We in Wandering Souls of Sikkim are back again with our Young Achiever Series. In this series we publish inspiring interviews with Young Achievers for our readers to learn from their achievements and strive to do better in life. Today we present our interview with Sunil Pradhan; He recently submitted his PhD thesis in Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is working as an Assistant Professor in the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi. Albert Gurung of Wandering Souls of Sikkim talked with him on his research interests and various other topics.
Here’s the excerpts of the conversation:
Wandering Souls of Sikkim(WSOS): Would you like to share something about your growing up years?!
Sunil Pradhan (SP): I was born in South Regu, East Sikkim under Rongli Sub Division. I enrolled for pre level schooling at South Regu Junior High School (Now Higher Secondary) in 1989 where both by parents were full time school teachers. Thereafter, I joined God Sun’s Preparatory School, Rongli in 1990. Subsequently, somewhere starting in the mid 1990s I went to a boarding school in Kalimpong, West Bengal from where I completed my ICSE and ISC in the early 2000s. To be frank, I have memories of Sikkim’s rural schooling system from the late 80s and 90s to those of India’s finest, modern and vibrant university spaces. Evidently, my growing up years which coincided with Sikkim fast transforming political, social and cultural milieu was exacerbated by India’s liberalization of its economy amidst globalization thereby shaping my modern as well as communitarian worldviews.
WSOS: What inspired you to take your academic journey till the level of PhD?
SP: Initially my interests in academia were simply driven by the dire need to acquire a degree for fulfilling eligibility criteria for facing competitive exams or to be precise I saw education as a medium for upward economic mobility. Therefore, my interests in academia as a full time career option fructified gradually after I enrolled for a full time degree course at the post graduate level. Fortunately, I was exposed to the rigour of a Research university rather than a Teaching university where I was allowed to engage with fundamentals to agitate, educate and organize. This is to say that, my Ph.D which I submitted to JNU on Sikkim Subject, often intrigues people on why a certain category of people in India are still referred as Subjects when they have already mutated as Citizens of a democratic country. These fundamental lessons are something which is acquired from a university system where one is freely allowed to ask questions and equally respect disagreement as a way forward towards achieving amicable remedies to the problem in question.
WSOS: You are also working as an Assistant Professor in the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamaia Milia Islamia University, New Delhi. How did you strike a cord between your job and your research?
SP: I consider myself lucky to have been part of India’s two leading Central Universities located in New Delhi which in recent times have been under attack from country’s ruling right wing nationalist government. JNU is from where I have acquired my education and Jamia Millia Isalmia is where I teach from what I have learnt as a student. To be very frank, it is not very difficult to strike a balance between my professional career and academia since both the universities are representative as progressive spatial for knowledge dissemination. Both the universities have produced in the past and continue to produce public intellectuals, civil servants, politicians, military officers and social workers alike. Former Vice Chancellors (VCs) of JNU (KR Narayanan) and Jamia Millia Islamia (Dr. Zakir Hussain) have gone on to occupy the highest office as President of India.
To say least, I would say one need to stay focused.
WSOS: Share with us about the difficulties and challenges that you faced in your journey from a village in Sikkim to some of the finest universities of the country.
SP: It would be an understatement if I say I did not face any form of difficulties and challenges, and at the same time it would be an overstatement if I say I overcame difficulties with ease. The fact of the matter is that the biggest advantage of being from a remote village in Sikkim lies in its resilience. As is known, Himalayan resilience is rooted and nourished by its multi ethnic social setting and social systems. And when you migrate to cities you take it with you and employ it to your added advantage and to your convenience. I am confident one will walk the talk if someone in question is able to employ and articulate this value in a best meaningful way in coping with situations arising out of culture shock, adaptation, adoption, overcoming subtle discrimination and anything life outside your comfort zone is associated with. Anger management and employing aggression that suits your interests is something all of us must ponder upon.
WSOS: Not many young people are willing to take up academics as a career option. In this context, what would be your advice to the youth of Sikkim.
SP: I won’t force people to take up academia as a full time career unless one decides to be one. It is something one is able to experience when an aspiring student lands up in the university system. It is in that given point of time one is fully able to decide whether academia is appropriate choice or not. If not, immediately look for other greener pastures and if yes stay committed to research and teaching. Well what I am sharing is a testimonial knowledge of what I experienced as a student and researcher fully mindful of the pros and cons of being in a system where academia is still not regarded as a full time career choice. However, once you are in, the knowledge is yours as the post modern logic reads “Knowledge is Power”.
WSOS: Your take on the need of an intellectual and informed debate about the issues that are important. How do you want the young people to take positions on such important issues?
SP: Frankly speaking, you have raised an important question facing the state of Sikkim. The lack in the culture of protest in Sikkim is evident in the manner in which governments both state and central treat Sikkimese people as an electoral constituent incapable of resisting government mediated policies. I would even go the extent of recording that an absence of a vibrant university space in Sikkim and regulation of higher education from North Bengal University for a longtime controlled critical thinking among the Sikkimese masses and whose majority are serving the state of Sikkim in different capacities. I am not saying that they are not capable of thinking, they do think but they think from the perspectives of New Delhi precisely they are trained (through curriculum teaching in school and colleges) to think from the perspectives of state—the modernizing power. Therefore, there being no debate in Sikkim on issues facing the country today is natural. Everything is micro managed by those in the government and those in power.
Therefore, for the first generation academic scholars in Sikkim it is important to debate an issue in the context of Sikkim’s cultural position in the larger adopted framework of individualized centric democracy. It is also important to separate intellectual engagement with activism. This should not be treated as same and the one. However, it is important to bring academic intervention to the problem in question.
WSOS: Thank You So Much.