I have my own severe criticism of the Draft National Educational Policy (NEP) 2019 based on educational realities that have been grossly ignored and I shall deal separately with them in another write-up. Here, I like to confine myself to this uncalled for fake criticism of NEP 2019.
The very concept of secularism has been misinterpreted, misused and degraded not just by politicians but more so by the intellectuals and academicians belonging to a particular ideology. Prof. Chandan Gowda's article on "Missing secularism in new education policy" published in 'Mint' is another addition in this regard. Far away from ground realities, this is another piece of propaganda by so-called "Secularists".
Prof. Gowda, himself seems to be confused about defining secularism when he says that "The model of secular education, of course, can be imagined in varying ways. It could mean either avoidance of religious instruction in government schools or making available equal space for texts from the various religious traditions in the country". This is where the problem starts for the word 'secular' imposed from the English language cannot have two different meanings/applications – one for the European World and the other for India. Secularism evolved as a concept through a struggle of power between the Church and the State in the European World and means a complete break between State and Religion and not a policy of appeasement for power politics. Since when does it become a concept for giving space by the State to all religions? This in effect has been and is very conveniently used by both – the Indian politicians and so-called progressive academicians for advocating a policy of appeasement and surrendering to communal forces. Secularism is not a tool to be used for encouraging fanaticism of any community - minority or majority.
Gowda's own statements are contradictory as on the one hand he mentions that the "the Indian government hasn't allowed for religious instruction in its schools" but on the other goes on to add that "While religious instruction is kept out of government schools, the practice of secular education in India has not meant an absence of "religious" texts in the classroom."
He further adds that "the language and literature textbooks make space for devotional poems". His duality on secularism is further reflected when he goes on to confuse ethical, moral principles and values only with religious discourse. This kind of dilemma stems out from the pick and choose Marxian conception where religion is quoted as "Opium of the Masses" forgetting the next words that "it is the heart of the heartless society, the sigh of the oppressed". This too has been conveniently used as per their political interests by the Indian Marxists. They had no problem in using Durga Pooja for political mobilization or even quoting from the religious texts to characterize their opponents and even legislate to control religious organizations in the states where they have power.
On the name of secularism Gowda criticizes a curriculum which declares "traditional Indian values of seva (service) ahimsa (non-violence), swacchata (sanitation) satya (truth) nishkam karma (working without expectations), not merely tolerance but celebrating plurality as well, mutual coexistence, honesty hard work, respect for women, respect for elders, respect for all people and their inherent capabilities regardless of background, respect for environment, respect for all the living organisms on this planet etc. will be inculcated in students." He propagates that "the sheer multiplicity of moral tradition in the country makes it tough to shortlist traditional Indian values for the classroom. The difficulty is amplified by the fact that these values often have varying interpretations across religious traditions or even are in conflict with each other." He forgets that there is something like a synthesis – something which Ashoka did by taking up the best principles needed for peaceful co-existence, fraternity and development from all religions. Every religion developed and preached certain values as per the societal needs in a time context. In many religions values evolved in this context with the exception of the dogmatic ones. If so-called dogmas are contradictory to the needs of modern civil society they cannot be and should not be treated as values for human development. Unfortunately, the self-proclaimed champions of secularism, though, fully aware of this aspect, side-track it for their immediate vested interests and also to please their political patrons.
The most uncalled for example he is citing is that the Jain concept of ahimsa has conflicts with Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus, etc. Ahimsa Parmo Dharma (Non-violence is the highest religion) has been a traditional Indian concept along with Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the whole world is a family) and Sarva Dharma Sambhav (let all religions flourish) much before the emergence of many contemporary religions. Should we stop preaching the value of Ahimsa to younger generations just because it is in conflict with some other religions and let the younger generations go astray with inhuman violent preachings by fanatics and terrorists or a modern market society with no values?
It is shocking that a sociologist is attributing respect towards women and elders as "generic-values expressed in English". All I can say is that Gowda has either no knowledge of Indian values in relation to women and elderly that existed much before English was born or in order to propagate his pseudo-secularism, he is intentionally misleading as an adherent of the colonial psyche. Does not he know the respect shown to Bhisham Pitamaha by all who were fighting each other; the duties of children towards parents, the values related to respecting women – whether mother, sister or another woman? Is he aware that Dharma being much above religion clearly spelt out the conduct of an individual in relation to others and here following this Dharma itself is a value for societal existence? One can cite here the different values in the name of Dharmas for the conduct of every individual in the society – Guru Dharma, Shishya Dharma, Raj Dharma, Pati Dharma, Patni Dharma and so on. Name me other religion that prescribed such conduct and values. His so-called secularism will not take into account the deteriorating condition, exploitation and torture of Indian women by the foreign invaders for centuries who came without women and still continue to deny any rights to the women even of their own religion. Even in the 21st Century, we are witnessing Fatwas every day against the conduct of women in their private, family and public life.
Gowda further states that "Accommodating diverse faith traditions in the moral curricula ensure that students from certain religious backgrounds are not alienated in the classroom." What the country needs today is integration not alienation – Unity not division. It is unfortunate that after the end of British rule, the policy adopted by the rulers was to 'Rule and Divide' not 'Rule and Unite'. None of the four religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism), that emerged on the Indian soil ever converted people of other religions with sword or allurements. But the others that came to India did it and continue to do. So do we teach our students that such conversions are OK just because other religions have to be respected? When these other religions outwardly say that they respect all religions then why do they convert people from other religions? Is that religious harmony or peaceful coexistence?
The question here is not of alienating the students from other religious background but to examine where this alienation is being carried out. The curriculum of Madaras that preach alienating the other communities, conversions and fanaticism cannot be ignored in this regard. And one can cite examples after examples for this. Many such preachings are considered values by the followers of such religions so should they be included, as per the Gowda's argument, in the government schools for the sake of preaching values from all religions? Will these be relevant for harmony, peace, co-existence and respect? Perhaps he should read the History of how Madras High School was established in the 1860s when more than a thousand parents, Hindus and Muslims, wrote to the Lt. Governor that they want their children to have western education but they do not want them converted to Christianity.
Gowda also fails to recognize the very fact when the British, after the experience of 1857, overnight converted many Indians traditional professional communities into "lower castes". Not only this, they created lists of martial races or martial castes, criminal castes and criminal tribes. Thus, further creating divisions within Indian society. His so-called secularism also makes him shy away from what Syed Ahmed Khan wrote to the British describing the causes of 1857 where he characterized even the Muslims who had participated in this great struggle as "Badjat" and "Badmash" – who urged the British to make separate regiments of Hindus and Muslims like Nidar Shah did in Persia of Afghans and Persians so that they should not unite. And yet the textbooks kept praising him as a great reformer who even after the formation of the Mohamaden Anglo-Oriental College had stated that "This College is not meant for eka-walas". This is a policy in Aligarh Muslim University, though being a Central University, which refuses to apply the constitutional provisions of reservations for SCs/STs/OBCs either in appointments or in admissions. Is this secularism? Is this caring for the underprivileged? I would have appreciated that Gowda as a sociologist would have advocated to preach that 'Caste' is an alien word from Spanish 'Casta' meaning 'racism' and the Indian word 'Jati' can in no way be equated with it. I would have further appreciated if he would have argued that to uproot 'jativad' or casteism the real concept of jati based on the division of labour, be mentioned to the students rather than the distortions when this got converted into birth in a jati. This is something necessary to uproot the evils of 'caste'. According to Gowda "The challenge is to find fresh and creative ways of making young minds grasp these difficult social realities". Here again, he fails to understand that the challenge here is to fight out the derogatory social realities not just grasp them. We have had enough of this grasping and the results are in front of us.
The challenge is to change the psyche of differentiation based on caste, gender and religions. And this challenge can very well be met through value education.
Blanket propagandist statements are regularly used by the so-called secularists and the same are being repeated when Gowda states that the "omission of secularism as a guiding ideal in the draft NPE 2019" in relation to many religions 'caste' and 'tribes'. This according to him "prevents a satisfying realization of their citizenship experience. It impoverishes the learning experience of all. It harms Indian culture". This is again a generalization, away from reality. Distortion of historical facts, the imposition of alien principles, foreign ideologies and pseudo-secularism have negatively impacted the younger minds and it is high time that a practically oriented action plan is given shape rather than talking in jargons like secularism that are responsible for derailing the positive impacts that value based education creates.
Gowda should know that what matters for harmony and respect is efforts and actions in this regard rather than merely shouting or using the word secularism for appeasement and vote politics. Why something which is inherent in the Constitution through which every policy in the country is guided needs to be mentioned again and again?
Let me quote a Shabd from the Sikh Religion:
"hum nahi changai, bura nahi koi" (We are not good, no one is bad).
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(Professor (Dr.) Kapil Kumar is Faculty in School of Social Sciences (SOSS), Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.