In October last year, an assistant professor of Tribhuvan University, the oldest of Nepali universities, Prem Chalaune was assaulted with an iron rod by students associated with the Nepal Students Union, the student wing of Nepali Congress in broad daylight.
He was critically injured. His right leg was fractured and he sustained deep cuts on his head and left leg. Reportedly, those attackers did not face any action from the concerned bodies as they had political power behind them.
Similarly, the exam hall of Kathmandu-based Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus witnessed something unusual. Chaos descended on the atmosphere when one student attacked a teacher for “not allowing him to cheat”.
The teacher got seriously injured. He had to have seven stitches on his head. It was learned later that the student who attacked the teacher was associated with the All Nepal National Student Union (ANNFSU), the student wing of the CPN-UML.
Chalaune and Pudasaini are just representational figures as Nepali universities are fraught with politicisation. Many other teachers like them have faced violence from the students. Now, the question is— how is it justifiable? And, what does it take to free Nepali universities of such politically motivated criminal activities?
Politics involving students and teachers in Nepali universities has become a reason to worry. Now and again, the teachers and students are found to be involved in disrupting studies and creating violence inside colleges and universities. In other words, student politics has become another name for vandalism and violence.
Teachers, except for a handful, are divided along party lines. Party-linked teacher unions are formed in almost all Nepali universities. Teachers actively take part in gatherings of political parties without taking formal leave. If anyone tries to raise questions of accountability, they dismiss the question using their union force.
The major duty of all the teacher associations should be to put forward the ethical needs and demands of teachers, i.e. to civilise and disperse the rays of knowledge and wisdom and to establish colleges as research centres.
For this very purpose, their extensive academic engagement is inevitable. However, the present scenario of Nepali universities shows teachers being carriers of the party flags; they have no interest in creating wisdom. Therefore, their reluctant approach towards knowledge is deteriorating the right to education of students ultimately.
Flaws in the legal regime
The student-teacher politics-based problem in Nepali universities has some legitimate legal ground. Section 16 (1) of the Tribhuvan University Act, 1992, provisions for the prime minister to be ex-officio chancellor of the university.
Similarly, section 18 (2) mentions that the vice-chancellor shall be appointed by the chancellor on the recommendation of the committee comprising of the pro-chancellor (chair) and chancellor. And, section 19 (1) provisions that the rector shall be appointed by the chancellor on the recommendation of the vice-chancellor.
Section 20 (1) of the very act provisions the registrar shall be appointed by the chancellor on the recommendation of the vice-chancellor.
These legal provisions clearly show the interference of politics in academic institutions. Since the PM is there as the chancellor and also holds a key role in appointing others, s/he appoints as per his/her political interest, which is a root for politics in Nepali universities.
This is why, when the government changes, people in all higher positions of universities change, which sometimes leads to conflict and violence among the political party cadres. Although the National Education Policy, 2019, has prohibited teachers from doing party politics, it has recognised the Confederation of Nepalese Teachers, the umbrella body of all the teacher’s associations. This has eased teachers’ involvement in party politics.
Nepali universities are politically polluted. The unions (of both students and teachers) are doing everything except what they are supposed to do. There is no way other than prohibiting them to do those activities.
The leaders of those unions have been the active cadres of the political parties. Historically, when the unions were formed, they might have been relevant and needed to establish the democratic value in the nation. However, at present, there is no need for unions. They should have worked for students’ welfare and betterment, but they have been found to prioritise the individual ambitions of particular leaders.
Student politics will be necessary only when student unions stop prioritising the individual ambitions of particular leaders and the organisational mission of certain political parties over the reforms in universities and colleges.
But, unfortunately, the situation does not give any sign of this. Seeing the legal provisions in the appointment of different positions in Nepali universities, it is evident that those provisions need to be changed.
In 2012, India’s Bombay High Court stated that education should be kept away from party politics. Alongside the decision, the court also suspended a teacher for being associated with a political party.
Can we expect such a statement and action from Nepal’s court?