By Prakash Kona
I am a professor of English literature at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. My personal accomplishments are fairly modest; one of them is that I almost never go on leave except for academic purposes and invest most of my time in reading and evaluating student work. The proof of the latter is that quite a few of my students are teaching at various universities, doing research or working in software and other areas. I cannot take too much credit for it.
My teaching has revolved around two principles. You have to be loyal to the work that you choose to do. It doesn’t matter what the job is. You have to do it sincerely. You cannot bring your personal feelings to your work. I believe in a certain kind of professionalism wherein you take pleasure in the work you do for its own sake and not look for external rewards in the form of gratitude or loyalty. I am not fond of students being loyal to teachers simply because they have been taught by them. That comes in the way of progress and is a remnant of a feudal order. You can only be loyal to someone for what they stand for. Professionalism is the antidote to blind loyalty. Socrates’ attitude is one of a true professional. He discourages his disciples from falling into the trap of personal loyalty. Instead, he emphasizes an unconditional loyalty to the pursuit of the truth.
Another thing I’ve been strong on is moderation. I’ve been opposed to extremes of any kind and I saw moderation and inclusiveness as the way forward. Any system should be preserved and made better; if and when the rot is deep and cannot be removed we’ve to carefully dismantle the system with as few social costs as possible. Revolutionary changes are important. But they don’t take root unless we combine them with a politics of moderation and inclusiveness. As an administrator and a teacher I’ve stood by that principle. I can be strict as an administrator but that does not mean that I leave no space for people to change and work towards accommodation.
Coming to my own “removal from service.”
On 5th December, 2022 I received a notice from the Registrar (In-charge) Dr. Narasimha Rao Kedari that I “shall stand removed from service of the English and Foreign Languages University.” This follows an Inquiry which I did not attend because I am convinced that it is not an independent one and its outcome is determined beforehand.
The background to the “removal from service” (which is the phrase used for being thrown out of the job) is not particularly complicated.
On March 26th 2021, along with a few of my colleagues, I received an anonymous defamatory email. I strongly believe that this email was sent by a few members of the university administration under the direction of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. E. Suresh Kumar.
Without being abusive, I responded to it in a way so as to defend my dignity. Calling my response an act of “misconduct” I was suspended from service on August 3, 2021 during which time I was paid “subsistence allowance.” It took the University administration six months to send me a Memorandum of Charges, which it did on February 9, 2022. I gave a response to the Memorandum of Charges on 28.02.2022. An Inquiry Officer, Prof. M.E. Veda Sharan, from the same university was appointed on 07 March 2022. The so-called Inquiry process was completed without my attendance in about 8 working days in entirety, while I approached the High Court for the state of Telangana, for respite. What I duly received on 19th October, 2022 was a judgment which set aside the previous Inquiry that was conducted ex parte and asked me to go through a fresh Inquiry under the same Officer in whose independence I’ve no faith. Not too pleased with the judgement I moved higher up the Court seeking justice.
If ever the word ‘façade’ has been used, it is for an inquiry of this kind. As I stated in my email to the Minister of Education, Mr. Dharmendra Pradhan, dated April 10, 2022:
“At the outset let me state that I am not opposed to the inquiry; I am opposed to this kind of a façade of an inquiry where the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. E. Suresh Kumar is the puppeteer and the Inquiry Officer a puppet dancing to the tune set by the Vice-Chancellor. This inquiry is therefore a travesty of justice and there is little doubt that the goal of the inquiry is predetermined. In other words, it is the wolf versus the lamb, in which case I happen to be in the position of the latter.”
One of the charges against me is that I called myself the “custodian” of the university. I was so amused by the silliness of it that I actually forgave the person who drafted the list of charges that I supposedly committed. A teacher, by definition, is a custodian of values. I simply cannot see the misconduct “unbecoming of an employee” in calling oneself a custodian of the university.
According to me, the background to my suspension and being thrown out of job is that I am a signatory to a complaint made to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. E. Suresh Kumar and certain members of his team for manipulations in student admissions during the years 2018-19; 2019-20; 2020-21. The student admissions are done through an entrance exam that is conducted by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). In other words, this kind of digitization is meant to minimize the possibility of external intervention in the exam process and keep them as objective as possible. Our allegation is that the names of candidates who have qualified in the entrance test were selectively replaced with the names of candidates picked with the approval of the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. E. Suresh Kumar.
If that is true, which can only be known through a proper inquiry, I cannot think of anything more dishonorable because I know for a fact that students in India and perhaps everywhere eagerly wait for admission results. You can only imagine the pain of someone who has worked hard to be able to study at the university finding out that his or her name does not figure anywhere in the list. What is worse is that they do not know that they have been cheated by the system. You cannot arbitrarily remove the names of candidates from an admission list without informing them or giving them reasons for doing so. To give admissions to candidates of your choice is breaking the law, not to mention completely unethical. I find this unacceptable and therefore I had to oppose it. I am glad I did it despite the fact that I lost my job.
In the process of suspension and eventually being thrown out of work, there are a few things that I took time to figure out.
The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. E. Suresh Kumar is able to do whatever he has been doing so far only because of his proximity to powerful people in the ruling BJP. He has unleashed tyranny on the EFL University campus which he runs like a mini-police state and is ruthless with people who stand up to him, as in my case. If there is one thing I learnt in life it is that you should not be afraid of bullies, more so, when you know that the other person is clearly on the wrong.
I sent innumerable emails which involve complaints against the Vice-Chancellor Prof. E. Suresh Kumar to the Minister of Education, Shri Dharmendra Pradhan, the Secretary of Higher Education, Mr. Sanjay Murthy and the Chairperson of the University Grants Commission, both the previous incumbent, Prof. D. P. Singh and the current Chair, Prof. Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar. I merely received token acknowledgments from the Ministry and not even that from the others. This is how seriously teachers in the context of higher education are taken in this country.
I am fighting my removal from service in the High Court through a conscientious lawyer who believes in me and is convinced that I have been victimized only because of the vindictiveness of the Vice-Chancellor Prof. E. Suresh Kumar who has made up his mind to destroy my career. My lawyer does not want me to lose faith in the judicial system, although he is realistic enough to know that this is an unjust world where the powerful thrive.
I am not one of those people who thinks that university campuses should be platforms for political activism. On the contrary, my goal as a teacher has been to instill in students a love for reading and writing. Clarity of mind and intellectual honesty are revolutionary tools that can change the world. These things can only be achieved through extraordinary hard work and dedication and not by fooling around or getting into trouble with the law. The Nikola Teslas of the world are not just an accident of nature. They are possible because we create the conditions for that kind of intelligence to flourish. High intelligence needs a quest for facts. Academic institutions have to be platforms for the pursuit of truth. Emotional freedom and intellectual maturity are a must for students to grow up and that is what universities ought to be about. To expect these things in a country like India might be stretching the limits of idealism. But, then, why not!
I couldn’t care less for a political stand that is left or right. Those terms which have their origins in the 19th century are outdated and have lost their relevance since the fall of the Soviet Union. In addition, both have serious limitations when they tilt towards extremes. They can be viciously antagonistic to the feelings of others. I find that seriously problematic because the entire system is disrupted in the process.
What I object to is dishonesty and abusive behavior, irrespective of who does it. Corruption and playing around with the system to suit your personal agenda is nothing but a violation of a moral code. In this case, Prof. E. Suresh Kumar has been able to successfully undermine the academic structure of the university, making a caricature of the system.
This is more or less the background as to why I have been thrown out of my job. This is the background to why my complaints on admission manipulations have not been taken seriously. This is the background to why my emails to the Ministry of Education and the UGC with regard to my unjust suspension from service have fallen on deaf ears. The background is that we’ve created a colonial bureaucracy and an equally colonial political system, both of which are self-serving and largely indifferent to the plight of the masses and the concerns of ordinary citizens.