Is creative scholarship found only in research institutes? Across disciplines, the most notable names are teachers
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 produced by scholars who have primarily, if not exclusively, been teachers — Sibaji Bandyopadhyay, Suhas Palshikar, T.K. Ramachandran. Equally importantly, Mehta discounts the hundreds of serious scholars produced by teachers who, through their lectures, have introduced cutting edge philosophy and social science to students in places in India where even Economic and Political Weekly is difficult to come by, let alone international journals. These students then reach Delhi and Hyderabad and Pune and Kolkata, go on to do doctoral research, publish, and some may even join research institutes. Research institutes are not produced in isolation.
Second, if a thriving democratic culture pervades the Indian academy, it is hard won and daily battled for by thousands of teachers across universities, in constant conversation and quarrel with their students, in classrooms and outside. Whether combating religious right-wings or economic neoliberalism, or patriarchy and sexual harassment, it is teachers and students who drag