by increasing the quota as it stymies the existing educational functioning.

Need for debate

She felt that expansion of reservation quotas is less effective as a social investment without backup of quality education for all, and without it being set in an improved socio-economic index. The right of every child to education has to be accompanied with a massive programme of building small schools in the neighbourhoods of the underprivileged and not just in upper class localities.

The content being taught requires exposure and debate, she said. However, in the current teaching habits, the quality of textbooks dictate either the opening or closing of the student’s mind. For example, the emphasis exclusively on the culture of majority community, excluding others, closes the minds of many, she pointed out.

Prof. Thapar called for rationalising many ‘substandard’ universities, both State-funded and private and ridiculed the belief that some subjects are redundant and can be axed from the curriculum. “No subject is redundant, especially now with the emphasis on inter-disciplinary approach. Integration of science with social sciences is a matter of extreme urgency, given the speed with which technology is making unforeseeable changes in social life and culture,” she said.

Indian scholars working in Indian universities have not produced a Nobel laureate in many decades. And yet when Indian scholars work abroad, there are some laureates and this has to do with up-to-date facilities for research besides freedom to think autonomously, the noted historian added.

Doctorates conferred

The university conferred Honorary Doctorates on noted writer Mahasweta Devi, academic M.S. Narasimhan, mathematician C.S. Seshadri, former UoH VC and linguist Bhadriraju Krishnamurti (posthumously), civil servant Ashok Vajpeyi, and academics Joseph E. Stiglitz, Rudolph A. Marcus and Krishna Sobti (in absentia). UoH Chancellor C.H. Hanumantha Rao presented certificates to graduates and gold medals to the toppers.

Earlier, when Vice-Chancellor, Ramakrishna Ramaswamy, was presenting the university report, some members of teachers’ association displayed posters questioning ‘why the land title for UoH has not been obtained so far’ from the government.

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