Independent thinking, free expression in universities under threat: Manmohan Singh

Independent thinking, free expression in universities under threat: Manmohan Singh
Independent thinking and free expression in Indian universities "are now under threat", former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday alleged, targeting the Centre.

He said that efforts should be taken to protect the autonomy of universities and to foster the rights of students to express ideas that 'powerful interest may not always agree with,' for he believes that independent thinking is now under threat at Indian universities.

"Our willingness and ability to engage with dissent is a sign of our inherent strength. Any attempt to suppress peaceful dissent is not only inimical to learning but also undemocratic," he asserted while citing the recent attempts to interfere with free expressions of the student community in Hyderabad Central University and New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Speaking at the Presidency University, Kolkata on its Founder's day, he asserted that political interference in university curriculum and academic appointment is against the free functioning of the universities and stressed that they must give students the freedom to pursue knowledge even if that knowledge may be at 'odds with the established intellectual tradition.'

The former Prime Minister said that political interference in universities and in appointments in academic institutions was highly 'short-sighted'.

"We must make efforts to protect the autonomy of our university and to foster the right of our students to express ideas," he said.

Singh said, "We are witnessing around the world a rise of nationalist tendencies, populism and hatred against backward classes and minorities in disregarding reason and rationality but these tendencies could be extremely destructive.

He emphasised, "We must protect India from this trend and universities have a vital role in this regard."

While expressing that universities play a vital role in shaping the opinion of the Indian citizens and make them capable of distinguishing facts from fiction, he emphasised that only by constructive engagement, is it possible to build a stronger, more cohesive and self sustaining democracy in our country.

On the eve of Hindoo College's 200th Birthday, which was renamed Presidency College in 1855 and was given the status of an independent university in 2010, Dr Manmohan Singh conferred the Distinguished Alumnus Award 2017 to Prof Sukanta Chaudhuri, an internationally renowned Bengali-Indian scholar of English Literature of the Renaissance period, in the presence of Honourable Vice Chancellor Anuradha Lohia, several other dignitaries, alumni members, and students.

Established in the year of 1817, Presidency has been an extraordinary centre of learning. It has sheltered and nurtured uncountable brilliant minds across the globe.

The history of this institution has been studded with glorious achievements and with a vision to make it outstanding in all fields in the near future, it continues to provide students with the most amazing mentors one could ever have.
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