Education and Nationalism: An Indian perspective by Rudrani Ghoshal

By | March 13, 2020
Education and nationalism An Indian perspective

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Ancient India hosted the most holistic education that focused on training an individual mentally, physically and spiritually. Importance was given more to morals, values, principles and social responsibilities than academic success. Education, in India, was a holy thing, that wasn’t meant to be adulterated by political and governmental influence. Over time, India faced various foreign invasions and underwent several changes, in terms of the education system.

The worst hit, however, was during the British era. There were undoubtedly some positive changes, but the western innuendos completely drowned out the ancient system and practices, comprehending them as “backward” and “barbaric”. Ironically, the west now resorts to those same ancient practices like yoga as an integral part of their lifestyle.

The western system not only did disrupt the very sanctity of ancient Indian practices but also had an everlasting effect in the political and socio-economic spheres, especially in terms of nationalism.

The ancient system believed in uniting people from different social classes to knit them in a common thread of togetherness and unity, whereas the western influence believed in domination and dividing people in terms of the different social strata, especially religion.

In pre-independent India, nationalism was a united protest against the British through various movements, whereas, in the post-independent India, nationalism is nothing but blindly supporting the political ideologies constituting the government, completely ignoring their darker side. An important contributor to this is the faulty education system that follows a non-transparent “victor’s history” and books influenced by certain political ideologies and focuses only on academic successes.

Our education system should imbibe in all its citizens from early childhood a sense of pride about their Indian heritage.

Education and Nationalism: An Indian perspective 

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela.

Change is a strong word, as is education. In this fast-paced world, where time is but quicksand, change is inevitable and so the best way to face it is to educate ourselves as much as we can. It’s a shame though, that today, education is often regarded only through academic success.

This is a limitation to the potential of a person, compelling him/her to walk the tightrope of a morbid rat race. However, this wasn’t the case in the time when spirituality was untouched by religious antagonism, the time when political boundaries didn’t taint the world map, the time when humanity stood superior to power and money.

India has had a rich educational heritage but keeping in view the current scenario, the reach of that educational heritage seems limited to ancient scriptures. Swami Vivekananda once said,

                                                           “Education is the manifestation of the perfection already in man”.

The superiority of man in the animal kingdom speaks for this statement. The evolved senses and inheritance of an intellectual brain points at their evolutionary excellence in terms of civilization. But with the current educational scenario of India its almost inconceivable how such a great visionary is only customarily celebrated with no regard to his ideologies and preachings, whatsoever. And, the irony is that India, our motherland, is said to be understood the best in all its glory through the eyes of Swami Vivekananda.

India is full of diversities. It requires a great deal of transparency and clarity of mind to understand the cultural monstrosity of the subcontinent and it goes back to the time where the political demarcation of land was still fiction. The educational heritage of India has always been a pride for those who accepted and practiced it. Education is not an intellectual fetter. It’s meant to liberate one’s mind. Knowledge opens up the horizons of imagination, creativity, and freedom.

Without education, the mind is but a constrained territory of limited inhabitants. Rabindranath Tagore commemorated the idea of such a liberated country through his words,

“where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls ….”

Every person, by the virtue of being born in the species, is entitled to certain rights.  Rights that protect their humanity and protect them from the brutality of the “State of Nature” as pointed out by social contract theorists Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacque Rousseau. This makes sense in the pretext of the development of society because what is a society without its people? The existence of humans as the building blocks of society is as important as the ideologies each individual holds. Although every person is entitled to have their own ideologies, it’s the inherent duty that comes with their rights that narrows down all the ideologies to the welfare of society and the greater good.

Over time as the idea of society evolved and people felt the need for further organization, and there came the concept of nation. As the concept of nation evolved further, a collective feeling of togetherness followed which came to be known as “nationalism”.

Nationalism gave rise to a new unity amongst the people with a common territorial and cultural heritage. Overtime the territorial demarcations acted as the catalyst for further divisions, bringing into perspective the darker side of “Nationalism”. India as a nation has faced the many faces of nationalism, especially over the last 200 years.

It’s been 70 years since independence. There has been political independence but the position of social independence is pretty questionable. Independence is when one can enjoy all of their rights and exert the duties at the same time. Independence is when a person has the freedom to nurture an opinion and freely express it. Independence is when a person has equal participation as any other person in the state’s affairs. Independence is when a person can live and die with dignity. But is it really the situation?

The answer lies in the data provided by the National Crime Records Bureau.  As per NCRB over 1.44 lakh cases of atrocities against scheduled castes and 23,408 cases of atrocities against scheduled tribes came for trial before the judiciary in 2016.

The main reason behind such impunities is the social exclusion of certain classes in society which keeps them away from the halo of education. Without even the most basic education, it is difficult for a certain class of people to participate in the mainstream socio-political issue. And without the participation of all its citizens isn’t it foolish to expect a homogeneous nationalism to exist?

However, there’s a thin line between nationalism and patriotism. While nationalism claims excessive or undiscriminating devotion, to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state while only focusing on all that’s good whereas patriotism is the same devotion towards one’s nation while possessing the authority to question the administrative wrongs. Considering India’s diverse nature, it’s actually a bit difficult to establish a mutual feeling of nationalism.

There’s no such thing as “Indian culture” per se. Every part of India exhibits a different culture and to unite them may result in some cultural conflicts, mostly because of a lack of awareness of the about different cultures, which should have been transmitted through education. But, since the educational scenario is not quite the same, “unity in diversity” may actually appear to be a myth. What is more suited in the context is patriotism and not nationalism.

The educational spectrum

Let’s consider the current scenario. As soon as a child reaches the age of two, he/she is put in a playschool. Within a year he/she transitions to junior school where they begin to learn about the competition that preaches them to fight for the first position be it academics, sports or extracurricular activities. And by the time he/she graduates high school.

They are usually consumed by the over-ambitious urge to get into the best college or university, taking up the best course, usually with a promising career. While there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious and having a stable career, this obsessive professionalism somewhere undermines morals, values principles, and spirituality of a person. This is a very prominent marker of dissatisfaction and anxiety among a majority of people.

Now, let’s travel back in history. There was a time when education was untouched by society’s or state’s influence,  dating back to the 3rd century B.C. After the practice of passing on the educational legacy through older members of the family to the younger ones, came the era of Vedic and Buddhist education.

In the Vedic system, a child started his education at the age of five. To mark this commencement, the Vidyarambha ceremony, which included worshiping the goddess Saraswati and learning alphabets for the first time, was conducted. Leaving home and starting to live with a teacher required the child to conduct another ceremony called Upanayana. Boys practiced this ceremony at different ages according to their castes (only children of the Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vaishya did so).

In the Buddhist system, a child started his education at the age of eight, with a ceremony called Pabbajja or Prabrajya. Unlike the Vedic system, this initiation ceremony could be practiced by boys of all castes. After this, the child would leave home and go to live in a monastery under the guidance of his teacher (a monk).”

The ancient education system operated through a single language; Sanskrit in the Vedic system and pali in the Buddhist system. This unilingual approach acted as an adhesive to promote a feeling of togetherness between the students of different castes, or varnas, which constituted the main social stratification system of that time.

The educational endeavor began at the age of five, which is a pretty comprehendible age in terms of concepts. There was no such rush as hurrying a kid into learning as soon as the first word came out of his/her mouth. One had to spend the entire period in a Gurukul, a residential settlement, under the teacher’s supervision, away from home.

Vedic System

The Vedic system comprised of the four Vedas; Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda, six Vedangas (ritualistic knowledge, metrics, exegetics, grammar, phonetics, and astronomy), the Upanishads, Tarka Shastra (logic and reasoning), Puranas (history), and more. The main subjects in the Buddhist system were the three Pitakas (Vinaya, Abhidhamma, and Sutta), the most recognized works of all 18 Buddhist schools.

Certain other subjects common to both the systems were arithmetic, military science, law, performing arts, ethics, and art and architecture. It gives a clear perspective of the holistic nature of the ancient educational system of India. Not only did it aim at imparting an individual with knowledge of scripts but with values and principles like togetherness and cooperation by bringing together children from different social classes under one roof.

Through this approach, a person was equally trained in the hard sciences, arts, politics, economics, and other social sciences.  But the most incredible part was the equality it preached in terms of availability of education to everyone irrespective of caste religion and especially gender.

It might be surprising considering the present situation but in ancient times women were just as well read and well educated. Educated women were divided into two classes – Sadyodwahas, those who pursued their education just until they got married, and Brahmavadinis, those who never married and continued studying throughout their lives.Lopamudra, Maitreyi, and Gargi are some prominent examples.

Other aspects

Another amazing aspect of the ancient educational system of India was that it provided scope for lifelong learning, while not ceasing to enjoy a social life while earning their financial independence. It was mainly because it requires years to complete one Veda, let alone all four of them. But a person cannot simply neglect the liabilities of their families and hence along with continuing with their education they were trained in special skills, which was considered to exist in 64 different forms. Introspection (listening, contemplation and concentrated contemplation), storytelling, memorization, critical analysis, practical study, and seminars were an integral part of the system.

To make it clear India here is referred to as the “undivided” India.

It should be noted that four of the oldest universities in the world, was born in the subcontinent, namely Nalanda University in east India( famous for its Catholic and cosmopolitan character and its department of logic), Takshashila University, in an area what is now modern-day Pakistan, (well-known across the world for its medical school and was the chief learning center in 6th century BC)  Vallabhi in west India(specialized in subjects like law, medicine, and economics) and Vikramshila best known for Tantric Buddhism.

Amongst multiple foreign invasions, a significant change in the educational system came during the British era. Initially, the British East India Company was not concerned with the development of the education system because its prime motive was trading and profit-making.

To rule in India, they planned to educate a small section of upper and middle classes to create a class “Indian in blood and color but English in taste” who would act as interpreters between the Government and the masses. This was also called the “downward filtration theory”.

The British resorted to two methods of education, primarily through homeschooling and secondly by setting up government institutions through several commissions, namely The 1813 Act & the Education which aimed at spreading education through English in order to teach western literature and preach Christianity, The General Committee of Public Instruction, 1823 which was an orientalist approach rather than an Anglican approach, Lord Macaulay’s Education Policy, 1835 which aimed at educating the upper class, Wood’s Dispatch, 1854 which was considered the “Magna Carta of English education in India” and held the state responsible for spreading education to masses, Hunter Commission (1882-83) which underlined the state’s role in the extension and improvement of primary education and secondary education and finally, Sadler Commission which influenced the modern educational curriculum.

It is beyond doubt that by establishing universities and colleges and schools locally, access to education was made way easier. There were provisions for special education for children with disabilities as introduced by the Sargent  Report  1944, at the end of the second world war.

There are several obvious merits of the British system that all of us have read in our school textbooks. But what we didn’t read was the demerits of the system.

The British system of education primarily aimed at “civilizing” India. The western perspective held India and Indian practices as “backward” and often “barbaric”. The medium used was English and very rarely the vernacular language was used. There was a disregard for religion as the intuitions essentially preached Christianity.

Spirituality was adulterated with religion. The roots of the ancient Indian education system were completely destroyed. With the adoption of the “Divide and Rule” policy, the British empire completely disrupted the cultural and educational integrity of India.

The western education system demeaned the Indian culture and educational system by all means. And the consequence can be seen in the one-sided “victor’s history” that rules our textbooks today. The western educational system motivated the kind of nationalism in present times, that way different from what can be seen in pre-independent India.

Education and Nationalism: The Conundrum

“Nationalism is inspired by the highest ideals of the human race, Satyam [the true], Shivam [the god], Sundaram [the beautiful]. Nationalism in India has … roused the creative faculties which for centuries had been lying dormant in our people.”

-Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

There are different arguments about the concept of  Nationalism.

“As a  political doctrine, nationalism is the belief that the world’s peoples are divided into nations, and that each of these nations have the right of self -determination, either as self -governing units within the existing nation-states or as nation-states of their own. As a cultural ideal, nationalism is the claim that while men and women have many identities, it is the nation that provides them with their primary form of belonging. As a moral ideal, nationalism is an ethic of heroic sacrifice, justifying the use of violence in the defense of one’s nation against enemies, internal or external”. (Ignatieff, 2006)

Nationalism is a long lost concept in India. The wave of nationalism witnessed during its freedom struggle was much different than what is present in modern India. Communalism, casteism, socio-economic differences, provincialism, you name it, and it can be found easily and most prominently in the world’s largest democracy. But the root of all these challenges to nationalism is the lack of proper education.

Indian society suffers from substantial inequalities in education, employment, and income-based on caste and ethnicity. Compensatory or positive discriminatory policies reserve 15% of the seats in institutions of higher education and state and central government jobs for people of the Scheduled Caste; 7.5% of the seats are reserved for the Scheduled Tribe.

The current Indian education system is highly influenced by the British education system. The history taught is a “victor’s history”. For instance, in the NCERT history textbooks, a major credit is given to the Indian National Congress for the independence of India but there’s questionable mention of the Indian National Army, lead by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

It can’t be ignored the unity and equality and the undefeated determination and resilience portrayed by the Netaji led INA beyond all the discriminative boundaries, was much stronger than in INC, which actually agreed to the partition of the subcontinent.

How can history be transparent when it glorifies a certain political ideology? And without transparency and honesty, isn’t it unfair to expect the students to portray the same as well? Similarly, if a politically motivated author reflects his own ideologies and beliefs in a book and it is taught as part of the curriculum, it’s bound to influence the students in a biased manner. This is why ideologies like socialism, communism, secularism are often misinterpreted in India. There’s so much stress given to the scores that the actual ideologies remain buried deep in history.

Another issue is the lack of emphasis given to subjects like moral sciences. Morals and principles construct the backbone of an individual’s personality and so, without these, a person is just as good as dead. Now let’s take a look at the current situation where riots occur as a weekly event. Can’t it be said, that a major cause of the riots if political and religious misinterpretation? No religion preaches violence, but every religion is used as a camouflage to violence.

The nationalism that prevails in India is completely blind to the atrocities perpetrated by the government. One can be tagged anti-national just by disagreeing with the government. The political parties, all not one, instead of educating the people, are instigating the rioters. And the funny part is, most of them don’t even know what they are rioting for!

The students, who are supposed to be the future of the county, are irresponsibly wasting time and resources instead of educating themselves and making a constructive contribution to the development of the nation. With the absence of Vedas and Upanishads from the curriculum, spirituality is viewed through glasses tainted with ridicule, religious barbarism, and complete whimsy. Liberalism has completely lost its meaning. However, Nationalism is blind to the darker side of the government as an ideology. The faulty education system is, unfortunately, a contributor to this pseudo nationalist sentiment.

What modern India needs is a comprehensive knowledge of their culture, a transparent curriculum, spiritual awakening and replacement of radical nationalism by patriotism.

Jai Hind

By Rudrani Ghoshal,
University of Calcutta (Ballygunge Campus)

References

  1. Articles, Authors:  Pooja Parikh, Sumit Sute and Sudharak Olwe, In Photos: Documenting Atrocities Against Dalits in Gujarat, The Wire, (24 November 2018), available at https://thewire.in/caste/in-photos-documenting-atrocities-against-dalits-in-gujarat,  last visited on 26th February 2020.
  2. An article, Author: Richa Jain, What Did the Ancient Indian Education System Look LikeCULTURE TRIP (April 20. 2018) available at https://theculturetrip.com/asia/india/articles/what-did-the-ancient-indian-education-system-look-like/ (last visited on February 27, 2020)
  3. An article, SHAKEEL ANWAR, Development of Education during British Period in India,  JAGRANJOSH (APR 9, 2019 ) available at https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/development-of-education-during-british-period-in-india-1445314601-1 (last visited on February 27, 2020)
  4. An article, SONALDE DESAI and VEENA KULKARNI  Changing Educational Inequalities in India in the Context of Affirmative Action NCBI journal, (May 2008) available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2474466/ (last visited on February 27, 2020)
  5. An article, Sunhar uv.Nationalism and Education. ResearchGate, (2015), available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305881038_nationalism_and_education. (Last visited: February 27, 2020)

[1] Articles, Authors:  Pooja Parikh, Sumit Sute and Sudharak Olwe, In Photos: Documenting Atrocities Against Dalits in Gujarat, The Wire, (24 November 2018), available at https://thewire.in/caste/in-photos-documenting-atrocities-against-dalits-in-gujarat,  last visited on 26th February 2020.

[2]An article, Author: Richa Jain,  What Did the Ancient Indian Education System Look Like?  CULTURE TRIP (April 20. 2018) available at https://theculturetrip.com/asia/india/articles/what-did-the-ancient-indian-education-system-look-like/ (last visited on February 27, 2020)

[3] An article, Author: Richa Jain,  What Did the Ancient Indian Education System Look Like?  CULTURE TRIP (April 20. 2018) available at https://theculturetrip.com/asia/india/articles/what-did-the-ancient-indian-education-system-look-like/ (last visited on February 27, 2020)

[4] An article, Author: Richa Jain,  What Did the Ancient Indian Education System Look Like?  CULTURE TRIP (April 20. 2018) available at https://theculturetrip.com/asia/india/articles/what-did-the-ancient-indian-education-system-look-like/ (last visited on February 27, 2020)

[5] An article, Author: Richa Jain,  What Did the Ancient Indian Education System Look Like?  CULTURE TRIP (April 20. 2018) available at https://theculturetrip.com/asia/india/articles/what-did-the-ancient-indian-education-system-look-like/ (last visited on February 27, 2020)

[6] An article, SHAKEEL ANWAR,  Development of Education during British Period in India,  JAGRANJOSH (APR 9, 2019 ) available at

https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/development-of-education-during-british-period-in-india-1445314601-1 (last visited on February 27, 2020)

[7] An article, Sunhar uv.Nationalism and Education. ResearchGate, (2015), available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305881038_nationalism_and_education. (Last visited: February 27, 2020)

[8] An article, SONALDE DESAI and VEENA KULKARNI  Changing Educational Inequalities in India in the Context of Affirmative Action NCBI journal, (May 2008) available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2474466/ (last visited on February 27, 2020)