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Ashoka Is No Longer On My College List: A Teen Expresses Concern

Tanvi Chakravarty, a class XI student in Mumbai, pens a blog on why she is disillusioned with Ashoka University.

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I have reversed my decision to apply to Ashoka University.

I am a Grade XI student in Mumbai. As with most students my age, my current obsession and bane is university applications for my undergraduate study. My cherished goal is to get into a good liberal arts college to study Philosophy, Politics & Economics, popularly known as PPE.

I am deeply interested in Philosophy and Economics. I have spent the last six months researching colleges and universities that offer this program and where I fit in. Predictably, the Oxfords, LSEs and Yales are on my list of ‘reach schools’ to apply to for PPE.

I have taken Philosophy courses offered by some of these universities, read a lot of the works of professors in these colleges, followed online student forums, tracked alumni, etc.

During this period, I have also been following Ashoka University, ever since I heard of their PPE offering. Admittedly, I did not know much about Ashoka University before. I started reading articles by Ashoka’s professors, spoke to a few students and followed their campus activities.

Why I Wanted to Study At Ashoka — And Why I’m Shocked At PB Mehta’s Exit

While I was apprehensive about the negative image of the university’s location — Haryana — as a safe place for women, the university’s courses, students, professors and activities were alluring. I had decided to add Ashoka to my list of target schools. Until I read about Ashoka University’s former Vice Chancellor and Professor of political philosophy Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s abrupt resignation.

It was clear that his resignation was involuntary and he was pressured on account of being a ‘political liability’.

The academician, who is frequently openly critical of the government in his newspaper columns, wrote in his resignation letter: “My public writing in support of a politics that tries to honour constitutional values of freedom and equal respect for all citizens, is perceived to carry risks for the university.”

I was taken aback at the blatant contradiction in a university that supposedly fosters a campus for a liberal arts education, and one of its senior-most professors being treated in an illiberal manner.

My mind raced back to the little history I studied about control of education under various regimes — Stalin made school free, indoctrinating millions of children into a strict programme, emphasising loyalty to Stalin and communist labour; Mussolini forced thousands of teachers to take an Oath of Allegiance to teaching the principles of fascism, the ‘Hitler Youth’, a school that emphasised the teaching of ‘race superiority’.

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PB Mehta’s Exit: A ‘Clear Message’ to ‘Control’ Education, ‘Restrain’ Academic Thought

The Ashoka university incident may not be nearly as serious as these historical parallels, but as teenagers, we think in extremes.

The reason I am interested in PPE is that it trains students to ask fundamental questions about our society, polity and economy — and search for answers. How can a university claim to offer a good PPE program when it succumbs to its professor asking fundamental questions about politics and governance in our country?

The resignation of Pratap Bhanu Mehta gives a clear message of an indirect bid to control education, restrict academic thought and curtail freedom of expression.

When academic thought fails to prevail, it gives us concerning insight into the future of India’s liberalism. If a supposedly leading university in India cannot protect and defend basic liberal values, then perhaps it is not a university that I should aim to be in. Hence, I have decided to remove Ashoka University from the list of schools I will apply to. In our Instagram world, it is called #CancelAshoka.

(Tanvi Chakravarty is a student of Grade XI based in Mumbai. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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