Tragedy of Indian education
India’s post-Independence rejection of indigenous civilisational knowledge and culture in its education system has risked eroding its unique national identity
On January 26, 1950, our Constitution had 80,000 words. Interestingly, the word 'secular' was conspicuously absent therein, except innocuously in article 25. That together with articles 1, 25 to 30 and the embellishments in its original manuscript, is a good marker of the constitutional recognition of the religious nature of our country. More importantly, our Constitution embraces and gives space to all religions.
However, our colonial education system has been implanting irreligion and deracinating us into self-loathing people. Coupled with the coloured enforcement of constitutional provisions, particularly article 28, its deleterious effects are more pronounced in Hindus; whereas article 30 shielded the minorities.
Having realised the potential danger of cultural deracination, late Syed Shahabuddin introduced Private Member's Bill No 36 of 1995 in Lok Sabha to enlarge the scope of article 30 to include all sections of citizens irrespective of minority or majority. His incontestable reason as mentioned in his Bill is: "The aspiration for conserving and communicating religious and cultural traditions and language to succeeding generations is legitimate and applies to all groups, big or small."
The prominent Gandhian, Dharampal in his seminal research, The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century, which was based on the dispatches of British officials, reports that prior to British rule, every community including all lower castes had a fairly high level of functional literacy. He says, "The pathshalas and madrasas had enabled them to participate openly and appropriately and with dignity not only in the social and cultural life of their locality but, if they wished, ensured participation at the more extended levels."
We all know that in less than 200 years, the British destroyed our economy so much so that our share in the world economy declined from 24.4 per cent in 1700 to 4.2 per cent in 1950 and in global industrial output, from 25 per cent in 1750 to 2 per cent in 1900. How could they accomplish such enormous ruination in such a short period? Simple! They uprooted our education which was culturally anchored and vocationally oriented and reduced us into one of the poorest countries. In his inimitable style, Mahatma Gandhi had nailed the British for wrecking our education by saying: "They scratched the soil and began to look at the root and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished." Yet, post-independence, we have not learnt any lessons that education rooted in civilisation is a prerequisite for durable prosperity.
Empirically speaking, despite the hard work and entrepreneurial qualities of its people, no country that was not rooted in its civilisation ever prospered on a sustainable basis. Japan is deeply civilisational, which helped it recover in no time from the devastation of the atomic bombing. The erstwhile superpower Communist USSR, having destroyed its own civilisational glue of the Eastern Orthodoxy, imploded in less than 70 years. Having realised the necessity of civilisational anchor for becoming a superpower, Communist China is promoting Mandarin and Confucianism in a big way.
But India is confused. Our education is making us into, dhobi ka kutta na ghar ka ghat ka. We banished all our civilisational knowledge and ancient texts including Rig Veda which is the world's oldest known scripture. We eschewed our immensely rich linguistic heritage and numerous languages by preferring English. Our educational policies bereft of civilisational thread, are a continuation of Macaulay in their essence. Consequently, to quote Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy, "Of all Indian problems, the educational is the most difficult and most tragic." My USA based relative has perceptively commented once that in her every successive visit she sees more and more of the West in India.
We are enjoined to discharge three hereditary debts (Rinas) namely, Dev Rina, Rishi Rina and Pitru Rina, to whom we owe our civilisational existence, by the inter-generational transmission of civilisational knowledge. Which means, as custodians of our civilisational inheritance, we have the responsibility to transmit it, with or without value addition, to the next generation. We have no right to destroy the inheritance, for, we have not created it. Hence, we must teach our children our civilisational knowledge and essentials of their respective religions as compulsory subjects up to 12th class.
India is the land of languages and Indians have always been multilingual or living in a multilingual environment for millennia. Prior to the formation of linguistic states, many people living in current interstate border areas knew both the languages. Post-1956, language barriers between neighbouring States grew which need to be overcome. Further, all Indian languages except Urdu, are decaying under the Anglican onslaught. Indian civilisation cannot survive if Indian languages die. For, our languages and civilisation are two sides of the same coin.
Therefore, mother tongue should be the medium of instruction at least up to 12th class as mandated by section 29 of the RTE Act and article 350A of Constitution. Those who have studied in mother tongue up to 10th or 12th class should be given incentives like scholarships, interest-free educational loans, grace marks in recruitments to public employment including the Civil Services.
Further, in order to strengthen our multilingualism, we should compulsorily teach all students at least one Indian language other than their mother tongue till 12th class. However, students should have the option to choose from a bouquet consisting of all neighbouring states' languages. For instance, students in Tamil Nadu should have the option to choose any out of Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Sanskrit and Hindi.
Our culture and civilisation are our identities. Loss of identity is the loss of everything. Furthermore, only a person who knows his religion and language can appreciate other's which alone guarantees harmony, unity and enduring prosperity.
The writer is a serving senior IPS officer. Views expressed are strictly personal
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