Never before, education in India was put to such political siege as during the last two years. The ruling combine of the political parties diametrically opposed to each other emerged on the basis of the eternal political principle of ?power at any cost?. Those out of power for nearly six years were impatient and had only one goal before them: to return back to the coveted positions and towards that end, were willing to sacrifice not only the professed principles but even their self-esteem. The entire nation now watches how the stalwarts of the ?support from outside? arm-twist the present alliance in power practically on daily basis. Education and culture stand totally surrendered to the select group of ideologically trusted academics who follow the ?party line?.
By Dr. J.S. Rajput
Revert back to May-June 2004. It appeared that educational institutions were managed ?only? by undesirable elements that had spoiled all the ?progressive? accomplishments of the earlier 50 years when only ?saintly? individuals were at the helm of the affairs and consequently, for all those years the entire education system was under the control of right-minded (like-minded) luminaries. There were pronounced declarations that actions and enquiries shall be instituted against the guilty and the system shall be cleansed up without delay. True to the promises made, enquiries were instituted regularly. Several of the retired yet committed bureaucrats were fruitfully and gainfully re-employed to save (serve) the nation once again. Some of them are functioning even now, practically on a regular basis. There is no dearth of more enquiries. If one enquiry did not result in the desired outcome, another and more followed it. It generated a climate of demoralisation and apprehensions in the institutions. On the other side, several of the top-level functionaries were seen running helter-skelter to establish new ?loyalties?. Most of them were successful and were duly rewarded through continuation, extension and other rewards. For the first time, change of government really ?stirred? the system, as vendetta was visible all around. Governing bodies and other committees of autonomous institutions were sacked without any reason and rhyme. Even the universally respected and honoured academics and scholars were not spared. The first and the most prioritised innovation was thus being implemented as if the victimisation of individuals and demoralisation of institutions were the only priorities before the education system of India.
There was more to the political agenda. Secularism comes handy to most of the Indian politicians in their political machinations and manoeuvres. The earlier government was headed by a political party, which was voted to power by the people but remains an anathema to the ?secularist? (not to be confused with secular individuals) and helps them to stick together. No matter whether the previous government had really given desired priority to educational reforms or not, they attacked all the changes of their predecessor government as communal and anti-secular. An entirely new meaning was accorded to the terms saffron and toxification. The frequency of the usage of the terms like ?de-saffronisation?, ?de-toxification? and even ?de-talibanisatin? shot up exponentially for a couple of months. It came down after the common people started asking questions: ?What was toxified or saffronised and by whom?? The query remains unanswered.
Yours truly was targeted for the curricular changes in school education and the preparation of the new generation of textbooks. Personally I am yet to discover what could be termed injurious to the next generations of the Indians in the textbooks prepared during the period concerned. Yes, the monopoly of the ?established? writers of textbooks, particularly history textbooks was broken and for this, I received no instructions from any one. As the head of the national institution mandated to update the curricula at regular intervals, I led a team of dedicated academics from within the organisation and with outside inputs to initiate and complete the process. The protests should have come to an end after the Supreme Court of India, in its judgment delivered on September 12, 2002, fully endorsed the recommendations contained in the National Curriculum Framework for School Eucation-2000. Without increasing the price of the textbooks, the sales increased from about 44 crore per year to over 165 crore in three years. To me this was one of the modes of assessing the national acceptance of the initiative. Combined with the Supreme Court verdict, it constitutes the best of rewards one can hope for in his professional career.
I assert the above based on my lectures, tours and other widespread interactions throughout the country during the last two years. In addition, I have regularly expressed my views in media. Tremendous support comes from all the sections of the society for two major aspects that are invariably dealt with in these lectures and media contributions. The first, educational endeavour, its content, process and pedagogy must strive hard to inculcate the values of truth, peace, non-violence, righteous conduct and love. The other: basics of all the religions of the people of India must be made known to children. They must know the commonalities and also learn to respect differences wherever these exist. All religions must be treated on equal footing and towards this end, teachers need to be specifically prepared. What is needed is education about the basics of all the regions and not religious education in schools.? Both of these were put forward only as a reiteration of the recommendations of the Chavan Committee Report on Value Education submitted to the both Houses of the Parliament of India in February 1999.
Indian State is secular but the Indian society is religious and traditionally secular. The game plan carried out under the garb of ?danger to secularism? is fast losing its relevance. People in general and also teachers and other professionals and enlightened individuals are asking each other: ?Who is communal? Those who unhesitatingly exploit religion and caste for political purposes or those who wish to strive for social cohesion and religious harmony?? The projected achievements of the Ministry of Human Resources Development as perceived by the masses is limited to the flair for minorityism and the recent outburst of energy to implement the OBC'squota in ?one go?! Often, I feel grateful to the MHRD for having created conditions, one after another, which have made people sit up and question the ?hidden agenda?. It, however, is now the most known secret of the current times: Education for Vote, Vote and Vote! Education in India now faces a disastrous syndrome under the cover of de-saffro-nisation, de-toxification, minorityism and finally, casteism, which appear to be the most ?productive? of the ingredients towards educational progress of India! Thankfully, people now understand the ?game plan? and are ready to contribute their might to redress the situation. This certainly is one positive achievement in education, resulting out of sincere efforts of the concerned citizens and organisation to generate public awareness and place the real facts before them.
I accept my role and responsibility for all that was subsequently projected as saffronisation and toxification of education. I am confident that some day, the views contained in the Supreme Court verdict shall find currency and Indian education system shall be upgrading itself in quality and credibility, with the support of academics and scholars, away from the clutches of political aberrations.
(The author is former director, NCERT.)