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Dr. Sandeep Pandey

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When the only cause for elation, even a smile in the morning, is news of the release of an innocent detainee with the words that his detention ‘was bad in law’, then democracy is indeed staring at its nadir.

Priyanka Gandhi called Dr. Kafeel after his release. We would have liked to call the judges who delivered this judgment. Why? For doing their duty? For upholding a fundamental principle of the law? That a man is innocent until proved guilty? But how many judges are doing their duty today? If they were, would Sharjeel Imam, Devangana Kalita (who was indeed granted bail on one of several charges) and numerous others be rotting behind bars? Here we do not even talk of the Bhima Koregaon/Elgaar Parishad case in which many intellectuals, journalists, advocates, professors and human rights defenders are in jail on charges similar to those levelled against Dr. Kafeel Khan.

Dr. Kafeel’s is no ordinary case. Accusations made against him were never really about the ‘incendiary’ speech he is supposed to have made at Aligarh Muslim University. It is well known that the deep corruption and mismanagement of a hospital in Gorakhpur where sixty children lost their lives for lack of oxygen, was brought to light when the man in charge—Kafeel Khan—disclosed the fact that earlier bills for cylinders were kept pending despite his repeated reminders resulting in total unavailability of oxygen in the hospital. He was never forgiven for this and it was only a matter of time before the predator pounced on the prey. He was arrested in 2017 for dereliction of duty and being engaged in private practice.

Dr. Kafeel Khan after his release from jail

In 2018, Dr. Khan was released on bail as the court did not find him guilty of medical negligence. When a departmental inquiry cleared him of all charges a fresh inquiry was initiated clearly suggesting that there was more to this case than met the eye.The Uttar Pradesh government got another opportunity to nab him after his speech at AMU in December 2019 during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens movement when he was accused of promoting hatred and violence between different groups. The UP police who have proved to be a total failure in controlling the situation of law and order within the state, displayed great alacrity in arresting Dr. Kafeel Khan from Mumbai and bringing him to Aligarh from where he was shifted to the Mathura jail. He was charged with threatening the peace and tranquillity of Aligarh. Before he could be released on bail after an order of Chief Judicial Magistrate in Aligarh, the administration slapped the National Security Act on him which further continued his incarceration. The State Advisory Board extended his period of custody under the NSA.

It finally took a Division bench of two High Court judges Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Saumitra Dayal Singh to set aside his detention as well as extension terming them unsustainable in the eye of the law, clearing the way for his release. What the police thought was a provocative speech, the Judges described as ‘a call for national integrity and unity.’ What can be a more stark example of the venality of police action. The police’s role has been damaging to the self-esteem of this professional service. Dr. Kafeel Khan has proved that he is a dedicated and conscientious paediatrician and it is unfortunate that the government instead of using his services in a time of pandemic, chose to keep him in jail.

Watch the Episode- 226 of Third Eye on Dr. Kafeel Khan

All judges are aware of the fate of Justice B.H. Loya, who died under mysterious circumstances in 2014 when he was hearing the case of the (fake) encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh in which Amit Shah was an accused, and of Justice S. Muralidhar who was transferred to High Court of Punjab and Haryana on the night of the day that he took Delhi police to task for not registering a First Information Reports against three Bharatiya Janata Party leaders who had made provocative speeches which were followed by communal riots in Delhi in February, 2020. Also the prospect of rewards for ‘services rendered’ at all times looms large and indeed comes to fruition as we have recently witnessed. It takes a Dushyant Dave to (want to) say to a retiring judge: “May I pray to Lord Mahabaleshwar to bless you with strength to introspect and stir up your conscience.” (Indian Express, September 3) As we know, though invited to the function as the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, he was not permitted to speak at Justice Arun Mishra’s farewell. This was immediately after the contempt of court case against Prashant Bhushan in which Dave was Bhushan’s advocate pleading before a bench presided over by Justice Mishra.

Thus whereas politicians and members of the public – those members that care – are quick to cry out against witch hunts and vendetta politics, we write in the belief that it is also necessary to salute those in the legal system who are willing to speak truth to power and deliver the sort of justice the citizens of this country deserve. It will take another set of intrepid judges to not only reinstate Dr. Kafeel Khan in his job, but even more consequentially, to set aside the case under NSA against him.If this happens, it could serve as a precedent, setting in motion the release of other innocents in jails.

We commend the Allahabad High Court judges for preventing gross injustice at a time when the public perception of the independence of the judiciary is under a dark cloud of mistrust.

May their tribe increase!

(By Sandeep Pandey and Mohini Mullick)
Note: Sandeep Pandey is Vice President, Socialist Party (India) and Mohini Mullick is former Professor of Humanities at Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.  

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It is unusual for a bright young scholar like Amrendra Narayan, with a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics from Mississippi State University, preceded and followed by research stints at Indian Institutes of Technology at Kanpur and Mumbai, respectively, to go and work at a relatively little known Veer Kunwar Singh University in a small town Arrah of Bihar near his native place. His own family and friends would have probably dissuaded him from going to Arrah and for good reasons. After working there for three years he was physically assaulted on campus on 13 August, 2020, by one Vivek Kumar alias Jitendra Pandey, who hangs around in the University without any formal affiliation there.

            It appears that a section of people with the University were not happy with the reforms that Amrendra was trying to bring about in the prevalent ‘academic’ culture there. Using his technological capabilities, the University created a Computer Centre facility for computerized result preparation saving crores of rupees and freeing it from the clutches of private agencies and from external and internal manipulation. His biggest attack was on plagiarism. He introduced software to detect plagiarism which made it difficult to obtain an easy Ph.D. from the University. In his attempt to rid the system of higher education of the malpractices and corruption by strictly implementing the University Grants Commission norms, he shook the entire set up.

            The Vice Chancellor was supportive of his efforts in the beginning because of which Amrendra was able to accomplish a number of things. But after the assault incident, the VC has decided to go mum.

            The scenario at University in Arrah is not an exception. To a lesser and greater extent all the malpractices here can be found in any academic institution in other places too. Using unfair means in examinations is very common and is a collaborative exercise in many places with students, parents, teachers, and management of school or college, education department officials, administrative officers and people’s representatives all colluding. It is an important factor responsible for fall in quality of education activity at educational institutions. Students of renowned institutions like King George Medical University, Lucknow and IIT, Banaras Hindu Univeristy have been caught impersonating for candidates in respective entrance examinations in exchange for money. Incidents of plagiarism have been reported at very reputed institutions too. Erudite economist Jean Dreze accused IIT Kanpur Associate Professor in Economics, Somesh Kumar Mathur, of having completely copied one of his articles published in Economic and Political Weekly when Mathur was a Ph.D. student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Mathur just added a section to Dreze’s article and published it in another journal in his name. Inspite of charges of plagiarism in other works, Mathur continues to serve the IIT Kanpur.

            What is probably a rarity at IIT is a common practice at universities like the Veer Kunwar Singh. Dishonesty in research and teaching is rampant. The practice perpetuates from one generation to another. Any intervention to rectify the malfunctioning is likely to receive a violent pushback as experienced by Amrendra Narayan.

            Campus violence is also not uncommon. From carrying the feudal-casteist disputes from the rural hinterland to academic campuses, clashes between student groups more for asserting their dominance than for any ideological reasons, giving vent to their frustration against any attempt to discipline them by indulging in vandalism have been common incidences. Banaras Hindu University at Varanasi closing down sine die after campus violence was an expected annual event before the University decided to ban students union elections. This January we have seen masked gang going on rampage in JNU campus. A rowdy group forcibly entered the Gargi College in Delhi in February and molested girl students in a shameful act.

            Most of our institutions of higher learning have no pretensions of being the ideal centres of learning and scholarship. Inspite of high numbers involved in higher education India has a poor record in research. It is no surprise that no scholar working in an Indian institution has received a Nobel prize till date. The quality of research also reflects in the economy. The manufacturing in India is highly dependent on foreign designs and imported materials and products. China has infiltrated the Indian market to such an extent that in spite of our wish to boycott Chinese goods because of its infringement of Indian territory we’re unable to do so. The Prime Minister may dream of an Atmanirbhar Bharat, the fact is we cannot do without external help, whether of finance or technology. A recent trend is even governments hire foreign consultants to advise them on matters of domestic policy.

            It is quite clear that India has not taken its education seriously. Education is a ritual to be completed for upward social and economic mobility. The ultimate objective is to possess a degree irrespective of any capability acquired through the process of education. The more smart among the educated use their knowledge or skills to make money for themselves, legally or illegally. Corruption in India is a product of the educated. Education is disconnected from social reality and does not even attempt to solve the real problems of our country. Corruption, violence and mediocrity are endemic to Indian education system. The system is deeply entrenched intertwined with powerful vested interests.

            However, if the policy makers want an overhaul of the education system, as is desired in the recently released New Education Policy, the reality would have to be confronted. Some people will have to stem the rot. This will definitely involve risks as Amrendra’s example has shown. But the wider society and at least the intellectual academic community will have to support persons who attempt to reform the system and not abandon them.

Rona Wilson is a prison rights activist who has been in jail since April 2018 and denied bail several times. The Pune Police raided his home in Delhi on April 17, 2018, and arrested him subsequently for his alleged role in the Bhima Koregaon violence in January that year. A few months later, the agencies also accused him of being part of a larger naxal plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a Rajeev Gandhi style and overthrow the current government. To substantiate their claims, the agencies allegedly produced some letter from his laptop which cyber-forensic experts believe could have been maliciously planted through malware. Nonetheless, this grave accusation was enough to land him in prison without any bail.

Rona is a founding member of the CRPP – the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners. CRPP provides legal aid to people accused in terrorism cases and booked under repressive laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and National Security Act. Rona is reported to have been working for the release of political prisoners since the early 2000s. In the words of Meena Kandasamy, a feminist writer and activist, “People like Rona represent the last frontier, the last line of defense that dissidents have. They could feel safe knowing that people like Rona will take up your cause; that they will campaign for your freedom.” Now with an ardent campaigner like Rona behind bars, Kandasamy questions if others will also be condemned to silence. 

Many activists have alleged that the government had framed these activists to shield the Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide who were accused of mobilizing an attack on the Bhima Koregaon memorial event, which attracts large Dalit crowds on January 1 every year to celebrate the anniversary of a stunning victory of a lower-caste Mahar regiment of the British army over the upper-caste Peshwas in 1818. Over the years this event has become a symbol of Dalit-Bahujan’s assertion against the draconian caste system of India.

Many who know Rona personally have been pained to witness this deplorable attempt of the government to harass this defender of the most vulnerable prisoners in India. In the opinion of renowned author Arundhati Roy, not much has been written about Rona as he is “low-key” in his disposition. Professor G. Haragopal described him as an erudite and hardworking scholar with a strong moral compass. Rona’s commitment towards his values is uncompromising, and the activist’s moral universe is based on the “larger concerns of the poor people, concerns of the prisoners, concerns of the tribals,” reports the Caravan. 

The second writer of this article had seen him with late Delhi University Professor Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, an accused in the Parliament attack case of 2001. Geelani was first given a death sentence but later acquitted by the Delhi High Court in 2003 for lack of any evidence against him. Supreme Court upheld the decision. It was after the acquittal and release from jail after 22 months of Professor Geelani that CRPP was formed with Amit Bhattacharyya as Secretary General, S.A.R. Geelani as Vice President and Rona Wilson as Secretary, Public Relations as a need was felt for a body to work for the release of increasing number of persons who were being incarcerated for political reasons. This trend has never reversed and today we see a large number of political prisoners in jail and laws like UAPA being made more stringent to cast a larger net to nab such individuals who the establishment considers a threat. Except for the period when Emergency was imposed in India, probably never before so many intellectuals, writers, advocates, journalists, scholars, students and activists have been in jail as today. Emergency was imposed for two years and people targeted by the Indira Gandhi regime were in jail for a duration of less than two years. Under the current dispensation some people are now lodged in jail for more than two years. The attempt by the state is to silence every dissenter so that there is no criticism of majoritarian politics. Four such dissidents have been silenced by direct assassinations in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Needless to say these phenomena will have a chilling effect and citizens will feel threatened to raise a voice against injustice. Contempt of court proceedings against Prashant Bhushan is another case in point. The need for human rights bodies like CRPP and for activist like Rona Wilson has never been greater.

Before his arrest, Rona was in the process of heading abroad for his Ph.D. He had applied to the University of Surrey and the University of Leicester to pursue his doctorate. Even in jail, his quest for further studies never got extinguished and is still alight with hope and optimism. He has urged his family members to remain in touch with the faculty-in-charge at both the foreign universities and to apprise them of his precarious situation in India. His letter in this regard also mentioned his proposed thesis: “The Fiction of the Muslim Other: State, Law and The Politics of Naming in Contemporary India” writes Aathira Konikkara. 

The imprisonment of this bright scholar of our country is condemnable. The state must either prove its grave charges against him conclusively or set him free along with all other political prisoners.

In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic threat a raging debate is going on at present regarding the holding of the Joint Entrance Examination Mains, the preliminary examination required to be cleared for admission to prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology and other engineering and technology institutions, during 1-6 September, 2020, by the National Testing Agency, in which 8,58,273 candidates are to appear. Subsequently a JEE Advanced will be held for 2-2.5 lakhs candidates selected from the abovementioned for final admission to IITs and other institutions. Some students approached the court with an objective to get the JEE Mains postponed but court has decided to support the NTA’s decision to conduct the examination. Now there is pressure being exerted through various channels including leaders of Bhartiya Janata Party and its allies for the postponement of this examination.

            Some IIT professors think the examination should be postponed in view of the imminent threat of COVID-19, some think only one round of examination should be conducted and some are suggesting innovative alternatives like Professor Kannan M. Moudgalya of IIT Bombay, through an article in Indian Express, has suggested postponing the examination by two years and allowing the students to enroll in a branch of their choice in any engineering college during the interim and use NPTEL/SWAYAM video courses to study. Professor P.R.K. Rao, formerly of IIT Kanpur, has suggested an admission process without entrance examinations in which students seeking admission to IITs would not be eligible for non-IIT engineering institutions and vice-versa. Students seeking admission to IITs will be allowed to specify a maximum preference order of 2-3 IITs with a maximum preference order of 2 branches. Students admitted to IITs will give an undertaking that they will withdraw from the programme if their performance falls below a specified level. Admission process will follow a first-come-first-served rule in a fixed time frame.

            There are 23 IITs now in the country, one in each state in mainland India except for Uttar Pradesh which has two and for the entire Northeast and Sikkim there is only one in Guwahati. There are total of 15,53,809 seats available in 3,289 engineering colleges of India which are recognized by All India Council for Technical Education. The ideal situation is one where nobody who has an aspiration to study engineering is denied admission. The number of students appearing in JEE Mains held two times a year is about the same as number of seat available in all engineering colleges. Hence, it is physically possible to accommodate each aspirant without conducting any examination for elimination.

            Each of the 23 IITs should take responsibility for assigning seats available in their state (region, in the case of Northeast and Sikkim) to the students from their state (region). For example IITs at Kanpur and Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi will take responsibility for allotting 1,42,972 seats available in 296 colleges of UP to students from UP. Of course, any excess students in any state will have an opportunity to fill vacant seats in a state of their choice.

            Considering that 15,53,809 (equal to number of seats available) students have to be offered admission, each IIT’s burden will be about 67,557 students. Assuming that there are an average of 200 faculty members at each IIT, each faculty member over a 15 minutes one-on-one interview during 8 hours a day on an online platform, after verifying the identity of the student, can interview all the 338 students in his/her share in ten and a half days evaluation process. This evaluation process will essentially determine capability of the student and accordingly allot him/her to an institution whose rigour can be matched by student’s capability. The choice of branch of study should be left to the student. The selection process should be mindful of allotment of appropriate number of reserved seats to students from that category in each institution. A good proportion of girl students should also be allotted to each institution to maintain the gender balance to the extent possible. This one online interview will replace the JEE Mains, JEE Advanced and the counseling which decides the Institute and Branch choice for admission.

            This seat allotment process will be subjective as different faculty members at different IITs interview different set of students and individual inclinations will come into play. A deterrent to selecting an undeserving candidate for a seat will the public knowledge about who selected whom displayed on the particular IIT’s website. To exclude the possibility of individual biases panels can be formed, which will obviously be interviewing a larger number of students. But it is important that all faculty members are involved to share the load. As a correction mechanism, just as there is provision for branch change within an institution at the end of first year depending on the performance of initial year, an opportunity can be given to the students to change their institute based on their performance. Hence a student who was not allotted an IIT in the first year can by his/her hard work move from a private college or state engineering college or a National Institute of Technology to an IIT in the second year. For a student not sufficiently prepared a reverse process can also be adopted.

            The entire seat allotment process will save time, resources and bureaucracy invested in conducting the JEE. Additionally, the students will be attending an institution close to their home akin to the idea of neighbourhood school. This will correct the regional imbalance in representation among student community at IITs and also that created because of coaching institutions.

            The biggest gain will be making the selection process free from extortionist and grueling coaching institutions, which is one of the stated aims of New Education Policy recently delivered to the country. There will be simply no need of them. Every desirous student will be able to study engineering. This is akin to universalisation of education, a long cherished dream of every educationist.

            It is also likely that a major complaint of faculty members at IITs that students coming through the coaching institutions are not interested in engineering but they just need the IIT brand to move on to something more lucrative, like a career in finance, will also be addressed to some extent. It is high time we encourage students with an interest in particular subject to which s(he) is seeking admission, like in other countries to which Indian students migrate for undergraduate or graduate education.

            The suggested seat allotment process could be studied for a few years. If it appears to be advantageous over the current selection process than it could be adopted in long term too.

By dr. Sandeep Pandey
Dr. Sandeep Pandey is Ramon Magasaysay Awarded Social Activist and has taught at IITs at Kanpur, Gandhinagar and BHU, Varanasi and has conducted examination free evaluations of students in all his courses.