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Imperatives of Indianising our Education

If Indiaianising our education implies retelling our ancient knowledge and wisdom, there is nothing wrong in it. — Dr. Jaya Kakkar


Recently the National Medical Commission has recommended that modified Maharishi Charakshapath should replace the Hippocratic oath for an entrant to medical education. These guidelines mention, from Charakshapath, a disciplined life and action that is free from envy, that the patients be served with humility without monetary/selfish gains, that the practitioners should dress appropriately that they should engage in appropriate, truthful conduct, etc. etc. The new guidelines also recommend a 10 day yoga foundation course. An attempt towards Indianising Indian education?

The new ‘historians’ want to present history differently from how it has been. They don’t mind imbuing historiography with the ideas of divinity. According to their own admission theirs is a genuine attempt to correct the errors of omission up until recently. Indian history wasn’t what we had been told, even according to the eminent Maxisthistorian DD Kosambi. He had written that Europeans are fundamentally wrong when they say that India has had some episodes, but no history. These Europeans actually lacked grasp and intelligence to study the Indian past. They only forcussed on some, not all, episodes – lists of dynasties and kings, tales of war and battle spiced with anecdotes. History writing cannot be left to Sundry foreign ‘scholars’ and their Indian acolytes. When we are trying to Indianise history, it should not be similarly based on anecdotes and mythology, should not be merely argumentative, rather it should be evidence based so that it is completely convincing. It should be hard to disprove this ‘new’ account of history.

Recently, the Vice President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu voted in favour of a major overhall of the Macaulay system of education. He rightly observed that it is dominant as well as damaging. It leads to generation of a sense of inferionty among Indians. It has replaced out traditional education in the bhashas with the unfamiliar curriculum of the English. It gives us a colonial mindset. It has made us drift away from our own heritage. Most importantly, under the influence of the present education system we have been consciously driven away from useful and productive ideas and philosophies that form the core of our ancient civilization. 

Tagore, at Visva Bharti, had caused to start a National Education Movement and fashioned an innovative nationalist curriculum in protest. Even pre independence there were protests against enslavement of Indian minds by western education which was leading to englicizing tendency and denationalization of the young generation. It was suggested, as early as in 1888 by Abu Maulvi that literative and sciences befaught in the vernaculars and Indian languages so that these tendencies can be taught against. Thus the debate about Indianisation of education is not new nor it has been opened by the right wing scholars only now.

The Macaulay system of education has led is to uncritically accept and adopt the alien concepts. Time for us to join the debate about Indianizing the Indian education system; time to do away with Macaulay’s damaging legacy and reconnect with our heritage. Macaulay visualized ‘brown sahebs’ and their ‘production’ through English Education. The English Education Act sought to systematically remove ‘useless’ Sanskrit and Persian learning in our path shalas, gurukul and madrasas; it made a systematic effort, instead to replace it with ‘useful learning’. The aim was an organized effort to annihilate our ancient wisdom. Baudhayana, Pingala, Aryabhatta, and Bharkaracharya were to be consigned to vestiges of history; instead Euclid and Pythagoras replaced them. Indian student knows about four seasons of Europe, but does be recall the six Indian reasons? If at all, modern Indian education has incorporated merely a colonial interpretation of India’s antiquity and culture.

Alas, in order to please the then masters, even post independence the history was interpreted and written in colonial traditions. While indigenous heroes like Cholas and Lalitaditya have been consigned to near extinct spaces, the pages are replete with the history of our invaders. An English speaking elite may easily name 50 states of the US of A but is likely to fail if asked how many states are there in the Northeast India. He may be familiar with Shakespearian dramas, but what about the Kalidas poetry?

Hindu religion, and we are not talking about the latest fanatic interpretation of it, is essentially more liberal than western and Middle Eastern approaches to religion. Mahabharata and Ramayana, the two giant epics of our land, were taught even in madarsas before the advent of Britshers. Indian Muslims and Christians, along with all Hindus, believe in dharma and karma, as a recent Pew survey has uncovered. We advocate teaching of Indian (not merely Hindu) saints, sages, philosophers, writers which must connect us with ‘our’ roots, and not foreign roots. Thus moral science should have stories from Bible, but not at the expense of stories from Indian sources. All students must read Mirza Ghalib, Vyasa, Amir Khusro, and Valmiki. Kaaba and Kashi both must enlighten us. It is high time we shed our disdain from our ancient and medieval culture, and again embrace our local wisdom infused heritage. As Dr. Radhakrishnan had advocated, a typical class day should begin with a few minutes of silent meditation. This should be followed by imparting of knowledge about teachings of great thinkers, including Kabir, Nanak, Jesus, Ramanuja, Buddha . . . . We affirm that Mr. Naidu’s saffronisation must be liberally interpreted to have an all inclusive list of great thinkers. We need to develop a critical thinking faculty among the disciples; the aim should not be indoctrination of a particular way of thinking. They must feel proud of our heritage without looking down upon the diversity of narratives called our from other great civilizations. Indeed, inclusivity is the key while learning about cultural diversity of India.

No doubt India’s  ancient culture needs to be recovered, reconstructed, and reaffirmed for us to become proud Indians. But the attempt for cultural assimilation should not follow a thin and toxic agenda; rather it should be a substantive philosophical response to Macaulay by invoking the vast repository of Indian knowledge and wisdom as gleaned through a systemic exploration of our ancient wisdom and culture. It should have space for challenges to Brahmanical traditions. It should accept the marvels of Mughal architecture. And it should encourage the study of both Bhakti and Sufi movements. Indianization of education should not be narrowly interpreted, indentifying it with a specific ideology, color, or thought process; rather it should be truly nationalistic in its thinking, incorporating the best of both the worlds, oriental and occidental. Knowledge and wisdom is not the sole prerogative of either East or West; it is universal.

Dr Jaya Kakkar teaches History, Culture, and Environmental Studies at Shyam Lal College, Delhi University.

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