Minefield of Indianising Education

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad has a quaint little story. When the gods, the demons and humans went to Prajapita, the creator, he only uttered one word ‘Da’.
Image for representational purposes only. ( Express Illustrations)
Image for representational purposes only. ( Express Illustrations)

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad has a quaint little story. When the gods, the demons and humans went to Prajapita, the creator, he only uttered one word ‘Da’. The gods interpreted it as ‘datta’ that is to give, the demons as ‘damyata’ or to control and humans as ‘dayadham’ or to be compassionate.

With the intimation of possibly a new system avowedly thought to be Indian or unabashedly saffron, it is important to figure out what is the objective behind it and what is the meaning the establishment wants to ascribe to it. One of the few strengths of the existing system is the separation of learning and knowledge from esoteric and arcane knowledge of the religious scriptures.

If Indianising means going back to the scriptural knowledge, we have a problem at hand as such knowledge means quiescence, reinforces stratification and exclusion, and probably is driven by the spirit of damyata or control.

One hundred and sixty-two years after Macaulay prepared the Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code and 75 years after Independence, we have not been able to draft a new penal or procedural code. Even attempts at tweaking at the margin have produced monstrous provisions which enfeeble the citizen vis-a-vis the state. New laws brought in often create a house of horror. One wonders which one is more suitable for a democracy. The ones produced under the colonial rule but reasonably just and evenhanded or the ones ostensibly Indian but essentially anti-people?

Let the truth be told. I saw during interviews for selecting Director (IIMs and IITs) the same recycling of people, not a selection from a large field. Professors become directors, associate professors rise to be professors and I was appalled by the limited gene pool of talent the country had when ex-pat professors were unavailable.

It was surprising for a country proud of its intellectual prowess. It will be much worse when the mandatory insistence on preparatory mathematics for joining the engineering stream and PhDs for teaching jobs is done away with. The problem of quality of PhDs persists, but the real danger of hijack by the undeserving under the guise of Indianisation is scary.

It is not that such kind of hijack had not happened earlier. The mushrooming of Sanskrit colleges and the large-scale appointment of Sanskrit teachers have largely benefitted one social stratum without reference to the quality of intake and the need. Some politicians have hijacked the appointment of constables to appoint the ruling formation’s caste men under an expansive logic that they are traditional strongmen.

Secondly, the system starts equating underprepared and less-deserving with well-prepared and deserving. We see a Sanskrit teacher getting the same salary as a physics teacher, a modern Indian language teacher getting an equal salary as a maths teacher. Next, Gresham’s law takes over and resource persons for more important subjects are elbowed out by the large-scale presence of not-so-important subject teachers. It has always happened this way. But what used to be a cottage industry of nepotism and wrong prioritisation will become an assembly line of misuse.

The Indian education system had a lot of issues regarding its lack of functional emphasis, rote learning and lack of critical thinking. Lack of Indianisation is at best a lower order problem. As far as knowledge goes, there is a unity of knowledge the world over. Whatever is the pearl of wisdom in one scripture will be found in many books in different civilisations.

Often what is supposedly Indian is partly borrowed by us as others have borrowed from us. It is futile to declare an exclusive claim on such knowledge. Most Indian knowledge system is poorly documented and inadequately researched. There is a case for carrying out research on that, but spewing scriptures in an esoteric language is hardly universally desirable. Eventually, received knowledge not scrutinised in its entirety is no knowledge. Why inflict such interpretation and knowledge imparted by questionable intellects on students who are already overburdened?

Education is meant to liberate people. Even our ancients understood that when they said, ‘Sa vidya, ya vimukte’. When 70 percent of people struggle for their diurnal needs, labour force participation is in the low 40 (for women, it is in the low 30s), education can be a tragedy of discrimination and inequality instead of being a liberating force. People already question the relevance of existing education because of uncertain pay-offs. One just hopes that behind the veneer of Indianisation of education is not an attempt to take education back to scriptures, to reinforce stratification and differentiation and to transfer agency from individuals to the keepers of arcane secrets.

Satya Mohanty


Former Secretary, Government of India

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