University Spaces: Critical Thinking To Saffron Thinking


For the proponents of Hindu Rashtra, the University and Academic spaces acquire importance for the propagation of the concept of Hindu Rashtra. Rather than treating them as spaces to foster critical thinking, they are seen as spaces to manufacture and condition a ‘Hindu mind’ in its Communal Avataar.  These spaces are seen merely as extensions of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) thinking in Nagpur. The events of the recent years only prove the same.

In the last three years, Universities have seen attacks by the Saffron forces. Intellectual and political dissent has been sought to be curtailed. This happens in the name of Universities emerging as spaces for anti-nationals and hence the need to curtail the same. The reality is to curtail a questioning mind, a free mind which does not buy the Saffron agenda. The attacks on students in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Hyderabad Central University (HCU), Delhi University, Allahabad University, Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and Jamila Milia are primarily intended towards the same. These institutions have seen protests and intellectual dissent against the dominant narratives propagated by the state. This is seen as stumbling the penetration of saffron thinking in universities.

The effort is also in the direction of changing the top leadership of the academic bodies. More than the academic credentials, it is the political leanings which matter in decisions to appoint chairpersons of academic bodies and Vice Chancellors of universities. It is not surprising the saffron leaning academics have been appointed as chairperson of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) and a similar effort is on the way to appoint a new Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) chairperson. The intent is to ease the process of creating a saffron complying citizenry and intellectual diversity.

In the saffron thinking, the Universities are less seen as spaces to foster critical thinking. Rather they are seen as factories to manufacture an ultra national mindset. This happens in the name of promoting ‘nationalism’, Índianness’ or ‘Bharatiyata’. A recent workshop organized by RSS affiliate Prajna Pravah only points to the same. It was attended by 700 academics and 51 Vice-Chancellors. Its supposed aims were to point to academics in building a ‘nationalist narrative’ and bringing in ‘Indianness’ in the educational system. The current education was seen as aping the west without a Bharatiya into it.

Free spaces for discussion and protests within campuses were seen as polluting and against the Indian culture. Nanda Kumar is said to have critiqued “culture of protests” and the practice of “cultural evenings” in educational institutions. This was not seen as part of India’s “real culture”, “What’s going on here (educational institutes) in the name of culture is actually an onslaught on our real culture – be it cultural evenings or the culture of protests. It badly affects young minds and poisons the environment of our educational institutes.” The workshop was also said to have discussed the need to revisit the curriculum with an emphasis on history and social sciences. The cultural dissent in the form of organizing beef eating festivals, Mahishasur Shahadat Diwas in University campuses were seen as polluting.

The workshop was an attempt at creating an academic community, which would take forward the agenda of transforming Universities as spaces for fostering critical thinking to factories which manufacture ultra nationalists. Moreover, the ‘Bharatiyata’ or ‘Nationalist’ narrative it seeks to promote is exclusionary. This ‘Bharatiyata’ provides little spaces to minorities and dalits in the narrative. Protests by minorities and dalits is sufficient for them to earn the tag of being ‘anti-nationals’. It is merely a means to establish Hindu and Brahmanical supremacy over others.

T Navin works with an NGO as a Researcher. He did his M.Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University.


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