Those who can, teach
Why do social sciences in India thrive best outside the university system, asks Pratap Bhanu Mehta, (‘Rigour in the margins’, IE, November 15), lamenting that India’s most creative writers and social scientists (with the honourable exception of history) have been housed in research institutes cut off from students. Surely this self-congratulatory myth-making has to stop? This constant devaluing of teaching and the refusal to recognise the heavy odds that undergraduate and postgraduate teachers work against while still producing world-quality research, accompanied by mutual back-patting between a handful of Boys’ Club members that has become common sense across the media, because the Boys’ Club has clout in the media.
First, is it true that creative scholarship emanates only from research institutes? Certainly names can be named, justifiably awe-inspiring names — Rajni Kothari, Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee. But take a minute to scan scholarship across disciplines other than history (which Mehta concedes does not fit his claim) — multi-disciplinary feminist work, sociology, literary studies, political science, economics — almost every name that springs to mind is a teacher: Sharmila Rege, Veena Das, Alok Rai, Zoya Hasan, Sudipta Kaviraj, Prabhat Patnaik. I invite those literate in social science scholarship to continue the exercise and reflect on the tenability of Mehta’s claim, especially when many high-profile members of research institutes neither teach nor publish.
Of course, Mehta is ignorant of the academic writing (not just newspaper pieces) in Indian languages