No reference to caste or creed please… we are all Indians
November 10, 2017

One of the primary duties of a Government is to make good education universally accessible to the children of the country. Institutions of learning should be set up with a purely national outlook, with the primary goal of creating citizens who are Indians first, says Prof J.V. Vil’anilam. It is time cosmopolitan leaders came together on one platform to discuss matters of national moment and ways to fashion Indianness without reference to caste or religion. That’s the need of the hour – not a cashless, but a casteless society, he points out.

Brutal rape of women aspiring to live a productive life fending for themselves and their families, caste discrimination and communalism, millions of landless, homeless, jobless and illiterate citizens, and the baseless dubbing of one half of all humanity as naturally ‘impure’ — these are some current scenarios in India. How do they match up with the vision behind the Make in India initiative of the Modi Government, the National Education Act of 2009 and the erstwhile goals of the founders of our nation of providing land for the landless and the tiller?

Casteless_Vilanilam

The establishing of ‘manhood’ by cruel attacks on the weak and unwary, the requirement of ‘donations’ in return for a chance to avail of basic education, and the practice of powerful land mafias hounding illiterate and unaware tribal populations out of their traditional environments and chasing them from hill to hill or from one jungle to the next can only be stopped with basic changes in the focus of governments, irrespective of party affiliations or philosophical bent, and a consequent shift in the thrust of education.

One of the primary duties of a Government is to make good education universally accessible to the children of the country. Secular education for the future citizens of India is a must. The National Education Act was commendable, but there was no follow-up effort to provide necessary infrastructure in every one of the 600000 villages spread over the country.

The Modi Government held out the hope that future generations of school students would receive new skills in a casteless society. But the education system is still local and regional; it is communal to the core. Educational institutions set up by religion- or caste-based organisations have to be specially aware of their responsibility to facilitate education of all children born in this country, irrespective of caste or creed. Education must be organised and governed by the civil society, not by vested interests. Institutions of learning should be set up with a purely national outlook, with the primary goal of creating citizens who are Indians first.

Will the makers of New India provide all facilities in every part of the nation to systematically develop essential skills for living in the modern world? Will our outlook on religion be re-shaped through education for building a humanitarian society with people respecting the universality of all religions, the essential oneness of all beings under one Creator, accepting all creations as essential for maintaining the essential balance in the Universe?
Will all religious institutions in India stress the multi-lingual, multi-racial and multi-religious structure of the country, where the emphasis is on harmonious living rather than the superiority of any particular faith?

Changes can be wrought only by a change in outlook fostered by education. And a new system of education can be ushered in smoothly only when certain basic changes are introduced in our polity. Since there is no national or state religion, the followers of no single religion should be entitled to any special privileges. Every citizen of the country must be free to live in any part of India, dress the way he or she likes, eat the food that he or she prefers, and worship according to his or her faith, provided that such worship does not harm other humans, or promote social problems.

People’s eating habits, religious faith and practices, and rights as citizens of the same country should never be questioned by governments at the Central or State level. This is the essence of secularism and recent events that question the rights to citizenship of a person based on his or her religion or diet go against the concept of India.

Another area which deserves attention in order to promote harmony and equality is land rights. Naxalite agitations were for land – particularly for people living in remote forest areas – and basic human rights, especially for women and the poor. But land reform is still a distant dream for tribals and aboriginals, including some SCs.

Attappady is a name I have been hearing since 1982 when I returned from a stint abroad to take charge of the Department of Journalism in the University of Kerala. The tribals in the area find mention in every election campaign in Kerala but their struggle continues. For multinational companies and their local collaborators who build ‘smart cities’ and exclusive economic zones, however, right to land seems to be a given.

It is time we acknowledged that the bulk of India’s cultivable land is in the hands of a tiny minority of rich landlords, the bureaucracy, and Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Parsi, Jain and Buddhist religious institutions. There are millions of landless, homeless, jobless and illiterate citizens in India whose plight does not seem to be of any great concern to planners (or non-planners) who hold the reins of national development. How will the illiterate and unskilled masses of India get the means of survival? Can capitalist developers help them?

Alternatively, can the promoters of a cashless society achieve the feat? Remember, the majority of India’s 1.3 billion people have been living hand-to-mouth ‘cashlessly’ for the past several decades, if not centuries. The majority of people in every one of the 29 States of India are politically bamboozled at least once in five years.

But their socio-economic condition remains pitiably poor at all times, irrespective of the party or coalition of parties in power. Structural changes are the need of the hour. Leaders of all political parties should go back to the basics and hold firmly to the principles of equality, secularism, social justice and fraternity — not as mere slogans but as guiding principles to make life meaningful for the masses.

(The writer is former vice-chancellor and head, Department of Communication & Journalism, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.)

July-September 2017