Sunday, December 4, 2011

THE POLITICS OF EDUCATION IN INDIA: need for a national debate

 by R.Upadhyay

“The country (India) continues to produce people, who are in the rat race for white collar jobs in the old tradition of British Raj.  In short, India’s education system is still mentally enslaved to the old pre-Independence pattern and to the imported values of the West”( Agrawal O.P. quoted in the book Critical Perspective on Indian Education by an American Educationist Joseph Di Bona, page 21)

H.V.Sheshadri, RSS Sar Karyavah( Joint Secretary) while addressing a recently held concluding ceremony of Sangh Shiksha Varg in Delhi ( June 2001 ) said: “the country though, has achieved political independence, is yet to attain national and cultural independence.”( Organiser dated July 1, 2001 ) 

With their mindset as reflected in the above quotes, the ultra nationalist forces have been fighting against the 'proxy colonialism' both politically and intellectually ever since India attained independence.  The recent uproar in parliament on August 16 over the alleged saffronisation of education is therefore, a reflection of this never ending conflict between the supporters of Macaulay’ perspective and those, who supported the Hindu dimension of orientalism.  

With a view to destroy the educational heritage of India, the British colonial power started Indian universities in 1858 as institutional plants imported from Great Britain.  The main objective behind the move was to connect Indian education to European knowledge.  Lord Macaulay was of the view that "A single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia." ( Page 3- Education and Politics in India by Rudolph and Rudolph).

The move was contrary to the Indian ethos of education.  Acquisition of knowledge, inculcation of social duties and religious rites and above all character building were the main three-fold objective behind the ancient Indian education system.  The Indian political thinkers of colonial India were against westernisation of Indian education system since it taught materialistic prosperity as the only means for social advancement, in which there is no scope for cultural heritage linked with spiritualism.  During the first two decades of twentieth century our national leaders like Aurbindo, Dayanand Saraswati, Bal Gangadhr Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Madan Mohan Malviya, Mahatma Gandhi, Sampurnanand and others established nationalist educational institutions in different parts of the country to revive the educational heritage.  Tilak, while delivering speeches on national education in 1908 maintained: "We are not given such education as may inspire patriotic sentiments.  Secular education only is not enough to build up a character.   Religious education is also necessary because the study of high principles keep us away from evil pursuits."  

Leaders and philosophers of our freedom movement had their vision of education system to be linked with the cultural heritage of the country.  Vivekananda believed that for a “qualitatively higher stage of society” ideal of Indian social endeavour was necessary.  While Tilak aspired for Dharmrajya, Gandhiji believed in Ramrajya.  The BJS ideologue Deendayal Upadhyay in post-independent India believed in integral humanism.  If the vision of our national thinkers, who fought for freedom of the country, is taken into consideration, our educational system must have a spiritual dimension to materialistic pursuit.  The pursuit of Dharm, Arth, Kama and Moksha in a balanced manner is possible only if the age-old education system in India is linked with modern and scientific education.

Against the vision of our national thinkers, the rulers of post-colonial India accepted the ‘Cultural Ludditism’ of Macaulay.  They abused their political power for distortion of the nationalist version of Indian history and made it a political issue.  With leftists and Nehruvian Congress combine on one side and the Hindu nationalists on the other, their political confrontation adversely affected the educational heritage of India.  Against the Macaulay’s perspective and European version of Indian history supported by the ruling party with the cooperation of leftists, their opponents favouring orientalism failed to put an effective resistance because of their marginal strength in parliament.  With the support of Nehruvian Congress Government, the leftists gradually established their hegemony over the academic institutions like ICHR, ICSSR, and NCERT and reigned over their opponents for over half a century.   

Ancient history is more or less the interpretation of the available evidence, which also includes oral narration of the past.  A majority of Hindus are quite sensitive towards their past and have faithfully accepted it as a part of their history, which according to Euro interpretation is a myth.  Distortion of Indian history, particularly the Aryan invasion theory has all along been an issue of debate between the intellectuals supporting the cultural supremacy of ancient India and supporters of its Euro version.  Historians like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Panikkar and others supporting the Euro version of Aryan invasion theory have been countered logically by renowned indologists like Dr. Waradpande of Nagpur, Dr. N.S.Rajaram of Bangalore, Dr. David Frawley of USA and Dr. P.V.Pathak of Pune.  

Ignoring any debate on the issue, the Nehruvian Congress Government at the instance of the leftists became proactive and imposed Euro version of Indian history on the students of schools and colleges.  This was contrary to the general impression of Indian people, who believed in the cultural supremacy of India over the West.  The leftist and Congress combine however, ignored the sentiments of Indian people projected by Hindu nationalists and called them communal and reactionary.  They did not pay attention for inclusion of the educational heritage of the country in the curriculum of schools and colleges.  This was a subtle attempt to move the people away  from their cultural roots.   

De-westernisation of Indian education system with nationalist curriculum in schools and universities has all along been the part of the agenda of Hindu nationalist forces.  Their main objective was focussed against the European version of Indian history being taught in school and colleges.  The BJP led coalition Government after coming to power at centre in the closing years of twentieth century therefore, initiated a move to cleanse the management of academic institutions and free them from the bondage of the leftists by constitutional and democratic means.  The intention of the Government was to rationalise the teaching of the debatable version of Indian history being taught in schools and colleges.  They also initiated a move to make some changes in the Euro version of Indian history with a nationalist version in some of the history books published by NCERT.  But these attempts to promote the cultural heritage infuriated the supporters of Macaulay legacy and their fellow travelers.

The move of Union Minister M.M.Joshi to introduce Astrology and Indian Paurohitya (Karmkand) system in university curriculum and to promote education of Sanskrit language was part of the nationalist programme of the BJP.  This is the first time during the post-colonial history of India, when initiative to introduce some of the subjects linked with the educational heritage of the country in university curriculum was taken.  The move may not apparently have any political dimension but the issue took a political turn since it was against the embedded mindset of the leftists and ‘secular academics'.   

Calling the move as political abuse of history the opposition under the leadership of CPI(M) joined together in parliament against the BJP for their self-seeking political interest and expectedly, the leftists became reactionaries against the proactive policy of the BJP Government.  They, in alliance with anti-BJP forces raised a war-cry against alleged ‘saffronisation’ of education by the BJP.  But the upsurge against the move shows that intellectual honesty does not have any place in politics.  The sole objective behind this move of the Communists is to unite the opposition on this issue to embarrass the BJP and create rift within the NDA as otherwise no one is able to understand as to how the move of Dr. Joshi has saffronised the education.  

India is perhaps the only country in the world, where a section of educated population considers any talk on the positive side of the cultural heritage of the country as anti-modernity and unscientific.  Contrary to the general impression of Hindus that India had made large contribution to world culture, the leftists and their fellow travelers criticise it as communal.   

About Sanskrit language, Prof. Max Muller of world fame said, , “Sanskrit is the greatest language in the world, the most powerful and the most perfect” Similarly, Sir W. Hunter was of the view that Grammar (Sanskrit) of Panini stands supreme among the grammars of the world.  It stands forth as one of the most splendid achievements of human invention and industry.  The Hindus have made a language and a literature and a religion of rare stateliness.” ( Quotes from Gaurav Ghosh in its issue of June 2001).

Without the knowledge of Sanskrit language it is difficult to understand the history of the cultural and educational heritage of India like the knowledge of modern science and technology without the knowledge of English language.  Therefore, any attempt to popularise the learning of Sanskrit should be above politics.  The ancient Sanskrit literature is the treasure house of  cultural history of India.  But the scholars of Euro mindset studied such history through its translated version, which was often misinterpreted by European scholars due to lack of their cultural insight about this region.  

If the age old values of cultural heritage and tradition linked with spiritualism are included in school and university curriculum, it may extend a lending hand in the overall development in the personality of our future generation.  Value based education can only generate value based politics, which is the need of the hour.  Our ancient scriptures in Sanskrit and Dravidian language are the treasures of our cultural heritage and their effective preservation is the pious duty of the Government.  A nation, which is not sensitive to such duty, will remain susceptible to intellectual slavery.  

Modern ideas like secularism, communism, liberalism, equality and fraternity were the outcome of the intellectual turbulence in the west, which developed after French Revolution.  But in absence of any spiritual vision these activities became irrelevant to Indian situation, as they negated the educational philosophy of the age-old Indian tradition.  Contrary to the western system of education, which is linked with individual centric capitalism and society centric communism, the Indian education system provided an integral vision with a view to harmonize the material and spiritual interest of the individual to that of the society.  But those intellectuals, who took over the governance of the country from the Britishers failed to free themselves from this chain of intellectual slavery and therefore, worked as agents of their masters to promote the same system of education even during post-colonial Indian polity.  With intellectual corruption and support to the west-prompted materialistic dimension of individual centric philosophy they were only helping the forces of proxy colonialism. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, even after pursuing Macaulay, legacy for over half a century after political independence, India has not yet overcome the social, economic, political and environmental crisis prevailing in the country.  All the political parties talk on value based politics, but they hardly talk how to achieve it.  It is possible only if the direction of education is focused towards building a social order inspired through scientific and spiritual vision.  In stead of preserving our ancient scriptures, which are the treasure house of spiritual wisdom the move to negate the introduction of time-tested cultural heritage in school and university curriculum is seemingly an intriguing reflection of the colonial mindset of self-seeking politicians.  Since the majority of the educated Indian elite was made to think and behave like their colonial masters, it has now become their habit to oppose any attempt to Indianise the country’s educational curriculum. 

With the present rise of spiritual movement all over the world, people by and large are gradually becoming conscious towards their cultural heritage.  In the background of its proved leadership through cultural conquest to Asia and other parts of the world, and major contribution like digit zero to the material world India has got a God sent opportunity to take a lead for transforming the chaotic humanity into a just social order.  It is possible if the value-based vision stored in our traditional scriptures also forms a part of curriculum in school and university.  Since, it will enhance the national glory, our political intellectuals irrespective of their ideology should join the movement and cooperate with the forces in their march to this direction.  Any attempt to obstruct the indigenous flow of the main stream may be construed as violation of the fundamental right of the people.  

The forces opposed to the introduction of cultural heritage in school and university curriculum as well as the reported change in the Euro version of Indian history may like to have a national debate on this issue.  At the same time there is no harm if they seek referendum whether people want continuance of Macaulay legacy, which is against the traditional environment of spiritually visioned Indian polity or negate it.  If the people favour value based education discussed above, it could be supported by the basic ethical tenets of all religions of India.

Various Commissions and Committees starting from Radhakrishnan Commission in 1948 to the Committee on value based education headed by S.B.Chavan in in 1999 have duly emphasised on the need for value based education.  But no Government made any sincere effort in this direction.  It is time to have a national debate on the issue.  Our Vedic philosopher Maharshi Gautam had rightly pointed out in his 'Nyay Sutras'  that "the knowledge derived from observation, inference, comparison and testimony should objectively be verified by discussion, which usually leads to the enquiry of truth (Education in India by Mohanty - page 12).

( The analysis is the personal perception of the writer based on the books written by various indologists. E-mail ramashray60@

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