The most outstanding objectives of education in twenty first century, articulated by UNESCO, are ?to achieve social cohesion? and ?learning to live together?. These are contained in the report of an independent commission appointed to perceive the shape of education in 21st century. Released in 1996, the implications of these recommendations have become abundantly clear to all around the globe, including the mightiest of the nations. It is an insecure existence all around, bravado apart. Military solutions or even nuclear solutions are just not going to be of any help at all in resolving the threat of fundamentalism and terrorism that spares no country and no community. It is the ?good sense? and human values that alone would offer a way out. Towards that, as is always happens, every one expects education to contribute in a big way. Education, per say, has to meet these expectations and accept responsibility to create a climate of respect for diversity of all varieties and an environment in which violence is shunned against the mutual trust and faith in the process of dialogue across the table. In Indian context, the diversities abound on all fronts and so are the instances of conflict resolutions based on mutual respect and understanding amongst people and faiths. Everyone knows about it. Having suffered terrorism, supported and directed by Pakistan for decades together, India should have learnt its lessons much earlier in the day than reaching an impasse on Sri Amaranth shrine and the Ram Sethu issues. A helpless government watches blasts at regular intervals, endures anti-national demonstrations in J&K as a meek and mute observer, plays tricks on presenting facts before the highest court of the country and is not even ashamed of its miserable failure in combating terrorism, separatism and fundamentalism. The pitiable plight is being discussed across the length and breadth of the country.
The post Independence period provided a readymade playing field for wily politicians who, in the name of secularism and dangers of communalism, fed the Muslim community on promises and assurances which they never cared to fulfill. They exploited the community and did not allow a forward looking and dynamic social leadership to grow and guide the community. The reversal of the court judgment in the Shah Bano case is one typical example of the great disservice done to the women of the Muslim community who were denied of their basic human rights now available to all others! There were some strong voices from the community in favour of women'srights but these were submerged in the political maneuverings. It also widened the gap between the two most populous communities. It was allowed to grow in several ways. When the terrorists and fundamentalists were killing and evicting Hindus from Kashmir Valley, there were no secularist voices of even a sustained protest. No government, NDA included, could wipe the tears of blood of the refugees from Kashmir Valley. They lost everything only for the crime of being Hindus!
An unprecedented spread of mistrust, alienation and a sense of disgust amongst the two major communities of India is evident to everyone. When the Jammu region and the Kashmir valley are in flames, we find our leaders fueling the fires of hatred. The much appreciated Omar Abdullah speech contained the pledge: land allotment only over my dead body. The much awarded, rewarded and adulated duo of Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar chose this time, when both the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu region are in flames, to complain that they could not purchase a flat in Bombay ?because they are Moslems?! The PDP leadership shouts hoarse on an issue which was generated and approved by it! One can go on counting. The great Lalu Prasad Yadav and his newly found friend Mulayam Singh Yadav continue to bat for SIMI tearing to shreds the democratic principles of the combined responsibility of the Cabinet. For few more votes they would not hesitate to put the future of India in jeopardy!
These self-proclaimed secularists and political parties, which are together, only to remain in power, are fully and totally engrossed in communal politics. They unashamedly blame their favourite punching bag?the BJP and the only organisation they are afraid of?the RSS. When Narendra Modi wins, they lament it as the victory of communal forces. When they win purely on caste considerations and minorityism, it is full-blooded democracy! The UPA has survived only on projecting hatred in the name of ?saving the country from the dangers of communalisation?. People now understand well what a great damage UPA has done to the traditional concept and actual practice of secularism.
Revert to the period around 2000-04 when the cartel of secular intellectuals joined together to fight for themselves; they were no more in control of academic institutions. To them it was an unbearable situation and they were unable to adjust to it. Behavioural aberrations were visible in abundance. Every day, there were press statements against what they termed as ?distortions in history? and ?danger to secularism?. They approached the Supreme Court of India and lost their case fully and totally. They were rewarded for their activism by being placed on plum posts after May 2004. Where are they now? Suddenly, the silence has dawned upon them and one sees no press statements on Amaranth or Ram Sethu? The fear of the people'swrath and the way common man has responded on these two issues has unnerved them.
The government must realise that the present state of crisis is its own creation. Shockingly, it has no advisers who could tell that every sensible Indian is aghast at its handling of these two issues. It is shocking but what more one could expect from a government that survives on the whims and mercy of the leftist and after their departure, wins a vote of confidence in the ?manner of July 22, 2008?! It has created such a social division in this country that may take decades to bridge the gap. Such a widespread sense of humiliation and frustration was never witnessed even amongst those Hindus who live ?secularism?, respect all religions and are always willing to accommodate. They too, like every one else, do not want to live as second class citizens in their own country.
(The writer is former director of NCERT.)