Dangers involved

Dangers involved

JARGONISING EDUCATION : Honour and self-respect, sought to be turned into national cults now, are envisaged as negative in content and in spirit.

A sure sign of intellectual and cultural decay is that slogans are allowed to substitute responsible thinking. Slogans appeal to masses precisely because it fills mouths and spares minds. Slogans are heady stuff in electioneering. But, if imported into governance – in particular the administration of education – it becomes subversive of national interests.

Ram Shankar Katheria, Minister of State for Human Resource Development, identifies samman (honour) and swabhiman (self-respect) as the shaping goals of the education his ministry envisions. There is no indication, however, that the minister has done any thinking on what these concepts mean and how they are to be educationally promoted nation-wide.

The goals proposed can be understood in different, even contrary, semantic frameworks. Cervantes’ Don Quixote is all about the self-styled Knight Errant, wandering about in search of occasions to improvise fights to prove his sense of honour (Cervantes, by the way, reminds his readers from time to time that his hero is completely out of touch with reality and is in a state of quaint lunacy). Samman, in the Quixotic sense, is a matter of imposing one’s fanciful view of the world upon the rest of the world, together with the readiness to pounce upon those who do not accepted it tamely.

The case of self-respect is similar. Psychologists tell us that desire for recognition is basic to human nature. Self-respect is the subjective part of this drive. But the problem is that self-respect, to be healthy, cannot be purely subjective, but needs to be in consonance with the response it evokes from the larger context. Self-respect, in other words, stands in need of objective endorsement. When there is a breakdown between the two, obsession with self-respect becomes pathological.

Consider outgoing RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s statement which, in all probability, shut the door on his continuation in office into the second term, likening the current economic buoyancy of our country to the distinction of a one-eyed king in the land of the blind (In this, the RBI chief was taking a literary turn, referring to a short story by H G Wells: a rare thing for most economists, unless they are of the stature of an Amartya Sen). Rajan’s statement was just commonsensical.

You cannot judge your merit by your own standards. There must be a norm outside of yourself. Ask any lunatic if he is mad. The answer, assuredly, will be an emphatic no. In the strange logic of a BJP’s Subramanian Swamy, invoking a yardstick beyond oneself is against the samman and swabhiman of the country. National pride demands that you shriek, “Sack him.”

From all available evidence, the honour and self-respect, sought now to be turned into national cults, are envisaged as purely negative in content and spirit. It will express itself by targeting those who deviate from the set tone and dominant view. These, otherwise, desirable values, seem poised to be the alibi for enforcing abject conformity to the agenda set by the ruling dispensation and its ideological camp followers.

It is important that the issue – extremely serious in its implication, even in the short term – be understood as it really is. We are sliding into a neurotic mindset. In industry and commerce, the value given free play is not conformity.  It is dynamic entrepreneurial individuality.  That is the essence of offering and assuring “ease of doing business”. Conformity was the essence of the licence raj; the reason why national energies were kept frozen for decades.

Enthralling individuality

Cricketer M S Dhoni, to take a vastly different example, is lauded for his individualistic practice of captaincy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi captivated the imagination, virtually, of the whole nation with his enthralling individuality. That being the case, it was on the cards that the “old guards” would be eased out, as they have been. Samman and swabhiman did not mean the perpetuation of mediocrity sanctified by seniority.

Even the RSS realises that its foremost treasure is the dynamic individuality of the prime minister. But when it comes to education, putting the clock back could be misconstrued as samman and swabhiman. Yet, it is the Ganga of education that has to nourish and sustain every aspect of our shared destiny, including the vitality of our industrial, developmental push.

Against the backdrop of all of these, it needs to be asked: what understanding of honour and self-respect shall we adopt? As citizens, we dream of our country being respected the world over. We admire the Promethean efforts being made by Modi with that end in view, even if it is not yet clear if all of his initiatives are undergirded by a creative vision for ‘unleashing India’ comprehensively.

One thing is clear: we will not be globally honoured, and our self-respect will not come fully into its own, until we create a national spirit and culture conducive to the fullest development of the total possibilities of every citizen.

This is precisely where education can play a pivotal and decisive role. Even so, the education portfolio now stands at the crossroads. From here we may take one of the two roads: (a) allow education to be dragged back centuries via saffronisation, or (b) broad-base quality education and use it as a catalyst for energising India with its awesome talent and potential.

The signs of intellectual and educational awakening emerging from mofussil-town-and-rural-India are unprecedented. Engaging constructively with this dawn of promise and making India a garden of growth and fulfilment for all alone can safeguard our samman and swabhiman.  Every patriotic Indian hopes it happens. 

(The writer is former principal, St Stephen’s College, Delhi)

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