By Devika Dutt
In India, our universities are in ferment. A Dalit PhD scholar at the University of Hyderabad, Rohith Vemula, committed suicide after being targeted and systematically pushed out of the University by the administration and functionaries of the state government. The government is also considering policies to reduce public funding to universities. Because of this assault on educational institutions and because of the quashing of dissent, powerful protest demonstrations have been staged by student groups, especially by students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). This student campaign achieved a crescendo when some students held an event to mark the execution, under extremely controversial circumstances, of Afzal Guru, a convicted terrorist. Amnesty International also condemned the execution of Afzal Guru. In response, the government and allied institutions have tried to demonize the broader student movement and are prosecuting students for sedition. There have also been increasing calls to shut down the university for taking taxpayer money and then destabilizing the nation. This narrative is extremely problematic for several reasons.
We often think about progress in society on terms of how far we have come as the human race. We marvel at how innovations like the internet have changed the way we communicate and interact with each other. We can locate ourselves on this earth using a small device in the palm of our hand that can tell us how to get where we want to go. A disembodied voice from this device can probably tell you the answer the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and everything. The economist Marianna Mazzucato makes a compelling argument that the government, in this case the United States government, has played an important role in funding the people and institutions that have brought us this far. She argues that government has and should take risks, because no one else is likely to take risks and invest in the future of society because it does not pay immediate profitable dividends.