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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 38, New Delhi, Sept 4, 2021

J.P. Naik and The Art of The Educational Revolution | Murzban Jal

Friday 3 September 2021


by Murzban Jal

In the era where one form of elites is opposed to another, where liberalism is not only opposed to conservatism, but where the former claims to confront conservatism and authoritarianism and then claims to solve all problems of the world from wars and hunger to the Taliban, it is necessary to recall what revolution and the art of revolution means. And since revolutions do not spring from the air, but occur in the manner that Lenin had pointed out in his What is to be Done?, namely that “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement” [1] and that “the most advanced theory” has to be constructed [2], the question of the makings of revolutionary theory emerge. While Lenin was formulating his theory of constructing the most advanced theory in the early 20th century to overthrow both czarism and capitalism, in India it was the Bohemian figure of J.P. Naik who had talked likewise in the form of the art of the educational revolution. An educational figure whose thinking was quite similar to the philosophy of Paulo Freire, Naik seems to be forgotten figure despite him being instrumental in the formation of a number of institutes including the Indian Council of Social Scientific Research (ICSSR) and the Indian Institute of Education (IIE), not to forget his dream child the Mauni Vidyapeth.

The Educational Revolution and the Question of Academic Feudalism

Just as every sensitive thinker knew that the Indian masses had two enemies—feudalism and colonialism—Naik kept these two foes at the centre stage of his theory where they could be confronted and overthrown for an authentic knowledge-producing system to emerge in India. While he identified both the feudal overlords and the colonial-comprador as the two main enemies of mass education, he also identified capitalism as the bane of mass and universal education. But for him, even with the advance of capitalism and the consequent intervention of commerce in education, the character of Indian education would remain feudal in form and content. It is this character of what I call “academic feudalism” which brought in authoritarianism and exclusion in the education sector where teachers and the management are modeled after the feudal lords and students treated as serfs. For those arguing for an independent education system free from the trappings of colonial elites and the native elites, there had to be a “Swaraj” (an authentic people’s freedom, autonomy and self-rule)—from Swaraj in education to total Swaraj. Freedom, for Naik, had to be the essence of education. And for this very same reason it had to be revolutionary.

Naik was a realist and not trapped in any form of romantics that saw a “golden age” of Indian civilization, nor did he like Aurobindo Ghosh see an innate spirituality in Indian civilization that could be tapped. While being a realist and hoping for the best, he also knew that this “Swaraj” was turning into a mirage. And since for him, neither could the old traditional system be taken up since it was trapped into the iron cage of caste or the colonial system since this was a bureaucratic system where the masses were to be disciplined and domesticated [3], an entirely new system of education of the masses had to be created. And for that what was needed was an “educational revolution”. [4]

But then what did this revolution do? It understood the masses in ferment where education was no longer understood and treated as an alienated profession, but understood as linked to life itself. Thus for him, “a revolution in life and a revolution in education have always to go together, because education is life” [5]. To live, for him, one had to embrace life, and to embrace life one had to embrace education. And education for him was not to be understood as “training” and “disciplining”, but as seeking knowledge, especially knowledge of the social structure of society, knowledge thus of class struggle.

And since he related education as the art of transforming society, he understood that education as knowledge-seeking was essentially revolutionary. And also since he recognized that before social, economic and political revolutions take place, there has to be a revolution in the realm of ideas, he put the idea of the educational revolution central to his imagination. He quoted Nehru when Nehru spoke in 1948 at the Educational Conference conveyed by the Ministry of Education saying that “the entire basis of education must be revolutionized”. [6] But he then concluded that what Nehru promised never took place, for “we did not make the most opportunity, to the determent not only of education but of life itself” [7]. The programme of the educational revolution was aborted even before it was in the wombs of the young Indian nation.

The people who came to rule the young nation were not revolutionaries, but feudal lords styled after the landlords of the 18th and 19th century. [8] While Naik pointed out to the caste oligarchs as the New Sovereigns who took power in 1947, (the New Sovereign that I call after Pierre Bourdieu as “the naked emperors of the university” [9]), and while Naik implicitly pointed out to the question of academic feudalism, unfortunately this very important point has gone almost unnoticed by scholars. The India elites like elites in many totalitarian societies were the oligarchs who were accountable to no one.

For Naik it was not merely the case that Indian education was being controlled by these feudal lords who would want to shape the future of India according to their feudal image, but a deep seated academic feudalism was constructed which seeped deep into the imagination of the Indian nation. Academic feudalism came to be built on this same relation that economic feudalism stood on—the relation between the lord and the serf. In this form of feudalism, the political overlords would create their own institutes and where public institutes exist they would capture it. The teachers that they would employ would not be real teachers but members of their own caste groups. While the political overlords literally “owned” education (through their ownership and control of educational institutes), the teachers that they employed were trained to become the second tier of overlords. Students could only be serfs to dance at the tune of these feudal overlords.

India got trapped in what Jotiba Phule warned in the 19th century, namely in becoming “captive in mental slavery”. [10] This was because of the inability to create a revolution in education. And this became the central tragedy of the education system in India. Yet Naik thought that there could be a “second chance”. He called this “a very rare occurrence in life” where “an educational revolution has now to precede a socio-economic revolution in life”. [11]

So how does one get involved in this educational revolution? For Naik, the first thing is to detach oneself from all bourgeois trappings and cease being delusional that the formal system of education would “teach” the masses how to lead a better life. One instead has to “rub shoulders with each other, irrespective of social and economic status, religion, caste or race”. [12]

Lessons for the Future

Naik writing in his last work The Education Commission and After talked about what he called “lessons for the future” [13]. His vision for this radical future was “creating a non-elitist people-controlled and people-orientated egalitarian society......which will eschew poverty, ignorance, ill-health and at least all the grosser forms of exploitation”. [14] For him, education was inexorably linked to society (especially societal transformation) and thus directly linked to the human condition itself. And to understand and articulate this radical link, the revolutionary politicization of education was necessary. [15] By “revolutionary politicization of education” is meant the knowledge of state mechanism on how and from where power flows and that the class and caste structure is the basis of not only Indian society, but also of Indian education. For him, education “is never politically neutral”. [16]

Naik saw the hypocrisy of the political elites. He singles out the political elites and says how they abandoned the ideals of the freedom movement only to create pale imitation of the colonial type of education as disciplining and controlling the masses, thus “teaching” the masses to be totally subservient to their feudal interests. [17] Consequently:

....the politicians not only fished in the troubled waters of education, but actually troubled the education scene in order that they may be able to fish. The wise academicians wanted political support without political interference. What we have actually received is infinite political interference with little or no genuine political support. [18]

For Naik, one has to transcend this trap made by the elites as also to transcend the two models of development, the capitalist type “which we have actually adopted and which has the largest support” and the state-socialist type “to which we pay lip service and which is adopted only by a minority”. [19] One has to seek the third model that he finds in “universal need”. [20] What Naik said in the 1970s was remarkable when the world was trapped in the Cold War between the two superpowers, the USA and USSR.

Anticipating the global economic, environmental and moral crisis, he said that the consumerist model which had become globally the dominant model is a threat to environmental degradation, which has led to the depletion of scarce natural resources, creation of social and political tensions between nation states and stock piling of nuclear arms “which pose a threat to the very existence of man”. [21]

One has to “combat the elitist trends in which a smaller number of people come to decide the vital issues affecting the lives of larger number of people”. [22] We need, as he passionately argued, a new philosophy as well as faith in the common person [23]. But most importantly, “we must accept the need to transfer effective power from the elites to the masses”. [24] Further:

Here power means all the three forms of power—political, economic and knowledge—which are obviously interrelated. It should be clearly understood that this also implies a revolt against the growth of extreme professionalism in the modern society which results in great restriction on individual freedom. In other words, we must equate the development of our country with the development of our suppressed masses and accept the view that the best in putting this development is the people’s awareness of themselves, and helping them to organize themselves to solve their problems. This new approach will liberate the oppressed masses and also elevate the elite by freeing themselves from the dehumanizing role of an oppressor in which they have trapped themselves. [25]

 This “transfer of power” that Naik advocates is not the transfer of power from one form of elites to another, thus was not to be treated as the transfer of power from the British Empire to the new political elites, but the complete destruction of the power of the elites. Education, for Naik, did not have to be a making of careers, but had to be treated as the destruction of the old hierarchical caste and class order that was subservient to the colonial and imperialist elites.

What he said in The Education Commission and After that India was only a satellite of the British rule for the colonial elites remains true even to this day. [26] Totally contemptuous of the British Empire and its form of governance he noted that the education system that the British rule constructed was only a “pale imitation of that in England” [27]. He wanted “to create not a lesser England but a greater India” [28]. One has to create a “nationalist system of education based on our traditions and suited to the life, needs and aspirations of our people”. [29] But “this was neither a chauvinist nor a revivalist posture”. [30]

For those harping on the phantasmagorical golden age of India, he said that “from very ancient times, Indian society has always been elitist and power, wealth, and education were mostly confined to the three dvija castes of Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaisyas”. [31] Today also it remains the same. Not only this, education losing its revolutionary and humanistic character, has taken the Brahminical role of ideological priesthood thus converting education into superstition and ritual, Kshatriya militaristic role and Vaisya capitalist role.

If Naik talked of the need of the “second chance” of the educational revolution after Nehru aborted his very idea that “the entire basis of education must be revolutionized”, there is a dire need now for asking for a third chance for the educational revolution. This act is not a reformist one. It is as Naik says a “revolution with a revolution” not a “revolution without a revolution” where we “embark upon a great adventure of national reconstruction whose objective is to abolish poverty, unemployment and ill-health and to create a new social order based on the dignity of the individual, liberty, equality, and social justice” whereby India becomes an “educated and cultured nation”. [32]

Let us thus remember these words. For we had lost the first chance. Then we had a second one and we lost that too. Now there is the third chance. After that, as we know very well, there will be no more chances.

[1V.I. Lenin, What is to be Done? (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1978), p. 25.

[2Ibid., p. 26.

[3J.P. Naik, Some Perspectives on Non-formal Education (Bombay: Allied Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1977), pp. 78-81

[4J.P. Naik, ‘To Begin a Revolution with a Revolution’, in The Social Context of Education. Essays in Honour of Professor J.P. Naik (New Delhi: Allied Publishers Ltd., 1978), p. 1.




[8J.P. Naik, Equality, Quality and Quantity. The Elusive Triangle in Indian Education Triangle (Pune: Indian Institute of Education, 1975), p. 1.

[9Pierre Bourdieu, ‘The Naked Emperors of the University’, in Political Interventions. Social Science and Political Action, trans. David Fernbach ((New Delhi: Navayana, 2008), pp. 147-155.

[10Jotiba Phule, ‘Slavery’, in Selected Writings of Jotirao Phule, ed. G.P. Deshpande (New Delhi: Leftword, 2010), p. 45.

[11J.P. Naik, ‘To Begin a Revolution with a Revolution’.

[12J.P. Naik, The Education Commission and After (New Delhi: AHP Publishing Corporation, 2010).

[13Ibid., pp. 208-43

[14Ibid., p. 218.

[15J.P. Naik, Some Perspectives on Non-formal Education, p. 80.

[16Ibid., p. 79.

[17Ibid., pp. 79-80

[18Ibid., pp. 80-1

[19J.P. Naik, The Education Commission and After, p. 214.





[24ibid., p. 215.


[26ibid., p. 3.





[31J.P. Naik, Some Perspectives on Non-formal Education, p. 79.

[32J.P. Naik, ‘To Begin a Revolution with a Revolution’, in The Social Context of Education. Essays in Honour of Professor J.P. Naik (New Delhi: Allied Publishers Ltd., 1978), p. 1.

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