Abhisek Kumar Panda
Author’s Note : In my previous article I talked about the foundational principles of the Hindu Rashtra as an alternate holistic model to the western concept of state and society. But the question is, why this model does not manifest in this sacred land of India even. The reductionist method of segregating education, religion and culture and translating Dharma as religion is reflected in the state’s educational policies. The purpose of education is to liberate a person but it is doing the opposite.
Unless the ordinary man is empowered, a civilization cannot strive to achieve its ideals, however glorious its past might be. The first and foremost is education. True education will lead one towards true freedom, that the world is seeking.
The freedom is from bondage of consumerism and poverty, religious fundamentalism and scientific dogmatism, misogyny and radical feminism, individual anomie and societal fatalism, statelessness and despotism, racism, casteism and so on.
"sā vidyā yā vimuktaye”. A common misconception that arises is that (vidya) education is about becoming an ascetic by rejecting everything and freedom from bondage is anarchy or utopia. Such type of assumptions are themselves products of bondage. Education must empower a person to take charge of his or her life and not merely be a slave of the circumstances.
Constitutional Makers on Education and Religion
The impediments in building such an educational system can be seen in certain interpretation of articles of our constitution and laws made by state.
Article 28 titled “Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions” under Part III- fundamental rights of Indian constitution, talks of religious freedom in educational institutions. It basically says-
- In educational institutions maintained wholly out of state funds no religious instructions to be provided.
- In educational institutions established under any endowment or trust but administered by the state, religious instructions can be provided.
- In educational institutions recognized by state or receiving aid by state, religious instructions will be on voluntary basis i.e. no one will be forced to take part in any religious instructions.
It is important to understand the context when this article was drafted and the visions of our constitutional makers. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar responding to several queries in the constitutional assembly debates, clarified the need for a complete bar of religious instructions in institutions under point 1.
- “Public funds raised by taxes shall not be utilized for the benefit of any particular community”. Suppose a school is wholly funded by a local authority that would be getting a general tax from the locality, the fund might be misused by the school for imparting religious teachings of one community.
- Secondly it was practically impossible to impart religious teachings of all communities equally in a school in India where numerous communities are present. Here he cites apart from Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Jewish, Jains, Buddhists various sects of Hindus like Vaishnavites, Shivaites etc.
- Thirdly, he says unfortunately religion prevailing in this country are not only non-social but rather anti-social in respect to mutual relations between them – “one religion claiming that its teachings constitute the only right path for salvation, that all other religions are wrong. The Muslims believe that anyone who does not believe in the dogma of Islam is a kafir, not entitled to brotherly treatment with the Muslims. The Christians have a similar belief”. So in regard to “peaceful atmosphere of an institution” such a provision is necessary for “complete safety”.
On the question of instructions in institutions mentioned in point 3 he “tried to reconcile the claim of a community which has started educational institutions” irrespective of the fact that it receives certain aid from the state. The state in this case “is free to give aid, is free not to give aid” but “shall not debar the institution from claiming aid under its grant in aid code merely on the ground that it is run and maintained by a community”.
- During this debate, Pandit Lakhsmi Kanta Maitra raised a question whether “the teachings of Vedas, or Smrithis, or Shastras, or Upanishads come within the meaning of a religious instruction?”
- Dr B.R. Ambedkar then distinguished between religious instructions from research or study as per his point of view. “Religious instruction means this. For example, so far as the Islam religion is concerned, it means that you believe in one God…. in other words, what we call dogma. A dogma is quite different from study.”
- On this the Vice President of the constituent assembly, H.C. Mookerjee, a Bengali Christian leader, pointed out “students have to study not only the University course but books outside it in Sanskrit literature and in fact Sanskrit sacred books, but this was never regarded as religious instruction; it was regarded as a course in culture. It is a question of teaching students”.
- Prof Shibban Lal Saksena asked Ambedkar “The way in which you have explained the word “religious instruction” should find a place in the Constitution.” But Ambedkar then left it to the judgment of the courts to deal with when the issue arises without explicitly mentioning it.
The broad understanding of a secular state or Indian secularism among our constitutional makers was that the state would not discriminate one religion over another. It would promote and protect all religions equally. This model was in a way similar to the duty of a “rajan” as enshrined in ancient India who would not discriminate between his “praja” on any grounds. A point to be noted is those discussions centered on religion and not Dharma (the difference is explained later). Nevertheless, the American model of secularism where an iron wall exists between state and religious affairs was discarded. Also, the French model where religion is supposed to be a private affair was not only impossible rather undesirable in a country like India then as well as now too.
But the circumstances prior to independence like the divisive politics of the Muslim league fanned by divide and rule of the British empire, the Bengal and other riots and division of the country along religion lines led to a general consensus about creating an enabling and secure environment for minorities which has been our rich tradition. Our civilization has always accommodated diversities of language, culture etc. and was never threatened by the idea of differences.
Thus article 30 under fundamental rights titled “Rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions”guaranteed all minorities based on religion or language right to establish and administer educational institutions of their own. But minority rights were never meant to discriminate between majority and minority as state policies or fan the communal forces. Nor any special privilege is bestowed upon minorities.
The Article 29 (sub clause 2) which reads“No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the state or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.”clearly justifies that discrimination in educational institutions based on majority or minority is unacceptable. The English were champions of this divide and rule and our constitutional makers were aware of this. The term minority was thus undefined in the constitution as it shouldn’t be seen as a privileged fixed group rather depends on exigencies of time.
The vision of Rashtra gets distorted
The policies prevalent are antithetical to the vision of a Rashtra. The vote bank electoral politics of minority appeasement is directly impacting educational institutions. The state which was supposed to give grants and guarantee some rights to minority institutions under article 30 (sub clause 2) for any concrete vulnerabilities without discrimination has turned it into a division along religious lines disregarding all norms of equality.
The loophole is the undefined term “minority”. The central government notified 5 religious groups as minorities at national level in 1993- Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, who enjoy the minority-rights at a pan India level. In 2014, Jains were added to this list. In the famous “TMA Pai Foundation v. state of Karnataka” the Supreme Court of India pronounced a minority must be defined taking state as a unit and the Right to Minorities under article 30 is not absolute and subject to national interest. But the central government is putting the ball back in the state government’s court as education is in the concurrent list, Thus there is lack of any effective understanding of the unit of “minority” assessment.
The result being, that the deserving communities lack support whereas the undeserving ones get undue advantage. There is lack of any objective assessment based on number of individuals, financial and administrative needs, threat of allurement or coercive pressure, networking support and nature of organization i.e. nature of teachings imparted, the criteria of student and the teachers, the management and trustees. This lack of support has led to many sects, especially many tribal groups becoming culturally extinct. Many cultures are in a dilapidated state and the rare followers are in abject poverty just because they are force fit into a colonial monolithic definition of Hinduism and categorized as majority. The Bauls of West Bengal, Jogi Nath sampradaya in Odisha are just a few names among thousands.
Whereas institutions like madrasas enjoy privilege in Jammu and Kashmir even after abrogation of article 370 where Muslims are in a majority or churches in Mizoram where the Christian population is close to 90% . Minority should not be defined only in terms of percentage of population disregarding the absolute number of the individuals. Also in this interconnected world with the proliferation of transnational organizations providing financial, ideological and legal network support, the criteria is redundant.
Right to Education Act – its (deliberate) loopholes.
The Right to Education Act, 2009 was nobly aimed at fulfilling the Right to Education for all children of age group of 6 to 14 under article 21-A. But the state has overarching presence in schools in terms of deciding on the infrastructure guidelines, management committees, teacher qualification criteria, student-teacher ratio, student quota for weaker sections and curriculum. While some guidelines are necessary, it also allows the state to intrude into many aspects of education in a uniform top down approach thereby completely disregarding the local culture and its needs. For example, the requirements for the teacher’s qualification, who must have passed the TET (Teacher’s entrance Test) which is an examination based on state mandated curriculum deprives any sect of Hindus to recruit teachers based on competence in their scriptures and practices. Thus it negates the purpose of article 28 sub clause 3 which allowed religious instructions in institutions not wholly funded by states. Similarly, the detailed curriculum guidelines set by the state gives no scope for teaching and propagation of its shastra (sacred texts) by a community.The state has again discriminated here on the basis of minority and majority.The minority institutions are exempted from RTE Act as per “Pramati Educational and Cultural Trust & Others v. Union of India” judgment.
- The minority is presumed to be vulnerable and less privileged, so needs state intervention for ensuring universal and equitable education. But it is the opposite case.
- The exemption if based on question of compliance burden of the regulations or threat on autonomy impacting the conservation of culture, that ought to be analyzed across the spectrum as this can have serious negative effects in any organization in a diverse country.
- If it is based on question of legality where right of minorities conflicts with right to education in letters of law then we are treading a dangerous path, which Max Weber says bureaucratization, where a society gets terminally entangled in cycles of creating rational rules to get rid of old rules.
Clearly the three scenarios need serious rethink, the reason being that the exemption clearly pampers elitists of certain communities while the poor remain perpetually deprived and disempowered. It creates a potential allurement for schools to either turn into a minority institution or reject being defined as Hindu because of systematic discrimination. In this context the comments made by Shri V.I. Muniswami Pillai, a scheduled class activist and freedom fighter from the then Madras presidency, during constituent assembly debates are noteworthy. He said “certain institutions in the past, due to the aid that was given by the former Government, under the garb of imparting education to the masses, have taken a different stand. This has led to masses of the unfortunate communities embracing a religion that was not their own.” He then welcomed the restrictions of imparting religious instructions in state funded schools.
Dharma weakens in the Rashtra
The fundamental issue is clearly the imposition of western definition of religious beliefs and practices discussed earlier. The reductionist diagnosis of religion, culture and education into separate compartments has done serious damage to our holistic nature of civilization. The word “Dharma” being equated with religion is a complete blunder. Dharma in a general sense means the nature or duty of an entity. The Dharma of fire is to provide heat while that of ice is to cool. Similarly, the Dharma of a student, a householder, a statesman, a scholar, an entrepreneur is his duty. A society and its institutions also have its Dharma. Again, Dharma is also contextual and not like a fixed rule cast in stone. The ultimate Dharma of a human being is finding the true nature of self. “dhāraṇāt dharma ityāhuḥ dharmoṃ dhārayati prajāḥ”. Dharma sustains and enlivens everything and every being. It holds the Rashtra.
Our scriptures, culture, religion, scientific practices and institutions revolve around this eternal concept. Education is fueled by these to prepare a human being on the principle of Dharma – a duty based model, where a person takes responsibility of his life and society rather than only demanding in a rights based model.
But we have put our philosophy, astrology, astronomy, mathematics, itihasas, puranas, medicine, yoga, tantras, statecraft, martial arts, economics, sciences and social sciences and various other bodies of knowledge (vidya-s) and practices all under the western umbrella of religious instructions. This was even not envisaged by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. We are not teaching it to the young generation who are the upholders of Rashtra which is nothing sort of destruction of the Rashtra. Western universities have dedicated departments for different religious studies including Hinduism. Ironically, their state and religion are perhaps in more water tight compartments. The eastern countries like Japan have developed a harmonious model mix of ancient Japanese tradition and modern technology.
The alienation of the student and youth from Indian civilizational ethos is leading to various issues.
- The break from our dharmic civilization from childhood is impacting individual psyche. A psyche full of remorse, self loathing and inferiority complex. This propels them to create a new identity in western culture. The society then becomes susceptible to various dangers as anything western is glorified and accepted without question. There is no alternative framework available to critically analyze western studies, its institutions, ideas and culture from our perspective.
- This self loathing psyche and civilization’s disconnection also generates a reaction in others. They chest thump anything Indian without understanding it and in turn do a disservice to it. They lack the capacity to implement it or defend it in practical life.
- The lack of teaching of entire Indian spectrum of vidya-s has lead to no significant research. We lack institutional capacity for the maintenance and progress of the Rashtra. This further leads to a vicious cycle of distortion and corruption of our traditional knowledge system and its practices. Ultimately, it dies out. For example many tantric practices are still described in terms of western vocabulary like black magic, superstition, occult practices, orthodox, spirit possession etc. This has led to loss of scientific reason behind many of our practices which gives it a color of superstition.
- The division between culture, religion and education has led to extinction of many folk artifacts : dance, local handicrafts, paintings, theatre, crafts etc. Many jaatis across the length and breadth of India have become either dependent on state or market for their survival thereby surrendering their agency. Poverty has overlapping components with it.
- On the other hand, many ideas are appropriated or digested by the west without giving due credit and the native people remain unaware of their identity.
Our education system is still more or less based on what Lord Macaulay has envisaged –“a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”.
Instead of freeing life, Education is creating more bondage and the Rashtra
Abhisek Kumar Panda hails from a rural village, Kurunta, in Balasore district of Odisha, India. He did his B.Tech. from the National Institute of Technology(NIT), Rourkela and then worked as a data analyst for 2 few years. He left his corporate, (View More)
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