Resist Commercialisation and Communalisation of Education, Demand Education for All

In 1998, the Indian Parliament had unanimously recognised education as a fundamental right. This decision was taken under the direction of the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA Government. The SFI is a left-aligned students’ organization and one of its core demands still remains that, public expenditure on education be at least 6% of the GDP along with the demand that Education be recognized as a basic human right. Historically, education has proved to be an empowering tool in the hands of the marginal and downtrodden sections and thus, helped to attain the goal of an equal society.

2014, had been historic in terms of Parliamentary electoral politics, after many years, BJP achieved singular majority in the Lok Sabha elections and the NDA formed the government with the ‘Development Man’ Narendra Modi heading the cabinet. This immense victory was largely backed by India Inc. and the youth of the country who wanted to ride the developmental Modi wave. It’s only been a year since Mr. Modi entered office and already he has given us a lot to talk about. Be it his expensive fashion statements, world tour or his bromance with the head of the global super power, USA. But, you must hand it to the man, he and his cabinet are taking important game-changing decisions which affect the people who voted him in (not in a good way, mind you) while, most of us busy discussing his outfits and next foreign visit. 

Since, the Modi government has come into office; the education sector has come under direct attack with a systemic breakdown of the educational system in terms of destruction of the various national educational and cultural institutions, commoditisation of education and its saffronisation.  Marxist Philosopher, Georg Lukacs wrote a book called ‘Destruction of Reason’. In the book he says, for the emergence of classical fascism, there is some preparation required and this preparation occurs through the destruction of reason. India presently, is under fascist rule and fascism requires a process of destruction of thought. This destruction of thought is carried out in two ways – the commoditisation of education and the communalization of education. 


COMMODITISATION OF EDUCATION

The commoditisation of education is that process which, not only treats education as a commodity but also its products i.e. the educated students as commodities. There ceases to exist any personal relations and education is thought of only in terms of pure money. So, in return of money one gets as education and one utilizes that, education to further make more money. This entire process leaves out the freedom of thought, ability to analyze and creativity, in other terms subjects that teach one to critically think about society and its structure will cease to exist. Marketable skills will be taking over the education sector and no concrete knowledge will be imparted. 

The Indian government had submitted ‘offers’ for ‘market access’ in the sub-sector of higher education to WTO in August 2005. This was part of the Doha round of GATT (General Agreement of Tariffs anmd Trade) negotiations starting in 2001.  By having made that offer, the Government of India had indicated its preparedness to allow ‘education businesses from all over the world – 160 member nations of the WTO – to establish colleges, universities, and other professional institutions as operational commercial ventures.

Though this process had started a decade back, of late, it has gathered urgency. Meanwhile, the Doha round had got stuck on a number of contentious issues; but now with special meeting of the general council of WTO held in Geneva in November 2014, the process has been revived with a new vigour. Now, decision to overcome earlier resistance by the least developed and the developing countries to conclude the round in the tenth ministerial conference to be held from December 15-18, 2015 in Nairobi has been firmed up. Obviously, this is in keeping with defending the interests of the developed countries’ corporates in most sectors of economy and trade.

In simplified terms this means that, education will be implicitly considered a tradable service and will be under the jurisdiction of GATT’s council (council for trade in services). Laughably education, as service, will be at par with those regulating night clubs and other recreational activities, under similar rules with minor variations of domestic regulations. The WTO supervisions will technically reduce the student to a consumer. 

The WTO takeover in education is not abrupt; such has been the trend in India since post-1990’s after India took up the neo-liberal policies. But, in the past few years the effect has been better observed and a pattern has been seen to emerge. It has manifested as aggressive privatization, centralization and commoditisation of education. Recently, the ministry of human resource development has released a consultation paper towards the formulation of a new education policy.

It observes: “The approach paper to the 12th plan mentions that about 18 percent of all government’s education spending or about 1.12 percent of GDP is spent on higher education today.  This should be raised to 25 percent and 1.5 percent respectively. An increase of 0.38 percent of GDP means an additional allocation of about Rs 25,000 crores to higher education for the centre and states taken together.”  However, the paper is conspicuously silent on the fact that in the last budget, the government has reduced   its outlay and the situation is no better for the states which anyway run low on funding. But, the paper has not been able to entirely deny that, “Strong higher education systems are developed in advanced regions of the world with the liberal funding by the state and equally liberal funding by the society at large” – but irrespective of this confession there have been no indications in attempting to change the education funding model that has been adopted post the 90’s. 

Rather, there have been attempts made to expand space further for private institutions to set up shop. Earlier private sector only focused on imparting professional and technical education (marketable skills again!) but, now they have also begun encroaching onto the field of general higher education. Obviously, the success of these institutions had depended on the sole ground of their profitability. Two inevitable consequences have followed. Inadequate infrastructure, substandard and ill-paid faculty virtually reducing the institutions to degree selling machines; or else it has been so overpriced as to severely affect affordability, making them irrelevant in addressing the gross enrolment ratio (GER) requirements.  But even that is now in jeopardy.  With industrial slowdown and virtually de-industrialization setting in, huge capacities remain unutilized, resulting on unnecessary load on public investment. 

The largely decentralized development of education envisaged in the Constitution with it being in the State list has now been completely reversed to support the agenda of commercialization of education of the neo-liberal and fascist powers that have been ruling India. .  The half a dozen proposed legislations during the final phase of the UPA-2 government were, in the main, aiming to promote privatization and centralization to facilitate the integration and homogenization of higher education market.  Globally, education business is the second largest sector and the fastest growing. India is deemed to be a major piece of this global education market place.

The conversion to the market model began with the conversion of the Delhi University undergraduate program to the Four Year Undergraduate Baccalaureate Program even against much public dissent by the UPA-2 in its final days. The NDA had promised to roll back the FYUP which, they did, only to open up an entirely new can of worms. The reference here is to the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) which, the government is trying to implement. This is an attempt to obliterate the differences between public and private educational institutions which are presently prevalent. Unsurprisingly, this policy change is being pushed with the benefit of the private institutions kept in mind. Since, experience has shown that so long as public funded institutions and courses remain, the ‘private’ could not thrive. 

The WTO regime brings with it horrific implications, it states that all educational institutions must be given ‘national treatment’ which, translates to no disti8nction between the private and the public or the foreign and the national. If India becomes a part of the agreement on education as a part of the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services), the WTO can supersede the Indian Parliament with respect to legislations in the field of education in keeping with the agreement. Thus, the Parliament will cease to stand for freedom, democracy and accountability. 


COMMUNALISATION OF EDUCATION
 
Did you know that Qutub Minar was built by emperor Samudragupta and its real name was Vishnu Stambha, or that our original ancestors Manu and Shatrun gave life to this earth. That man took birth in Tibet, originally a part of India, and all beings were Aryan beings. Or that stem cell research was invented by India’s Dr. Balkrishna Ganpat Matapurkar, or that invention of television dates back to the Indian rishis using their yog vidya which would help them attain divya drishti for e.g. In Mahabharata, Sanjaya sitting inside a palace in Hastinapur and using his divya shakti would give a live update of the battle of Mahabharata, to the blind Dhritarashtra? 

Laughable, as these ‘facts’ are, these are part of the curriculum that lakhs of children are being subject to in the RSS-run schools all over the country. Now, it has always been clear to the people that the RSS promotes the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra and also that, the BJP have the backing of organizations like the RSS and the VHP. But, in the past year what has come out in the open is RSS and VHP don’t merely offer support to the Modi government but also greatly control the policy-making process and thus, the BJP is paying it’s dues to the organization that mentored it. 

The Nazis had changed the entire educational syllabus to establish their agenda of racial hatred and Aryan supremacy. It is the same phrase and similar ideology that inspires RSS and BJP to use education as a tool to indoctrinate the young minds with communal ideas. It would be wrong to only point out the promotion of the Hindutwa ideology through education. The Madarsas have also begun to percolate Islamic teaching with a new dynamism. This can be attributed to the fact that, probably they want to combat the efforts of the Hindu educationists. 

Even before the BJP came to power in 2014, important leaders like Venkaiah Naidu, were unapologetic on going on record and saying ―”it (the BJP) will change textbook syllabi, if it returns to power” and also mentioned that they had attempted the same earlier when they were in power and will try to do so again. This time around they might even be successful given that, BJP is a singular majority and does not have to be derailed off its course owing to the hindrances of coalition politics.  Rajnath Singh, the Union Home Minister, while speaking in Rajya Sabha on rising crime in the country,  stated: ―there is need to inculcate values in the public to bring about a perception change‖, and that ―it had been proposed that school textbooks be changed in order to ensure that children were made aware of human values and life values. Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani made a statement that a State-wise and regionwise national debate would be initiated for a course correction of the country‘s education policy. Dinanath Batra, National President of the RSS affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas (SSUN) and notorious for the role he had played at communalising education during BJP's earlier stint in power, unambiguously stated: ―Political change has taken place, now there should be total revamp of education. 

What Batra refers to as a ‘total revamp’ of the education system is nothing but the establishment of a education system that breeds young individuals who are committed to not only the national cause but also the Hindu cause. The reforms suggested by Batra have already begun to be incorporated by the new government. These reforms call for a thorough revision of the socio-cultural history of our country. Batra, representing the RSS, wants history to be taught not on the basis of facts, but on the basis of myths and concocted stories.

The reforms include barring the use of certain words which are understood by everyone and have become a part of the Hindi language because they take root in Urdu. Instead he calls for them to be replaced by synonyms but which originate from Sanskrit. Since, he believes the former are polluting the vocabulary of the young.  The ‘facts’ stated earlier are all part of the textbooks distributed to the 42,000 primary and secondary schools in Gujarat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a staunch RSS activist endorsed these views not only by writing an appreciating foreword for all these books, but also talking in the same lines in a public function in Mumbai. He said: ―We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. We all read about Karna in Mahabharat...Mahabharat says Karna was not born from his mother‘s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time‖. And even more: ―We worship Lord Ganesh. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time who got an elephant‘s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery.” 

It is indeed also part of a conscious effort to negate the great rationalist traditions of ancient India. For example, in ancient India, we had the great proponent of medical sciences, Susruta, who had advocated surgery as a remedy to cure various illness and body deformities. We also had Varahamihira and Brahmagupta two famous astronomers who found out the true causes of lunar and solar eclipses. The RSS and BJP do not want to project these people and their achievements as a contribution to world civilization because; they had propagated rationalist philosophy and in the process went against many ancient Brahminical law texts. The RSS and BJP hence cannot accept the real contributions made by ancient India and instead is keen on inventing myths that do not stand to rational scrutiny. 

Batra further wants the references to MF Hussein deleted from the NCERT textbooks and also of poet Avtar Singh Pash. He is unapologetic about the reasons: Hussein ―had depicted Bharat Mata in the nude‖ and Pash ―talks of class struggle, untouchability and social inequality‖. Unruffled by all the criticisms and unconcerned about the future, in one of the textbooks that were mentioned earlier the author (Batra) openly advocates that a child should join in the RSS shakha: ―Keeping a good friend circle is not enough. To keep it faultless, a good company is also required. This means a company of saints and learned people. The student that goes to an RSS shakha daily, he finds miraculous change in his life‖. It is not limited till here, one of the textbooks, ‘Tejamoy Bharat’, propagates absolutes religious intolerance. It states, ―”An alien religion is a source of sorrow.”  What these alien religions are, is clear – Islam and Christianity. To breed this intolerance and destroy the synergetic culture of our country, they want to distort history and feed it to children right from their primary school. And it is not just history, but even geography too is distorted to realise their grand design of building a 'Hindu rashtra'. It talks about Akhand Bharat, which geographically subsumes all our neighbouring countries.

The RSS, BJP and the Sangh Parivar today are advocating a pan-Hindu identity,  to incorporate all classes and castes in realizing their dream of establishing a Hindu-rashtra. But, this has not meant that they have gotten past the ‘Chatur Varna’ system. The books written by Batra clearly give away their nuanced positions through the terms used – India is a 'shudra' name, a lowly term, which should not be used. The intolerance professed by the RSS and other such organizations thus extends towards 'other' races, 'other' gender and everything 'other' than what they are – upper-caste, Hindu supremacist and patriarchal.

The RSS and its cohorts are so desperate to implement their long-term goal of establishing a Hindu-Rashtra that, they have taken to fabricating further lies to include the Dalits into their fold. The books state that the oppressive nature of the caste system and its associated ills have stemmed from ‘foreign invaders read ‘Muslims’ Bhayyaji Joshi, the supposed number 2 in RSS hierarchy in his foreword to one of the books written by a BJP leader, part of their project of historical distortions, states that ‘Sudras’ were never untouchables and it was due to Islamic atrocities during the medieval age that led to the emergence of dalits and untouchables. To violate Hindu swabhiman (dignity) of Chanwarvanshiya Kshatriyas, foreign invaders from Arab, Muslim rulers and beef-eaters, forced them to do abominable works like killing cows, skinning them and throwing their carcasses in deserted places. Foreign invaders thus created a caste of charma-karma (dealing with skin) by giving such works as punishment to proud Hindu prisoners.

Last year, many instances of extensive saffronisation of textbooks, specifically history and social science textbooks in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab and other States have been reported. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP government had issued circulars for teaching Bhagavad Gita in schools and madarasas, by making it a part of the Urdu textbooks. It had also issued similar circulars asking all the schools to compulsorily subscribe to the RSS journal Deva puttar and ensure that it is read by the students. Also surya namaskaras are made compulsory in schools.

It is not only a distortion of the ancient history that, these people are attempting but have made up concoctions to their liking with respect to Medieval and Modern history too. There have been attempts to equate the wars between various rulers in the medieval period with the anti-colonial freedom struggle against the British. This attempt is being made with an explicit purpose to show that Muslims are outsiders/foreigners against whom the Hindus waged a 'freedom struggle'. This is intended to serve the purpose of RSS brigade which is intent to portray Muslims as non-Indians.

Thus, far we have only discussed the efforts that have been made to communalise education at the level of school education. The government (backed by the RSS and others of course) has not kept its hands off higher educational institutions also. The most blatant example of these efforts is the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairman of the FTII who, has to his credit playing Yudhishthir in a television adaptation of the ancient Indian epic ‘Mahabharat’ and a few B-grade movies (as has come to be known recently). These credentials are deplorable to step into a position which has been held earlier by cinematic greats like Ritwik Ghatak and others. Apart from FTII, Indian Council of Historic Research (ICHR), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Children’s Film Society of India, Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), etc are also coming under attack. Dr. Anil Kakodkar, famous Indian Nuclear Scientist, has dissociated himself from his position of Chairman of the Board of Governors at IIT-Bombay. It is popularly believed that, he resigned because he found the constant interference by the HRD ministry, a hindrance to his work. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, eminent historian, resigned from his post of the journal which, the ICHR publishes. His resignation was soon followed by the disbanding of the 21-member advisory committee to the ICHR which comprised the likes of Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib. Mr. Bhattacharya’s resignation came because he was unhappy with the ‘direction’ ICHR was taking, following Y. Sudarshan Rao being appointed as chairman of the ICHR. Evidently, major educational and cultural forums in the country are coming under scrutiny from the central government. 

It is being argued that, every time a new government comes into power, we are witness to favoritism. Individuals close to the ruling party or aligning oneself with their ideologies find themselves in positions of repute and power. But, what the Modi government is doing is slightly different from this. They are only putting ‘yes-men’ or progeny of outfits like the RSS in these important positions regardless of their credentials. It would have been justified if they had appointed an individual who was acclaimed in his field and whose contribution to this field could not be undermined but he/she held a point of view similar to theirs. 

Thus, it is evident that, the education sector is under much attack and constant efforts are being made to make it an exclusive commodity. SFI as a left students’ organization has a major responsibility to resist these attempts that are being made and actually make education accessible to all.