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Mainstream, VOL LV No 41 New Delhi September 30, 2017

Taking Educational Institutions Backwards

Friday 29 September 2017, by Sandeep Pandey

On September 11, 1893 Swami Vivekananda delivered his famous speech in the Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago. The Bharatiya Janata Party Government decided to celebrate the event and Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the youth of the country. Incidentally, he shares his first name with Vivekananda’s original name, Narendra Nath Datta.

Vivekananda has inspired the youth of this country for long. His preachings are thought- provoking. For example, he says, ‘As certain religions of the world say that a man who does not believe in a Personal God outside of himself is an atheist, so the Vedanta says, a man who does not believe in himself is an atheist. Not believing in the glory of our own soul is what Vedanta calls atheism.’ At another place he pleads with his audience, ‘If you are not a prophet, there never has been anything true of God... Everyone of us will have to become a prophet.’

However, when this occasion was celebrated on September 11, 2017 on university campuses, students were asked to memorise the speech of Swami Vivekananda delivered in 1893 and regurgitate it. When students did not even bother to learn it by rote, they were allowed to read it from paper. Such is the sorry state of affairs of our academic institutions. If the Swami were alive today he would have cringed in despair.

He wanted everybody to have complete faith in themselves and feel like a sovereign but our higher educational institutions do not want our students to develop independent thinking. Had the students been asked to give their comments on Vivekananda’s speech they would have had to exercise their brain. But it is amazing that university-level students are just being asked to memorise and reproduce a speech! The entire idea of putting a curb on students’ thinking is contradictory to Vivekananda’s idea of empowerment. How can the students have belief in themselves if they are merely activating not the analytical power of the brain but only its photographic ability? Quite clearly the autho-rities want to produce followers and not leaders.

That Vivekananda is not taken seriously by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the ruling dispensation in India, is also clear from his statement in the same speech, ‘We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.’ However, in the context of the current migration of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, the Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, says they are illegal immigrants and not refugees who have not followed the procedure to apply for asylum, but it is not clear whether the Government of India would welcome them even if they were to seek entry through the proper channel. They obviously don’t have Viveka-nanda’s large heart. Narendra Modi chose not to raise the issue of persecution of Rohingya Muslims during a meeting with its famous leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in his recent maiden visit to Myanmar. That demonstrates India’s overall insensitivity towards the Rohingyas.

Vivekanand also said in Chicago, ‘Sectaria-nism, bigotry, and its horrible descendent, fanaticism, have long possessed the beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.’ However sectarianism, bigotry, fanaticism and violence have increased with the BJP’s ascent to power. Some Sangh Parivar loyalists can argue that this is in response to the rise of similar tendencies in Islam globally. The moot question is: could there have been a different response rooted in Vivekananda’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s ideologies to it?

It is also worrisome that senior functionaries of the BJP governments are indulging in negating scientific and rational thinking. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, while speaking at the convocation of the Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow on September 16, claimed that China was researching how Hindu God Ganesh’s head slain by his father Lord Shiva was replaced with an elephant’s head and exhorted the Indian doctors to delve into the treasure of our scriptures. He also beseeched the faculty and students to find the herb which brought back Laxman to life. According to him, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was inspired by the Mahabharata to work on missiles. Yogi Adityanath holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics.

The State Minister for Human Resources Development at the Centre, Satya Pal Singh, claimed in a programme of the All India Council for Technical Education on September 20 in Delhi that Shivakar Babuji Talpade in India invented the air plane eight years before the Wright brothers. According to him, plants in Ravana’s kingdom were not required to be watered as they contained a mythical elixir, Chandramani. He wants engineering students to learn about the Hindu deity, Vishwakarma, puranas and mythology. Singh holds a Master’s degree in Chemistry and is a former Indian Police Service officer.

By not letting analytical thinking develop in students the RSS is ensuring that there will be no one to ask the Yogi when he makes the suggestion to doctors to research how an elephant’s head replaced the beheaded Lord Ganesh and that if indeed doctors were successful in doing this surgery, whose brain would the resultant creature possess—human’s or elephant’s? Or they don’t want any student to ask Satya Pal Singh that if India possessed the know-how of making planes, why is it not investing in rediscovering that knowledge rather than buying Rafale jets from France?

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey is the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India). He was elected to this post at the founding conference of the party at Hyderabad on May 28-29, 2011.

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