For months, the Maoist violence in parts of India is making page one headlines but ask the campus students in Delhi what they know of Mao —the Chinese leader who has given his name to the Maoists movement —and all you’ll get is “Woh kaun hai? (Who is he?)”
“His name sounds like as if he was Italian,” says Arjun Mutneja, one of the many students from different colleges and institutes that HT City spoke to. Pursuing B.Com in Jagannath Institute of Management Studies, he concludes, “I think Mao was a celebrity.” Not a single student could tell the most basic details about Mao’s life. “He was a social worker from the US,” says Sumit, a B.Com student of Hindu College. One boy got a fact right but he wasn’t sure. “I think Mao is from China,” says Satyam Arora, a BBS student of Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies. “He wants to take over some parts of India and he is doing that by exploiting the feelings of our fellow countrymen.” Arora talks as if Mao is still alive. But the ‘Great Leader’ had died 34 years ago.
“Honestly, I don’t have much dope on Mao,” says Sumit Bhasin of Khalsa College. “But wasn’t he a Nepali communist?” A post-graduate student of Miranda House turned Mao into an Indian. “He was from Assam,” says Mohini Sharma. Students explained their lack of knowledge on Mao to their disinterest in the subject. “I just don’t have interest in Maoists,” says Sharma. “I only know that there is some discrimination going on in parts of the country and that some Maoists are killing innocent people.”
There are 8,600,000 web results if you google Mao. Considering that Maoists are on magazine covers as well as on TV channels, are Delhi students not inquisitive enough to net-search for the Great Helsman? “It’s sad,” says Amna Mirza who is pursuing a doctorate in political science from Delhi University. She blames the system. “We know when was Shah Rukh Khan born but don’t know where Mao was from.” While students say that they do scan newspapers and magazines, the ‘Who was Mao’ survey proves that there is no deeper engagement with the newsmakers. “I’ve heard about Maoists,” says Nasheet Shadani of Jamia Millia Islamia University. “But I have no clue on Mao.”
Is this ignorance a consequence of focusing on one’s core subjects alone? “I have no interest in Mao. I only read technological literature,” says Reema Chhabra of Ansal Institute of Technology. Are college-goers losing connect with the world beyond their textbooks? “There is a necessity to bring the classroom closer to the outside world,” says Ambar Ahmad, political science lecturer in Lady Shriram College. “It is high time we realise that getting education is as important as getting a degree.”