The necessary utopia
India must restructure its society into a model of enlightened, communal harmony
The last decade of the 20th century was considerably exciting indeed; everyone was awaiting the arrival of the 21st century! The term 2K became very popular; people were sharing their vision of what would be the shape of things in the 21st century! All around the globe, numerous studies were conducted, committees set up to envision the 21st century, either in specific areas, disciplines or in different sectors of growth and development. UNESCO set up the International Commission on Education for the 21st century under the Chairmanship of Jacques Delors. It presented its report in October 1996 in Geneva. Its title was deeply thoughtful and comprehensive: "Learning the Treasure Within". It projects the crux of the teaching-learning process and harmonises fully with what indigenous thinkers and philosopher had articulated and incorporated in the Indian tradition of knowledge quest, creation, dissemination and utilisation. It was summarised by Swami Vivekananda as thus- "Education is the manifestation of perfection already in man."
The UNESCO report mentions four pillars of education: Learning to know; learning to do; learning to be and learning to live together. It also continuously extols lifelong Learning as an essential element that could be neglected only at the peril of personal growth and creativity. It re-asserts what people have known for ages, that education has a fundamental role to play in social and personal development. Harmonious human development has become a key challenge in the 21st century. Today, thanks to ICT, everyone is now the neighbour of everyone else! But the cult of the neighbourhood is vanishing fast. Demographic, linguistic, ethnic, cultural and religious compositions are undergoing swift changes and this is creating unheard of tensions, apprehensions and distrust; often leading to violence and resultant sufferings being inflicted on each other.
Who is supposed to lead this harmonious human development? My immediate response would be: it could be achieved only by inspired academic institutions and motivated teachers. In a democratic setup, power lies in the hands of the politician; who has to keep his eye on the next election to retain it or if already unseated, to regain it. Their mathematics would be different; they know their power, perks and pelf depends on the vote garner in the next election. In the Indian context, it was this consideration that led to the swift erosion of Gandhian values within just two decades after independence. The greatest asset of civilizational advancement in the 21st century – the school – was ignored and neglected. The resourceful were encouraged to create their exclusive territories for elite education. These are flourishing. However, in the process, the big constitutional assurance of equality of opportunity of access and success evaporated without a whimper. Where is the last man in the line who was so dear to Gandhi? Every politician talks of removing poverty, ill-health and misery but the entire national discourse centres on political machinations and market forces.
Even issues of social cohesion and religious amity in India are deliberated upon only under political considerations. In the name of freedom of expression, even the basic decencies are being ignored, young persons are demanding freedom, wanting to break India apart into 'Tukade-Tukade' and hold the majority community responsible for all the ills! Shaheen Bagh onwards, the riots, looting, killing and violence that overtook Delhi has revealed the inadequacies of the existing systems of legislature, executive and the judiciary. All the three were found inadequate in handling exigencies of the situation. These could not offer the security and safety that the Constitution of India guarantees to every citizen without any discrimination of any sort.
India just cannot afford vested interests and unscrupulous elements to ruin its march ahead on the path of progress and development. It must work seriously on strategies to prepare young men and women of character, commitment and courage to create a cohesive nation.
Just recall Nalanda, the great international University that had ten thousand students and two thousand teachers. Bakhtiyar Khilji, the ruthless looter and invader knew its worth and how it was creating a superior civilization and leadership in and around India. He burnt the library and destroyed the university. In the last week of February 2020, two schools were burnt in Delhi. It takes ages to inspire the society and community to move ahead, to infuse dynamism in thought and deed and to let people realise the 'essential unity of all human beings' irrespective of their colour, creed, linguistic priorities or religious affiliations. The Delhi riots have exposed that we have, with some exceptions, elected representatives who do not know the decency of human behaviour, use hurtful language and some of them are behind the present carnage. Those wedded to violence and spreading hatred stoop to act as religious zealots. Is it not time to think beyond politicians? Yes, we need to create social and spiritual leadership that would form an enlightened civil society. Communal harmony is the lifeline India must protect at every cost. This is the national need.
The writer works in education and social cohesion. Views expressed are strictly personal