Research Ruins 

By Mohammad Tahir 

IN the absence of platforms that channelise, highlight and vocalise their concerns, Kashmiris have taken to “democratic” online platforms to flag issues that concern them. Recently, on a Club House discussion on social science research in Kashmir, speakers were of the view that Kashmir, as a society, lacks research culture and hence Kashmiris are not producing good scholarship in social sciences. Only a handful of Kashmiri social science researchers have produced books and published in international journals, and many of them are based in American and European universities, and some in mainland India. One speaker, a PhD scholar based in Jamia Millia Islamia, was of the view that while these scholars have done a good job, they have not moved beyond the theme of the ‘Kashmir conflict’. And even then, they have not built theories that could challenge the euro-centric paradigms and, more importantly, counter the statist theories/perspectives that some Indian scholars have propagated on the Kashmir situation. Another speaker, also a research scholar, raised an equally important issue: that Kashmiri researchers must remain cautious while publishing their findings because their research might end up being (mis) used.

Consensus of the Club House room discussants was that universities have the primary role and responsibility of coming up with socially relevant research that could serve as the guide for public policy and critique of the policies. How our universities have failed in their primary responsibilities were highlighted by citing how they did not care to respond to the economic crisis brought by the back-to-back lockdowns in Kashmir since August 2019. It was not publicly-funded institutions Kashmir University, IUST or CUK but a banker, Ejaz Ayoub, whose research helped the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) to come up with a loss assessment report in 2019 and 2020. Ayoub also wrote a series of articles on the state of Kashmir economy (between August 2020 and May 2021) for Kashmir Observer.

I think conversations like these, where constructive criticism is shared, are a must for things to improve. Because when we acknowledge a problem, that is the first crucial step towards the redressal of the problem. But while Kashmiri scholars in general understand and have tried to highlight where the problem lies as far as the social science research in Kashmir is concerned, those at the leadership positions have shied away from taking necessary measures. Those who have power to do something have sometimes tried to impose their own policies without consultation with the larger academic community. A senior academic once told me that a bureaucrat who was holding the charge of higher education asked them to implement the existing research and bring out a monthly journal where all college lecturers would publish their latest research. What the bureaucrat did not understand was that things do not work that way in academia. How possibly can college academic staff implement the existing research? They don’t have autonomy to even design the syllabus of the modules they are supposed to teach. They can hardly implement the academic calendar. Teaching load on academic staff (especially contractual college lecturers and assistant professors) is huge, and they can barely spare any time for a rigorous and time-consuming process of academic publication.

One speaker in the Club House discussion shared an interesting anecdote. He talked about how his friend (a historian by training) joined a university in Kashmir as an assistant professor but finding that he was not able to produce any research work in the university’s suffocating environment he decided to leave the job. This tells us how the problem is actually systemic. Only when the system gets reformed can we expect better performance and results in social science research from individuals.

Yet, there is another issue. Once getting a permanent position in higher education, most assistant professors tend to take it easy. Job security leads to disinterest in research. It seems that once they become APs, they stop reading. That is to say that they stop caring about research. But, is research a primary job of an AP? We cannot be sure, because we don’t know what roles and responsibilities are delineated in the employment contract of an AP. In Europe or the US, when you join a university (whether tenure-track or contractual) you sign a contract which runs over several pages. There are different components in the contract which clearly spell out your duties and responsibilities. And, they usually balance between teaching and research, and some administrative work. But in Kashmir, things are different, rather unprofessionally run. Those who joined the Cluster University Srinagar in 2020 as contractual lecturers were not even asked to sign the contract. They were in limbo. Can we expect them to know what they were supposed to do except for being an ‘academic arrangement?’ (a rather denigrating term). An employee usually molds himself/herself into the culture of a workplace to fit in. That culture will determine how the employee will behave. If the culture of a workplace is bereft of work ethic, can we expect the employees to be any different?

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is an independent researcher 

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