A Kerala academic, who stepped down to protest a central government order asking PhD students to focus on topics of national interest, has said people should think about education when they vote in the upcoming elections. In an interview with News18 published on Sunday, Meena T Pillai called such orders suicidal and feudal.

The Central University of Kerala issued the circular on March 13 after getting an order from the Ministry of Human Resource Development. “I was on the board of the Central University of Kerala, I was in English and Comparative Literature,” Pillai, who resigned on March 20, told News18. “On March 13, the University issued a circular emphasising on three important points – first it said that research has to be curtailed to areas of national priorities, secondly, it said irrelevant research cannot be permitted. The university will not let it happen. And the third one was that the faculty will prepare a shelf of projects and students would have to choose from them. All three were alarming for me as an academic.”

Pillai said history was being erased. She cited the instance where NCERT has done away with a chapter on breast cloth revolt. “… A certain kind of history is being erased because it is not considered as a national priority,” she said.

Pillai said the decision to limit choices of research topics for students was suicidal. “You are saying the next generation research student, who is normally 24 years old by the time he/she reaches the PhD is not imaginative enough to choose his/her area of research, and we will decide what to research on. This is suicidal for higher education of the country,” she added.

During a meeting in December 2018, the Union HRD Ministry had asked vice chancellors of central universities to “discourage research in irrelevant areas”. “When Fellows are being admitted for PhDs, the topics for the thesis should be in accordance with the national priorities. Allotting privilege topics to the PhD students should be dispensed with,” read the minutes of the meeting held December 15, 2018, according to The Indian Express.

Later, the university issued a clarification and said that by “national priorities” it meant research that was useful to society. The university has dismissed Pillai’s resignation as a “political stunt”, reported The New Indian Express.

On Sunday, Congress President Rahul Gandhi took a jibe at HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, calling him a “self-attested wise minister” for issuing the order. “Now, self-attested wise minister [Javadekar] of over intelligent Prime Minister [Narendra Modi] will tell the intellectuals of the country how should they do their work,” the Congress president wrote on Facebook. “It is perfectly said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”