Indian education policy

Abbas Zaidi manoo at
Thu Mar 15 05:02:26 UTC 2007

Contradictions plague Indian govt's education policy

By J.S. Rajput

NEW DELHI: Mature democracies are characterised by the realisation of citizens' powers by every individual. Together, people should be enabled to see through the games politicians play. This is exactly what is happening in India. Indian voters and their leaders are engaged in an unannounced game: voters are learning to assert their rights and the politicians are striving hard to keep them in good humour with repeated assurances of a better future.

The current political leadership has perfected the art of keeping people's hopes alive on promises rarely meant to be fulfilled. That they have been able to do so for decades is apparent from the Left-combine's rule in West Bengal.

The "saviours of the sarvahara" are battling hard for the capitalists while pretending to protect the poor peasants. This is not the only sector that has witnessed the contradictions in what is preached and what is put to practice by the leftists when they are in power, as in West Bengal, or at the Centre where they are supporting the government from outside.

One can understand the Left's behaviour. It has been consistently inconsistent for decades. The surprise comes when political parties professing to carry forward the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi wilt under pressure and subvert professionalism while making policies even in sensitive areas like education reforms.

They may like to recall what Indira Gandhi had very comprehensively summarised at the Rajya Sabha on March 20, 1972: "I am not an expert on Marxism. But I have read a little bit of it and I wonder whether these people have not strayed from the scientific humanism which Marx propagated."

What happens in Singur, Nandigram and elsewhere makes many of the Left-sympathisers sit up and think afresh.

Having ruined West Bengal's industrial establishments 1977 onwards, they now find that the farmers in Singur need the Rs 1 lakh car more urgently than their ancestral land, culture and heritage.

Their think tanks are finding it difficult to articulate the disastrous departure from the "ideology" they protected so passionately all these years. Several interesting aspects emerge in this "ideology of contradictions." What is considered right in Singur and Nandigram is vehemently opposed at the central level where they are providing crutches to the government from outside, a rare case of authority without responsibility.

The Left motto is simple: "When we do it, it is right and secular, when others do it, it is wrong and communal."

The inconsistency displayed by the Left - the self-proclaimed fighters against communalism and the saviours of minorities (read Muslims) - is no longer a secret. I recall a communication addressed to the secretary of the National Communal Harmony Foundation (NCHF) by one of its illustrious members on September 4, 1998 pleading, ".Our concern regarding 'equal respect for all religions' has little meaning if such 'respect' is based on ignorance and, thereby indifference to the many living faiths extant in India. Both comparative religions and cultural appreciation are recognised disciplines around the world, but such studies remain uncommon in India - and sadly so.

This omission should be made good. The UGC NCERT and scholars and men of culture should think about this urgently and formulate a specific programme of action."

In February 1999, the 81st Report of the Standing Committee of the ministry of human resources development headed by S.B. Chavan had recommended teaching the basics of different religions and the five basic human values of truth, peace, non violence, righteous conduct and love, in the process of schooling.

The honourable Members of Parliament belonging to all parties, prominently the Leftists and their current allies, had approved this. As the next logical step, it was suggested in the curriculum framework for school education in 2000 that, "What is required today is not religious education but education about religions, their basics, the values inherent therein and also a comparative study of the philosophy of all religions."

The plea was that "the students should also be led to believe that the essence of every religion is common, only the practices differ." Strangely enough, these very recommendations were declared communal by a Left-combine and some vested interests submitted these for judicial scrutiny. To their dismay, the Supreme Court of India fully and totally endorsed these recommendations.

The petitioners included the person who had made the plea to the NCHF on the same lines. What followed subsequently and more particularly after May 2004 in the name of "detoxification" tells a historic story of the contradictions that exist in the UPA-Left camp.

The recently submitted 174th Report of the Standing Committee of the ministry of human resources development of the government of India recommends that yoga be made mandatory for all school going children in the country.

Exactly the same recommendations were included in the curriculum framework for school education in 2000. These were promptly declared communal and toxic in May 2004. The Standing Committee now finds that "yoga helps one to achieve all-round development.

Considering the vast potential of this ancient knowledge the committee recommends that yoga be made compulsory for all school-going children in the country."

It is another matter that the recommendations made in 2000 were not examined professionally and academically when the Left-supported government came to power in 2004. The approach adopted was of obvious vilification and vendetta.

A glaring case of inconsistency and unprofessional approach is the removal of the paragraph on the Jat community from history textbooks by the Central Board of Secondary Education in the last quarter of 2006. It was done within hours of the chief minister from a Jat dominated state meeting the Union HRD minister.

This paragraph was dropped in 2000 as it was found incorrect and biased. However, that process was declared "communal" and the paragraph promptly restored in text books in 2004 as a secular act! One wonders what should the latest removal be called: "resaffronisation" or "desaffronisation"?

One could cite innumerable instances of unprofessional and blatantly political decisions that have been taken by the present government to replace the educational reforms initiated by the previous government.

It is a matter of satisfaction that yoga is back as it should be. Hopefully, the five values and the teaching of the basics of all religions as recommended by the Chavan Committee will also be brought back by the present Standing Committee which has taken a bold, forward looking and professionally right decision.

This is essential for social cohesion and religious harmony at this juncture of history.

The instances cited above, ranging from the sufferings of the peasants to the politicisation of the content and process of education clearly talk about the dangers of unprincipled approaches in the decision making process. The problem arises when politicking overtakes professionalism.

The solution lies in alert, articulate and educated citizens' response. Economic progress and consistency of policies can be achieved only when education of good quality, augmented by values, is available to all, and public awareness of policy formulations is systematically enhanced.

There should be no place for coercion and intimidation as in Singur and Nandigram, and politicisation and vendetta in areas like education. -Dawn/The Asian Age News Service

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