Whenever I visit Tamil Nadu, I feel proud over the rich cultural heritage of the state. The state reminds me of saint Thiruvalluvar’s spiritual teachings, the grandeur of the great Chola Empire and the statute of Nataraj, which are venerated by us. Even the European laboratories like the CERN --credited for finding ‘God’s particle’-- have established Nataraj at its campus because it symbolises the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva.
Today southern metropolitan cities like Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad have emerged as IT hubs in the country. South India has been home to many great scientists like Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, Dr C V Raman and mathematicians like Sriniwas Ramanujam. Even in ancient period, this area gave the country remarkable sages like Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya.
South India has always been an intellectual seat of India.
Politicisation of education at the rulers’ whim and fancy has been a common practise all around the globe. Education in many countries has been used as political weapon for many centuries. In medieval Britain, Henry, the VIIIth, not only politicised education but also the Church. The king held a personal grudge against the Pope as he was not allowed to get a divorce from his queen. He decided to support a new protestant sect. Many schools and churches came under its influence and they preached political philosophy of the king. Those were the early days of politicisation of education in Europe.
Later in 20th century, other European countries tried to adopt ‘secular education’ countries like the erstwhile USSR introduced Lenin and Stalin in College and University syllabuses. In South America countries like Cuba promoted revolutionary Che Guevera as youth icon who believed in extremist version of Communism. The 20th century also witnessed the rise of Hitler who believed in preaching extreme nationalism in the students. Nursery students were made to learn rhymes like ‘Rhine is Mine’ so that they did not forget the humiliation inflicted on Germany in the first World War through Treaty of Versailles. In the West, politics and State always played an important role in guiding the system.
In India, education system was always autonomous, free from State control. We have shining examples of universities like Nalanda and Texila which were self-reliant and capable of generating their resources through generous land grants. The Nalanda University was given the right to collect direct tax from 100 villages. In Mahabharata when Yuddhisthir bets on his entire kingdom during ‘Dyoot Kreeda’ he mentions that this bet does not include land properties given to educational and religious institutions. Ancient Indian educational system is one of the finest examples of autonomous and apolitical system.
The process of politicising India’s education began much before we waged our first freedom struggle in 1857. In the 18th century, an East India Company employee named Charles Grant propagated the idea of educating the native Indians who, according to him, were “ignorant, miserable and even corrupt”.
But it was Lord Macaulay who became instrumental in pushing forward the agenda.
Macaulay made a public declaration through his minutes that “a single shelf of a good European library [was] worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia” and also advocated creation of “a class of persons who would be Indian in blood and colour but English in tastes, in opinions, and in intellects”. Thus 1837 marked the beginning of the process of politicisation of education in India. Taking a cue from Macaulay minutes, the British rulers established three Universities around 1850s and a heavy colonial impact was clearly visible. This colonial education system had three main objectives of producing public servants loyal to the Raj, diverting young minds away from the oriental knowledge and pomoting western values and culture among the youth. Many graduates who passed out from these universities became the members of the Indian National Congress (INC) when it was formed in 1885. This was something which was a cause of concern even to Gandhiji. When asked about his views over the miserable condition of poor farmers in the country, Gandhiji wrote in Hind Swaraj: “I am not overtly concerned over the farmers’ plight, but when I see the educated youth of our country it makes me deeply worried about India’s future. If we want to be free from British rule then aping Britain in independent India would make swaraj meaningless.”
The Mahatma wanted an education system which upheld the age old cultural values of the country. If western education is credited for progress, peace and prosperity, then a tyrant like Adolph Hitler would not have been born in a highly educated country like Germany. On the contrary, India, which was one of the most illiterate countries at that time, gave the world a humanist like Gandhi.
After independence, Gandhian legacy and thought were not celebrated properly by those in power. They used his name for political purpose but his ideas were generally ignored. The people who enjoyed power were so fascinated by the western education that even after they gained independence they did not feel the need to change the colonial pattern for education. They believed that western education was the only available option to transform a ‘backward and illiterate’ India into a modern and progressive nation.
Anything that was Indian and rooted in our civilisation and culture was trashed by these so called ‘intellectuals’. In the name of ‘secularism’ all moral and cultural links were deliberately snapped from the educational system.
When the Congress outsourced its educational policy to left wing intellectuals led by Prof Nurul Hasan, it marked a new era of blatant politicisation of education. For nearly two decades, these left wing academicians ruled India’s intelligentsia and imposed a deeply political education system on the country by capturing the entire intellectual establishment. They distorted India’s cultural history to give legitimacy to their ideology.
When the NDA Government came in power and we asked to substantiate their theories they were unable to provide credible facts. So, when we tried to remove these blatant lies, a huge furore was created in the media and we were blamed for ‘Saffronisation’.
In 2008, NCERT books removed a chapter on Gautam Buddha replacing it with a chapter on Nehru’s Discovery of India.
A couple of years ago Delhi University has included an essay by A K Ramanujan named ‘Three Hundred Ramayan’ in BA Honours (History) syllabus, making obnoxious references to Lord Rama though a figment of imagination. Although the essay was finally removed after a huge controversy but it left the scar of politicisation in our educational system permanently. When we opposed the inclusion of this essay, we were blamed for politicisation.
During my tenure as Education Minister in Uttar Pradesh in 1991-92, I faced strong resistance from these groups when I introduced Vedic mathematics, a stream well recognised in many universities abroad. Similar protests were made when Madhya Pradesh introduced yoga and Surya Namaskar in school curriculum. Even Sarswati vandana and Vande Mantaram was banned and dubbed communal by the so called ‘secular forces’.
The NDA regime was guided by its commitment to revamp the educational system which was against the spirit of India and national interest. Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, the HRD Minister in the NDA Government, had taken many positive initiatives in this direction.
The NDA Government also tried to implement the Kothari Committee recommendations on educational reforms. We strongly advocated that primary education in India should be given in Indian languages only. Elements of Indian history, ethics and culture were introduced in curriculum to instil a sense of pride, confidence and morality in students.
When the NDA Government went out of power, the NCERT curriculum was revised in the name of ‘de-saffronisation’. Nothing could be more painful than playing politics on education as the students of the country have every right to learn the truth which gives them right perspective.
In this context, I would like to mention eminent author and Nobel laureate V S Naipaul, who said that India is the only country in the world where history text bookteaches a history which dilutes the nationalist elements rather than strengthening it. In India, we consider the Indian history written by foreign authors more authentic than the books penned by Indian historians. Our entire educational establishment has become captive of this colonial mind set.
Our present education system lacks vision and direction. This hollowness creates a sense of confusion and disillusionment among students. Due to rampant politicisation and commercialisation of our educational system, the focus has shifted from character building to making the student suitable for job market.
Education is not limited to textbook knowledge. Real education goes beyond that. As the great Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar says: “Let a man learn thoroughly whatever he may learn and let his conduct be worthy of his learning” (Kural Chapter 40 verse 1).
This is what our education system should strive for. Unless we set this process in motion, our educational system will remain grossly inadequate and incompetent. Ancient Indian education system not only gives emphasis on ‘Shiksha’ but also ‘Diksha’. Our educational system should be guided by three objectives-- character building, nation building and skill development. If we can accomplish these goals then India is destined to make its mark in the world.