In a world tilted towards technical excellence, the presence of humanities in academic curriculum of technical institutes offers the inculcation of human values. The subjects are designed to develop ethical concerns and a humane understanding of the world. John Wooden quips, “Ability may get you to the top, but character keeps you there: mental, moral and physical.”
In this regard, the study of humanities helps in building and refining one’s character, especially the mental and moral aspects of it. All the abilities would have little impact if they are not properly channelled and harnessed by the character of an individual.
Nevertheless, the scholars of humanities are oftentimes faced with an identity crisis. The inquisition generally emanates from some scholars of other disciplines, who seek to assess the validity and veracity of the humanities. I have been a scholar at a national institute for the past four years, and have experienced this skepticism. In what follows, I will narrate the incidents that I have faced thus far and address them objectively, thereby making a case for the humanities.
When I first joined for a PhD, some scholars of other sciences questioned how research was possible in subjects of humanities. They were dismissive of the discipline. I told them about the flexibility that research in humanities possessed. I emphasised on the significance of human values. I also highlighted how multidisciplinary projects were carried out in the department. Subsequently, some of them expressed interest to know more about my personal field of study.
There was another guy who was unhappy with the fellowships given to scholars of humanities. Scholars in sciences generally have to work for endless hours in their laboratories. This scholar was bitter because his counterparts did not have to toil like him to get the same scholarship. I tried to educate him about the importance of humanities. Nevertheless, he had his preconceived notions and it was difficult to convince him.
Another scholar lamented how he should have studied humanities in lieu of basic science. “You guys are enjoying your life and earning without work,” he said tartly. First of all, it’s a matter of choice. Had they wished to study humanities and were equipped with the necessary expertise, they could have enrolled in the discipline. There is no point in spilling venom and envy against people who have earned their position. Regarding the difference in work pattern, a cricketer playing test cricket for five days can’t complain about why a T20 match gets over in three hours. The rigour and requirements are different. Scholars of humanities do not need endless hours of work in a lab. Any thinking individual with a right book in hand can maximise his output even in his own accommodation. People holding onto bitterness against the parity of fellowships should understand that an administrative officer (say an IAS) earns equal emoluments as a specialist officer (say an IFoS) in a government job.
Another senior scholar had little knowledge of research in humanities. He thought the best that researchers in humanities do was copy-paste stuff. His understanding was premised on a conversation he had with an acquaintance in humanities, who did a shoddy doctorate and made a successful career thereafter. This scholar that he was referring to is a disgrace to the discipline. However, to generalise that every scholar of humanities works with the same algorithm is a weak conclusion. The growing vigilance against plagiarism in the last two decades or so have greatly nullified the possibility of such duplication. People in the humanities work hard. Sometimes the toil is more mental, which isn’t palpable.
The experiences that I narrated show the ignorance of some scholars of other disciplines towards humanities. I have heard of similar experiences from friends in other national institutes, which hints at the ubiquity of such ignorance.
Ignorance is not a crime. It is just a darkness that is waiting to be illuminated with awareness and knowledge. What is dangerous is the unwillingness to dispel the darkness. The mindset of some of the scholars I have written about necessitates the discipline of humanities. Human values are needed to allow others to adapt, and to help such scholars understand and empathise with their counterparts.
Sachidananda Mohanty, a renowned academician and the erstwhile vice-chancellor of Central University of Odisha, proposed the dismantling of hierarchies in academia on multiple occasions. To make it possible, it is pertinent to change the mindset of individuals. APJ Abdul Kalam is remembered as one of the greatest statesmen of the country because he added the human dimension to his pursuits of science. There is hardly a better example than Dr Kalam to show how the progress in sciences can be maximised with human concerns.
Debasish Mishra is a Senior Research Fellow in Humanities and a poet and writer.