By Dr Arun Mitra
A few days ago, while addressing the 75th Amrit Utsav of Swami Narayan Gurukul Rajkot Sansthan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that education has been completely neglected after independence. Therefore, it has become necessary that the government should bring forward the importance of ancient educational system. When previous governments faltered, he said, saints came forward and Swami Narayan Sansthan is an example. He said that in ancient times our education system was exemplary which gave importance to knowledge. “Our Gurukuls have been representing equity, equality, care and a sense of service for centuries”.
Educational system in a particular period depends on the social and economic conditions prevailing at that time. It is well known that in ancient times education was reserved for a special type of caste and the so-called upper class. A large section of the society did not have the right to education. When Eklavya mastered the art of archery on his own, Guru Dronacharya asked for his Thumb in Dakshina because he belonged to so-called lower caste, and his caste people did not have the right to education. There are also examples that even if a so-called low caste person overheard any educational talk, his ears were filled with lead so that he would not be able to hear any more.
The modern society spread education even among the economically and socially backward sections of the society by breaking these obscurantist ideas and breaking those bonds of religion and caste which prohibit right to education to all. Although there are many weaknesses and shortcomings in the education system of our country, but one thing is clear that after independence, due to the persistence of campaigns by the progressive movements, government high schools were opened on a large scale in many parts of the country where it became possible for the children of low socio-economic groups to get education under one roof along with others. In 1968, the Kothari Commission gave specific recommendations for common school system to end disparity in education. Unfortunately, these have not been implemented till date.
We hardly find mention of education among women in the ancient history. Even in the last century, Savitri Bai Phule, who was born in 1931 and who was encouraged by her husband Jyotiba Phule to study, she had to face many hardships. She was ridiculed and even stones were thrown so as to stop her from pursuing education. Social reformers, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Swami Dayananda Saratwati did a lot for the education of women. After independence, many girls’ schools and colleges were opened in the government sector to encourage education among women.
In the same speech, the Prime Minister goes on to say that the new education policy will produce new type of ideal citizens. But when we take a look at the new education policy, we find that this will lead to complete privatization of education further increasing inequality in education. This will also deprive large part of the society of quality education. Presently only about 2% of the GDP is spent on education as against the required 10%. Such type of education is intended to prepare a class of specially educated persons to serve the corporate sector as was done by the education system introduced by the British in our country to produce ‘Bhadra Lok’ to serve the masters.
Similar is the story of health services. India has to its credit the contribution in medical science by Charaka, a great physician of the time around 300BC. Accordingly, the Charaka Samhita mandates the physician to lead a life of celibacy, grow beard and hair, pray for cows and Brahmins. It forbids the doctor from treating those who are in opposition to the King or whom the physician or society may despise. But that was the period of Kings where Brahmins were at the top in the social Hierarchy. The modern oaths, belonging to the present, with tremendous advances in modern science bind that every human shall be treated equally and the physicians must be committed to treat fellow humans to the best of their abilities under any circumstances.
The health policy 2017 promotes insurance-based healthcare system. This far from universal healthcare system as envisaged by several health experts. Because of exorbitant cost, quality health care is getting out of reach of people. Government expenditure on health is only 1.28 percent of GDP, while according to the World Health Organization it should be 5%. Ironically health and education are taken as liability not as an asset by our policy makers. Both health and education should be fundamental right of every Indian citizen. No wonder we are at a rank of 107 out of 121 in Hunger Index as a result of the exclusive policies. Our dismal performance in managing COVID Pandemic is not an old story.
I have given these two examples because there is persistent attack not only in the political and economic sphere but all the aspects of life. There has developed strong linkage between forces of obscurantism and the corporate sector. There is concentration of wealth in few hands while vast majority is deprived of basic needs. The ruling clique use coercion, oppress people and try to divide the people through false propaganda. The Prime Minister had in 2014 said that in ancient times science in our country was so much advanced that the head of an elephant could be transplanted on a man’s head and also that genetic science was so developed in our country that Karan could be born without mother’s womb. Many scientists also started expressing similar views. The Vice Chancellor of Andhra Pradesh University G. Nageswara Rao said in the Indian Science Congress at Jalandhar that the Kauravas who numbered 100 were born due to advanced stem cell research and technology in our country. Recently, the Indian Space Research Organization – ISRO and the Indian Council for Historical Research – ICHR have started working together on how to integrate ancient science with modern science.
When the forces in power fail to act in the interests of the common people, then they try to highlight the achievements of the society in the past in such a way that the people forget the failures of the ruling circles and are obsessed with the glory of the achievements of the past.
It is time we understand how such forces thrive on concocted stories and false propaganda. A lie spoken time and again appears to be truth and becomes part of people’s psyche. The struggle against the forces of obscurantism is not only political or economic but there is a need to struggle at every level including developing scientific outlook in education and healthcare based on present day developments in medical science. (IPA Service)