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Mainstream, VOL LX No 11, New Delhi, March 5, 2022

Assault on the Idea of Education | Sandeep Pandey

Saturday 5 March 2022, by Sandeep Pandey

The Sangh Parivar claims to be a cultural organization. Core supporters of its ideology are upper caste and/or the educated elite. Quite naturally it gives importance to education. It is opposed to caste based reservation in the name of honouring merit.
The irony is among the top leadership of Sangh Parivar or it affiliate organisations there are hardly any intelligent people. Both the Atal Behari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi governments were bereft of people, except the ones who could be counted on fingers of one hand, who were capable of filling the cabinet minister berths.

The Bhartiya Janata Party governments in Rajasthan in the past and the present one in Haryana has prescribed educational qualifications for contesting panchayat elections. With the highly publicized New Education Policy the BJP government purported to send out a message that it considered education important enough, except that it failed to convince what was ‘new’ in it. Every now and then it does something in the field of education which triggers a controversy from banning events on educational campuses, attempts to rewrite history to appointment of controversial vice-chancellors. The educational qualifications of important leaders in the government like Narendra Modi and Smriti Irani are dubious. The Prime Minister says he didn’t attend classes as he had to devote time to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh activities.

When the PM didn’t take his education seriously, and gives more importance to doing well in examinations through his ‘pariksha pe charcha’ rather than talking about the importance of process of education in developing an enlightened human being, it is no wonder that BJP government in Karnataka has allowed the ‘hijab’ controversy to escalate to a level that educational institutions had to be closed down. In the Corona period the process of education at every level has been adversely impacted. To a large extent that was unavoidable. But the ‘hijab’ controversy is a making of the government. Senior BJP leaders have stoked the controversy.

Now when the schools and colleges have reopened, girls are not only being prevented from entering campuses but are being suspended and a lecturer had to resign not on the ground of any academic laxity but for putting on hijab. When non-academic issues dominate the academic ones on campuses then we know that education no longer remains a process of enlightenment. We are not going to produce intelligent human beings but only sectarian, bigoted individuals who would all the time be busybodies. What a waste of society’s and human resources.

Obviously, the Hindutva brigade is not interested in education irrespective of their public pronouncements. They are happy with the communal polarization taking place on educational campuses as it would help them in the electoral politics, which is their sole concern. They are not bothered about the country, society or the larger world. They often accuse human rights organisations or civil society for tarnishing country’s image abroad. But who is to be blamed when the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom marks India as ‘Country of Particular Concern’ for worst violations of religious freedom for two consecutive years? The US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain, has said that state of Karnataka should not determine permissibility of religious clothing. If India’s reputation as a healthy democracy has taken a beating it is because of Hindutva organisations, including the party in power in the country, which have given a free hand to all kinds of disruptive elements, sometimes going to the extent of mindless violence and killing of others, who care very little about law or morality.

Apart from a miniscule percentage of bright people who are among the elite intellectuals in Indian and foreign universities most of our academia is sub-standard. Only about a tenth of all youth make it to college and only about half the children even cross class VIII stage. A quarter of children never see the inside of school. Quality of education, again except in select schools, is so bad that majority of students have to resort to unfair means to complete the process of education, making it a farcical exercise. Rather than compete with each other for excellence students prefer to collaborate to scuttle the education system. Impersonation in examinations is just one example.

The Hindutva members could have chosen any of the above mentioned areas to work on to improve the quality of Indian education system. However, they are least bothered about education or its quality. They are only interested in education which promotes their ideology and would like to remove everything else from the curriculum because their sole agenda is polarization of society on religious lines which helps them electorally.

The politics of Hindutva is striking at the root of the process which has the capacity to produce thinking individuals who would undertake the task of society’s growth. They want to stifle all debate and discussion and want everybody to unquestioningly accept their ideology which is nothing but a dogma. Any society which doesn’t question cannot grow. Intimidation is used to quell any dissent. Some of the best minds of our country are in jail in the case of Bhima-Koregaon conspiracy. Dedicated doctors like Kafeel Khan, who was struggling to save lives of children when Gorakhpur’s Medical College hospital ran out of Oxygen supply and senior doctors all deserted the patients, got jail and axe. The right wing government doesn’t respect internationally recognized intellectuals like Amartya Sen, Raghuram Rajan or Jean Dreze. In the name of skill development, the government is sabotaging the process of education and promoting mediocrity.

In such a scenario all talk of making India a Vishwaguru are hollow and specious. We are reducing the process of education to a meaningless exercise. Having destroyed our institutions we now want the foreign universities to open campuses in India and take care of our education. So, we are ready to make the process of building responsible human beings, a market commodity. Education will become devoid of values and will merely serve political and market bosses. All this is being done by organisations claiming to stand for cultural nationalism. There has never been a more serious threat to our civilization in the history. India has shown resilience in surviving various external attacks but how will it stand this internal assault disguised as an ideological assertion?

(Author: Sandeep Pandey is General Secretary of Socialist Party (India))

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